American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert speaks after receiving an award at the ThoroFan Annual Awards Brunch, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The Triple Crown winner, along with owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat, jockey Victor Espinoza and Baffert a
Wilfredo Lee
January 17, 2016

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) When trainer Bob Baffert was preparing his acceptance speech for the Eclipse Awards, he asked his youngest son, Bode, for ideas about what to say.

The 11-year-old came up with just the right words.

''He said that, `I would just tell them that you're honored to win this award and you never dreamt when you were a little boy you would win this award,''' Baffert said. ''`And you still have a little life left in you to maybe win some more.'''

There's nothing left for Baffert to prove: He's a Hall of Famer, one of six trainers with more than $200 million in purses won, a four-time Eclipse winner as the year's top trainer, and, of course, the mastermind behind American Pharoah's run to the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic victories last year.

Now 4, American Pharoah is retired to stud.

Now 63, Baffert feels rejuvenated like never before.

Baffert was leaving Miami on Sunday for London and one more celebration at the Longines World's Best Racehorse award show, where American Pharoah's historic year will be feted Tuesday night. But his mind was already shifting to 2016 and the inevitable question - after thoroughbred racing waited an excruciating 37 years for a Triple Crown winner, what will Baffert do for an encore in 2016?

''I have motivation,'' Baffert said. ''My motivation is the Kentucky Derby. That's my motivation. It's always been my motivation.''

Well, not always. But close enough.

The best advice Baffert got along the way to becoming one of the kings in the sport of kings was to quit. He wanted to be a jockey when he was a kid and ran some quarterhorse races in his native Arizona, but he eventually realized that greatness in the saddle probably was not in his future. A confidante told him that if his heart wasn't into it, he should find something else to do.

The next day, Baffert gave up his fledgling jockey career.

''He's a genius,'' said Ahmed Zayat, the owner and breeder of American Pharoah.

In 1992, at Gulfstream Park - the same place where he was awarded Eclipse No. 4 on Saturday - Baffert won his first Breeders' Cup race. A horse named Thirty Slews did the honors, and Baffert recalls that as he ran to the winner's circle he was thinking ''that it can never get better than this.''

Oh, but it did. A lot better. He trained horses to four Kentucky Derby wins, six Preakness Stakes wins, two Belmont Stakes wins, 11 Breeders' Cup wins and two more victories in the Dubai World Cup - the sport's richest race. And the pinnacle of it all for Baffert was American Pharoah, the horse he likened to his Secretariat, his Seattle Slew, his Spectacular Bid.

''Bob gave him the training of a lifetime,'' said Joanne Zayat, the owner and breeder's wife.

Other clients hope they can say the same thing a few months from now.

The Triple Crown road is a long and unpredictable one, but Baffert's barn right now has some 3-year-olds that could be serious contenders on the trail to the Kentucky Derby and beyond. Mor Spirit won the Los Alamitos Futurity last month, beating another Baffert trainee in Toews On Ice. Another horse named Collected is getting plenty of attention as well, after winning the Sham Stakes earlier this month.

''When you go through something like this,'' Baffert said, ''you get hungry to do it again.''

He'll be at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May with someone likely worthy of winning the Kentucky Derby. And while Baffert's mind will be on that, there's one more tribute to American Pharoah that he can't wait to see: Triple Crown winners get their names displayed in gold lettering around the paddock at Churchill.

''I've always seen those gold names up there,'' Baffert said. ''I've always wanted one.''

He'll start trying now to get another.

You May Like