Horse Power With War Emblem and a flock of fleet 2-year-olds entered in the Breeders' Cup, trainer Bob Baffert, like him or not, is the king of his world

October 28, 2002

It is not just a house that Bob Baffert has built for himself and
his new wife in the long shadows of the San Gabriel Mountains in
Southern California, not far from Santa Anita Race Track. It is a
5,000-square-foot, six-bedroom monument to the fleeting moments
that have made the man a star. In the foyer stands a 20-foot-long
glass-enclosed trophy case filled with the spoils of horse races
large and larger. On Baffert's office wall are the bridles worn
by Real Quiet, Silver Charm and Point Given, three of the horses
he has trained to victories in Triple Crown races. In a game room
on the second floor are massive brass-framed photographs of
Baffert in winner's circles. Scattered around the house are
Baffert-related cartoons from the Daily Racing Form.

Here is a man who pines for fast horses and big moments; the rest
of life is just filler. "All we do is live from one big horse to
the next," says Baffert, 49. Two decades ago he was a quarter
horse trainer running hard and partying long in the minor
leagues. He conquered that world and took on thoroughbreds,
winning a Breeders' Cup race in 1992, finishing second in the
Kentucky Derby in '96, then winning the Derby in '97, '98 and
2002. Cameras found his snowy white hair and cool sunglasses;
microphones recorded his bons mots. "My fault," Baffert says. "I
was born with a personality." He became a celebrity, the face of
his sport, so recognizable that for the last two summers he has
been paid $50,000 to bring his big horse--in 2001 Point Given,
this year Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem--to
Monmouth Park on the New Jersey shore for the Haskell
Invitational. Baffert's job is not only to deliver a fit horse
but also to sign autographs.

"Look how most trainers act when they get on TV," says Eoin
Harty, who was Baffert's assistant from 1991 to '99 and now
trains 2-year-olds for Dubai-based Godolphin Racing. "'Yup....
Nope.... [Here he goes into full Hee Haw mode.] He shore is a
nahce horse.' Everybody gets his 15 minutes. You can do what most
people do, or you can do something different. Bob did something
different."

While fame and success have made Baffert rich, they have also
made him the biggest target in his sport. "He's so loose it's
almost beyond belief," says trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Derby
winner. "The old-time guys, they want a more classic-type
horseman." Baffert takes a whipping when his horses fail or his
life turns tabloid, as it did when he married the former Jill
Moss on Aug. 3 after a four-year romance that began while he was
married, with four children. And when critics cut Baffert, he
bleeds.

"Bobby is very sensitive to stuff that's said about him," says
Mike Pegram, who financed Baffert's start in thoroughbreds in
1989 and for whom Baffert has trained numerous horses, including
'97 Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet. "Criticism eats at
him. It also makes him more competitive."

For Baffert, the intoxication of winning at the highest level is
worth any cost. "Every year you hope for a lifetime season with
one horse," he says. "Real Quiet, Silver Charm--that's what keeps
you going."

On Saturday, Baffert will send at least half a dozen bona fide
contenders to the post at the Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park
near Chicago, including War Emblem in the Classic. He will also
enter 2-year-old colts Bull Market, Kafwain and Vindication and
2-year-old fillies Atlantic Ocean, Composure and Santa Catarina
(chart, page 62). It is a rich assortment of runners, and Baffert
will watch the young ones with an eye toward spring. "The
Breeders' Cup is a great TV show," he says, "but if you win a
Breeders' Cup race, you're not going to cry. You win the Derby,
you cry like a baby."

It is now that the race to Louisville begins. Baffert has nearly
50 2-year-olds in his barn, so numbers are in his favor, but he
had almost as many last year and none got to the Derby. He won it
because he persuaded Saudi Arabian prince Ahmed bin Salman of the
Thoroughbred Corporation to buy War Emblem for $900,000 three
weeks before the race. It was a bold play, and there might never
be another quite like it.

In July bin Salman died of heart disease at age 43. Baffert and
the prince were kindred spirits, big kids who loved to play with
expensive toys. "He liked the horses and the competition," says
Baffert. "Sometimes I put my hand on a horse in the winner's
circle, and I just want to say, 'Thanks for running your guts
out.' The prince was like that too."

Baffert lost more than a jolly friend when the prince died. He
lost a benefactor who trusted him so much that in 1999 he told
Baffert to pick out and race the best five horses training at the
prince's California farm. One of those was Point Given, who won
the 2001 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and whom Baffert (whose
license plate reads PTGIVEN) calls his best horse ever. "You
dream about having a client whom you can call and tell, 'We need
to buy this horse,' and he says, 'Go buy him, no matter how much
he costs,'" says Baffert. "I have good clients, but they can
spend only so much. I bought Real Quiet for $17,000, so you can
win at all levels. But the more you spend, the less luck you
need." He pauses. "I need another guy with deep pockets, and
they're hard to find."

With expensive horses and cheap ones, Baffert has proved himself
a skilled trainer. Take War Emblem. At least two prominent
owner-trainer combinations turned down opportunities to buy him
last spring, in part because he has bone chips in both ankles and
one knee. Baffert didn't blink. In three weeks, using tough love
and a lip cord, he turned an ill-tempered colt into a Derby
winner; now, if War Emblem wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, he
will surely be Horse of the Year. Baffert is humble about the
achievement. "It was a challenge to figure him out," he says. But
there the humility ends: "That's my strongest point as a trainer,
figuring out horses. I've seen most of the problems horses have.
That's the thing with people like me and Wayne Lukas [also a
former quarter horse trainer]; we're overqualified for this job.
It's too easy for us."

Yet he works at it, and therein lies the disconnect between
Public Bob and Private Bob. In front of the lens Baffert is
worldly, glib and cocksure. Away from it he is one-dimensional,
fretful and insecure. "I'm a very needy person," he says. His
Hollywood look is accidental: The hair began turning white when
he was in his 20s; he wears sunglasses because of severe dust
allergies, a curse for somebody with an office in a barn. His TVs
haul in hundreds of channels, yet they are usually tuned to TVG,
a horse-racing network. "We're not talking about a guy with a lot
of outside interests," says Bill Baffert, his older brother.

Bob's second wife embraces his world. "Without Jill, I could not
function," he says. When they met, Baffert was a rising star in
racing and Moss was an anchor on a Louisville morning TV show.
They courted in plain view of the backstretch community, which is
as hidebound and judgmental as a small New England town. "We made
mistakes, lots of them," says Jill, 31. "We live with those
mistakes every day of our lives."

Baffert was divorced from his first wife, Sherry, in August 2001.
"My ex-wife is a good person," he says. "She's great with our
kids. But our lives were on two different pages. What happens
when you go through life, then suddenly meet somebody and you
just really click? I couldn't let Jill get away."

Sherry Baffert, who declined to speak for this article, lives in
Southern California with the children, three boys ranging in age
from 11 to 16 and a nine-year-old girl. Each child has a room in
Bob's home and visits every other week and for extended periods
in the summer. Bill Baffert, who remains close to Sherry and the
children, says, "It was a tough situation for everybody, but
they're all good."

On a fall morning not long ago, Bob watched at his barn as War
Emblem was walked along the shedrow. (The Breeders' Cup will be
the horse's last race; he has been sold to the Japanese syndicate
that owned '89 Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence, who
died last summer.) War Emblem seemed almost docile, as if
transformed from his rancorous past. "Somebody told him sushi
means cold horsemeat in Japanese," says Baffert. Always with a
joke.

He stroked War Emblem's coal-black coat. Soon one big horse will
be gone; the search for another already has begun. Not because
Baffert wants one. Because he needs one, the way he needs oxygen
to breathe.

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES MASTER IN HIS HOUSE Among the heavy hitters trained by Baffert, here at Santa Anita, are (from top) Point Given, Real Quiet, War Emblem and Silver Charm. COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER (SILVER CHARM) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES

BAFFERT'S BOUNTY
At Saturday's Breeders' Cup in Chicago, trainer Bob Baffert plans
to saddle not only Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem
but also six 2-year-old fillies and colts, including Vindication
(left).

Horse Race Owner
Skinny

War Emblem Classic The Thoroughbred Corporation
Faces challenge from Came Home, who beat him on Aug. 25 in the Pacific Classic, and handicap stickout Evening Attire

Atlantic Ocean Juvenile Fillies The Thoroughbred Corporation
Purchase price of $1.9 million was highest ever for a 2-year-old filly at an auction

Bull Market Juvenile James McIngvale
Speedy front-runner finished a gutty second to stablemate Kafwain in Norfolk Stakes on Oct. 5 at Santa Anita

Composure Juvenile Fillies Bob and Beverly Lewis Classy filly must beat favorite Storm Flag Flying; owners have
twice won the Derby

Kafwain Juvenile The Thoroughbred Corporation Beat Bull Market in a stretch duel in Norfolk Stakes; will try to do same to favorite Sky Mesa

Santa Catarina Juvenile Fillies Bob and Beverly Lewis Finished second by two lengths to Storm Flag Flying in the Frizette at
Belmont on Oct. 5

Vindication Juvenile Padua Stables
Baffert's best 2-year-old; dark bay son of Seattle Slew is three for three this year

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)