Trainer Jenine Sahadi made history as The Deputy won at Santa
The ending could not have been more appropriate. As the jockeys
were steering their mounts back to the unsaddling area, trainers
Bob Baffert and Jenine Sahadi formed a perfect picture in
contrasts: Baffert, his face expressionless, listening to the
taunts that followed him to the track; and the ebullient Sahadi,
the most accomplished female trainer in America, fairly floating
through the knots of well-wishers, her face wreathed in a smile
nicely suited to a woman who had just made history.
Sahadi's colt, a gritty Irish-bred named The Deputy, had outrun
War Chant down the lane to win by a length in the $1 million
Santa Anita Derby, the last major California prep race before the
May 6 Kentucky Derby. This was the 63rd running of the
nine-furlong classic, and Sahadi had become the first woman to
saddle the winner.
As Sahadi stepped into victory lane, at least 80 celebrants
greeted her with an ovation. The cause of all this adoration of
Sahadi was Baffert, who was taking heat from the fans leaning
over the rail. At last Thursday's post-position draw, the two
trainers were sitting at opposite ends of a long table, answering
questions about their horses. One of Baffert's least endearing
qualities is the whirring of his motor mouth; at times he runs it
without considering the hurt it can cause. In 1998 he described
trainer Sonny Hine as "Elmer Fudd" because of the horseman's
voice. Baffert didn't know that Hine was suffering from Bell's
palsy and apologized.
Now Baffert looked over at Sahadi and jockey Chris McCarron and
said to the rider, "Who's training The Deputy? You or Jenine?"
Sahadi seethed. She had fought off suggestions all her life that
she owed her success to her connections. She had come from a
powerful family of California horsemen, was the onetime
girlfriend of a successful trainer, Julio Canani, and is the wife
of trainer Ben Cecil. Even though Sahadi had proven herself by
training Breeders' Cup winners Lit de Justice in 1996 and
Elmhurst in '97, there were whispers that McCarron, who also
exercises The Deputy, had been an influence in the horse's
success. So Baffert, beyond being politically incorrect, had just
sprinkled salt on a very old but still open wound.
A few minutes later, when asked if she planned to give McCarron
any instructions, the 37-year-old Sahadi grabbed the microphone
and said, "I won't give him instructions. Thank god my horse has
class, because there are a lot of people who don't." With that,
she slammed down the microphone and left. "I'm not interested in
sitting up there and getting degraded by the guy," she said
later. "He does that s--- all the time. He did it with Sonny
Hine. What is he, six-years-old?"
Baffert says he was only jesting, adding, "People have no sense
of humor around this place."
Baffert certainly wasn't smiling last Saturday. He had won three
of the last four Santa Anita Derbys--Silver Charm and Real Quiet
had gone on to win the roses--but this was not his year. His Derby
colt, Captain Steve, finished third, beaten three lengths.
"Hey, Bob, who trains your horse?" one fan needled.
The incident had certainly added tang to the race. The Deputy had
won two stakes in January before running a game second, beaten
only three quarters of a length, to highly touted Fusaichi
Pegasus in the March 19 San Felipe Stakes. The colt was fit, and
Sahadi wisely decided not to pressure him; she worked him only
twice coming into the race.
As The Deputy drove past War Chant near midstretch, it was clear
that she had tuned him just right. This led to that unforgettable
scene after the race--with Baffert taking the barbs and Sahadi,
who had heard them, dancing onto the crown of the track.
She knows her colt and what he needs. Indeed, she soon may become
the first woman to train a Kentucky Derby winner. "I'm looking
forward to this," she said.
As are all her many admirers.
An Early End to A Stellar Career
After all he has been through--the months of throbbing pain in his
knees--jockey Gary Stevens has finally conceded that degenerative
arthritis is prematurely ending his surpassing career. "It's hard
when you've done something for 21 years and suddenly you can't do
it anymore," Stevens said last week at Santa Anita. "I'm only 37,
and it was just taken away. It's bone on bone now, a lot of
poppin' and grindin' goin' on. And a lot of depression."
Only three years ago, in 1997, Stevens had it all--the smarts and
style reminiscent of the old master, Eddie Arcaro, the movie-star
smile and good looks and a reputation as the finest money rider
in North America, if not the world. That was the year that
Stevens, just voted into racing's Hall of Fame, won his third
Kentucky Derby, on Silver Charm. But it was also the year doctors
performed the first of three surgeries on his right knee. Though
in increasing pain while crouching on horses, he did not yield a
centimeter in the hottest winds of combat. In '98 he won the
Dubai World Cup on Silver Charm as well as the Belmont on Victory
Gallop, and that fall he won his fifth and sixth Breeders' Cup
Last summer, hoping that riding full time on soft grass might
prolong his career, Stevens moved to England. But the tortuous,
undulating courses--not to mention the damp, chilly
weather--exacerbated his miseries. That notwithstanding, Stevens
made his mark in Europe, winning 12 graded stakes, and had
himself a royal ball. In the walking ring at Ascot last June, as
Stevens was waiting to board a mount named Blueprint, the horse's
owner instructed him to lie fourth until the final straight.
"Wait until about a furlong out to make your move," Queen
Elizabeth II told him.
Recalls Stevens, "I did just what the Queen told me and won it.
What a racing memory."
There were far fewer in his future than anyone might have
imagined. He hobbled to the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6 at Gulfstream
Park. "That morning my knee was so swollen I couldn't bend it,"
he says. Still he rode Anees to a 2 1/2-length win in the Cup
Juvenile, his last major victory. On Dec. 26 at Santa Anita,
following the third knee operation, he tried to come back, but
the pain was too much.
Trippi States His Case
With his wire-to-wire win in the Flamingo Stakes at Gulfstream
last Saturday, Trippi, a handsome, long-striding bay named for
Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Charley Trippi, earned a
trip to the Kentucky Derby. The colt, sired by End Sweep, has won
all four of his career starts. "I found out after his first race
that the horse was named for me," the 78-year-old Trippi said
last week from his home in Athens, Ga. "I had no idea he would be
Just how good Trippi is has become a matter of considerable
debate. He won his first two starts by a combined 14 lengths
while racing on the lead, then came from off the pace to win the
seven-furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream on March 11. Trippi's
detractors point out that he didn't start as a 2-year-old (no
such colt has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882) and that he has
yet to beat any Derby contenders of note. There are also doubts
about whether he can go the Derby distance of a mile and a
quarter. The 1 1/8-mile Flamingo was Trippi's first race around
"I wouldn't be flabbergasted if he couldn't get the distance,"
says Cot Campbell, Trippi's co-owner, who has also named other
horses after famous athletes. "But I wouldn't be astonished if he
could. I'm not saying we're going to win the Derby, but I think
we've earned the right to run in it." --Mark Beech