BALTIMORE - From 1997 through 2002, Bob Baffert was Mr. Triple Crown, having replaced D. Wayne Lukas as the king of spring. In those six years, he won eight of the 3-year-old classics, including three bids for a sweep. Baffert lives for those days when the world is watching, and the eight-year slump deflated his ego.
Since War Emblem completed the Kentucky Derby-Preakness double in 2002, Baffert had been 0-for-8 in the Derby, 0-for-2 in the Preakness and 0-for-1 in the Belmont. His runners rarely were taken seriously, and all but Pioneerof the Nile, second in last year's Derby, were out of the money.
That's why the white-haired wisecracker was even more animated than usual Saturday after Lookin At Lucky got him off an eight-year schneid.
"I know it's been a few years," Baffert said. "It's just as exciting. I mean, this was a different kind of win. This was more of a redemption win. This horse is such a warrior. He wants to win. He tries so hard."
Baffert saluted the colt's owners, Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitmann. "There are no better people to have fun with," Baffert said. "They've been with me forever. We bought some really good ones, we bought some really bad ones, but we stick it out. The name of the game is you keep trying and you end up here."
Baffert, 57, was inducted into the Hall of Fame last August in Saratoga Springs, the ultimate accolade. His fifth Preakness tied him for second with Lukas and T.J. Healey, behind R.W. Walden, who won seven from 1875-88.
Baffert wasn't sure whether he would run Lookin At Lucky on June 5 in the Belmont Stakes. A brilliant 5-for-11 at the Preakness, Baffert is only 1-for-7 in "The Test of the Champion." Besides Point Given's win in 2001, the race has caused him only pain. Three times he was denied the Triple Crown there, with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet ('98) and War Emblem. In '96, his Derby runner-up Cavonnier suffered a leg injury, and three years later, his superstar filly Silverbulletday was seventh.
"I don't know. I wanted to see what he did today," Baffert said of Lookin At Lucky's immediate future. "I wasn't really thinking about the Belmont because a mile and a half can be pretty taxing for him the rest of the year.
"He leaves here [Sunday] and I have to decide. Do I send him back to California, to New York or to Kentucky? I never have a plan. Mike Pegram knows that. I'll let the horse tell me. Tomorrow morning, I guess we'll know. If you see him at Belmont tomorrow or if you see him in California tomorrow, you'll know."