Bob Baffert is the most recognizable figure in horse racing. His two Triple Crowns, six Kentucky Derby wins and three wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic have arguably made him the most successful trainer in the history of the sport.
His goal on Saturday will be to direct the conversation away from him and to who is the best horse in the country. He has three pretty good shots at it in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be run at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky.
Baffert had a cloud come over his reputation with four medication violations this year, and there is the lingering controversy of Triple Crown winner Justify’s positive for Scopolamine two years ago. No charges were brought against Baffert in the Justify case because it was as caused by feed contamination. The current violations are in varying stages of investigation, litigation and appeal.
On Wednesday, he announced a series of enhanced barn protocols that included hiring an additional veterinarian to oversee care and rule compliance.
“I want to raise the bar and set the standard for equine safety and rule compliance going forward,” Baffert said in a statement. “For those of you who have been upset over the incidents of this past year, I share in your disappointment. I humbly vow to do everything in my power to do better. I want my legacy to be one of making every effort to do right by the horse and the sport.”
Baffert has been content to speak only through his attorney on that topic. When it comes to his three horses in Saturday’s Classic, he is more than free with his thoughts.
“The Classic horses are three pretty powerful horses,” Baffert said. “We’ve got a Derby winner (Authentic), a 3-year-old champion (Maximum Security) and Improbable has won his last (three) races in great fashion. I’ve never been this strong before in the Classic. Usually, I’d be happy to have just one of those in the Classic. To have three is pretty amazing.”
Baffert was even bolder about his chances.
“I could see all three of them hitting the board,” Baffert said. “The only pressure I feel is that they are three good horses and they should be right there. Every time I’ve come into the Breeders’ Cup where I have had horses that should be right there, they are right there. I feel real good about that.”
The favorite of the three is Improbable at 5-2. He has won three in a row, which include wins over four of the horses in the 10-horse Classic field. In his last race, he beat Maximum Security by 4 1/2 lengths in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita.
For “Improbable, the break is important for him because he can act up some times,” Baffert said.
Maximum Security is the 7-2 third choice. He has a career shrouded in controversy. He became the first race-day disqualification in the history of the Kentucky Derby last year because of interference. This year, his original trainer, Jason Servis, received a federal indictment for horse doping. Maximum Security is not currently tied to any of the doping charges. The horse was moved to Baffert’s barn and has won two of three.
“He’s like the forgotten horse,” Baffert said. “He’s like ‘the other Baffert,’ but I think he’s going to be right there, too.”
The “other Baffert” is an oft-mentioned betting strategy of playing the Baffert horse that is not the favorite.
Authentic is the 6-1 co-fourth choice. He won the Kentucky Derby and finished second in the Preakness Stakes.
“Authentic, speed is his weapon, so he ought to be sharp away from (the gate),” Baffert said. “... What they all have in common is they are extremely talented horses . You hate to run all three of them together like that, but for the Breeders’ Cup Classic everything is on the line.”
Tiz the Law, trained by Barclay Tagg, is the second favorite at 3-1. He won the Belmont Stakes, which this year was the first Triple Crown race, and was the heavy Kentucky Derby favorite before finishing second to Authentic.
“He has to break well and get a position,” Tagg said. “I don’t want him to get trapped down on the inside. Then he is going to have to figure that all out. You can make up all kinds of things on how you think it ought to happen, but you’ve got a kid on a 1,000-pound horse going 35 miles an hour in a group. It’s pretty hard to make things go just like you’d like them to. You can’t ride them. You can only ride one.”
The Classic is one of nine $1 million-plus races on the second day of the Breeders’ Cup. Another marquee race is the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff, restricted to fillies and mares. Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver will be going against Monomoy Girl, winner of 10 straight including the 2018 Distaff at Churchill Downs.
The big one is the 1 1/4-mile Classic and who better to make a prediction than the trainer with almost a third of the field?
“I’m a bad handicapper,” Baffert said. “I’m the worst. They keep asking me which one in the Classic. I think every day I have a different answer. (So) I don’t have an answer yet.”
The answer will come Saturday afternoon in Lexington, the area where all three of Baffert’s horses were bred.