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Bob Baffert embarks on 4th try at Triple Crown: 'I'm used to it'

Trainer Bob Baffert, left, holds Preakness Stakes winner

Trainer Bob Baffert, left, holds Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah outside the stakes barn, Sunday, May 17, 2015 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore while groom Eduardo Garcia gives the Triple Crown hopeful a bath. Credit: AP / Garry Jones

BALTIMORE - The NBC director thanked trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza, and Sunday morning's very brief live interview was over. As sound bites go, it was a mere morsel.

"That's it?" an amused Baffert said. "I waited 13 years for this?"

His last disappointing bid for the Triple Crown came in 2002 with War Emblem. American Pharoah's seven-length runaway in Saturday's Preakness Stakes will give Baffert a record fourth opportunity to sweep the 3-year-old classics. On June 6 at Belmont Park, his smooth-striding colt could become the 12th thoroughbred to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and the first since Affirmed in 1978.

"I've already been through it, so I'm used to it," Baffert said. "But it's still hard for me to realize I'm going through this again. It's already starting to sink in. I can't believe I'm doing it four times, how lucky I've been."

He said the horse will be flown Monday to Louisville, where he'll be stabled at Churchill Downs in the care of assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. Baffert said "as long as the horse is doing really well," he'll be sent to New York three days before the Belmont.

Baffert was returning to Los Angeles on Sunday with his wife, Jill, and their 10-year-old son, Bode. "It's fun being on this journey with Jill and Bode," he said. "They have to put up with all of my mood swings."

Except for an undisclosed leg injury that kept American Pharoah out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, it's been a joyride. Owner Ahmed Zayat's 2-year-old champion is 6-for-7 lifetime and has taken six consecutive graded stakes by a combined 30 1/4 lengths.

Baffert held his superstar's shank as a groom hosed down the bay colt's black lower legs. They were caked in mud Saturday on a track that a downpour turned into brown soup. American Pharoah relished it while seven overmatched opponents floundered, burdened by many extra pounds they picked up while slogging along.

American Pharoah runs with cotton earplugs to minimize crowd noise. Baffert "was worried they'd get soaked like a wet diaper."

Gary Stevens and Firing Line finished 45 lengths behind, 44 farther back than in the Derby. Stevens' riding weight is 115. Baffert said Stevens told him when he weighed in carrying his saddle, the scale read 135.

"I thought they might delay it because of the thunder," Baffert said. "Jimmy [Barnes] ducked under the [Jumbotron] in the infield to get out of the rain and saw wires all over the place. He told me, 'I had to get out of there fast because if lightning struck, they probably wouldn't have found me for days.' "

The apocalyptic conditions were less demanding for American Pharoah than the 1 1/2 miles of "The Test of the Champion" will be. Besides a marathon to cap three stressful races in only five weeks, he'll face a much stronger field than Saturday's.

Besides Todd Pletcher's trio of Materiality, Carpe Diem and Madefromlucky, Frosted, Mubtaahij, Keen Ice and Frammento are pointing for the Belmont. All but Madefromlucky (four weeks) will have had five weeks off, and horses who skipped the Preakness have won nine consecutive Belmonts.

"It just shows the respect they have for American Pharoah," Baffert said. "He's more vulnerable, but it's something I can't control. He'll have to earn it."

Belmont tickets left. New York Racing Association spokesman John Durso Jr. said 95 percent of reserved seats and hospitality options for Belmont day have been sold. All remaining tickets must be purchased exclusively through Ticketmaster, with none available by contacting NYRA or visiting its box office.

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