Bob Baffert is not welcome at Churchill Downs, but Keeneland awaits with open arms. The Hall of Fame trainer is serving a two-year suspension after 2021 Kentucky Derby “winner” Medina Spirit was deemed to have an illegal medication. However, since Churchill Downs Inc., doesn’t own Keeneland, Baffert is welcome to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 4th and 5th. Among his runners is Cave Rock, favored in the horse racing odds to win the $2 million Juvenile. He’d thus stamp himself as the top contender for the 2023 Derby. Cave Rock’s conditioner the first Saturday in May could ultimately be Baffert, who is vigorously appealing the ban.
Baffert has also been suspended by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks until Jan. 25. NYRA cited Baffert accumulated seven violations in three states over a 14-month period. However, none of that matters at this Cup, when 14 championship races-four including Baffert runners-are to be run at the bucolic Lexington, Ky., track. A cloud of suspicion will likely settle over Baffert during the duration of his career, a sad commentary for a sport that doesn’t need more negative attention.
Baffert, who has reportedly collected some 30 violations over his training career, blames stricter guidelines. “The testing levels have become ridiculous. All they show is contamination, and they have really put the trainers’ heads on the chopping blocks,” he said. “It hurts racing.”
Undefeated Cave Rock
Baffert has won 17 Breeders’ Cup races. That’s second to D. Wayne Lukas’ 20. Baffert’s best chance to inch closer lies in Cave Rock, 3-of-3 lifetime including a win in the Oct, 8th American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita. “He’s the real, real deal,” co-owner Mike Pegram told Blood Horse about the Arrogate colt. “… He’s won two Grade 1s. We’ll take it. We’ll find out what he’s made of four weeks from now (Breeders’ Cup) if everything is OK.” Cave Rock should offer about even-money odds when betting online.
There’s Also Laurel River
Baffert’s other entrants won’t attract as much attention at the racebook, but he’ll have other good chances to find the winner’s circle at the Cup. Laurel River has worked very well ahead of the million-dollar Dirt Mile, while Taiba hooks Flightline in the $6 million Classic. Laurel River has won three straight races, while Taiba comes off a convincing victory in the Pennsylvania Derby.
“He has a lot of speed, but he’s going to be much more effective around two turns,” Baffert said about Laurel River after the 4-year-old son of Into Mischief won Del Mar’s seven-furlong Pat O’Brien Stakes in August by 3¾ lengths.
Baffert was a little-known former quarterhorse conditioner when he won his first Breeders’ Cup race with 18-1 shot Thirty Slews in the 1992 Sprint. Baffert, who turns 70 Jan. 13th, has since become-better or worse-the face of horse racing…with his hair turning white long ago, when he wasn’t bad news.
Racing doesn’t have a commissioner, so the individual jurisdictions are left to their own devices. Baffert’s ban at Churchill-and inclusion at Keeneland-is another example of why the horse racing needs one governing body to set policies, making it even tougher on the cheaters.
In the meantime, the industry formerly known as The Sport of Kings is crumbling faster than one can say the name of “Baffert.”