BALTIMORE – Mr. Triple Crown, Bob Baffert, freely admits he doesn’t call the shots in his family. The one who does is “the warden, the boss,” as he affectionately called his wife, Jill, Thursday on Pimlico’s backstretch.
Their son, Bode, is graduating eighth grade June 7, the eve of the Belmont Stakes. The man who hoisted the Triple Crown trophy twice in the previous four years will not be at “The Test of the Champion.” He’ll be with Jill in Southern California watching a rite of passage of a boy whom America has seen grow up in the winner’s circle.
“Can I go to the Belmont?” Bob asked Jill.
“You’re not going to the Belmont,” she said with mock sternness.
Baffert said Game Winner, who was placed fifth in the Kentucky Derby, is a possibility for the Belmont. “I’m leaving the door open for him,” he said. The 2018 2-year-old champion is owned by Gary and Mary West, owners of Maximum Security, the disqualified Derby winner.
Baffert will ship stakes runners to Elmont with longtime assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. “Jimmy will take care of things there,” Baffert said. “This is our last classic.”
Fast and firm
For the third consecutive year, the Derby was run on a wet track. Three of the last four Preaknesses were staged on sloppy tracks, and last year’s Preakness week was brutal. Starting Wednesday, it rained steadily, sometimes heavily, through Saturday.
Pimlico got a long-overdue break this week. On Friday, Black-Eyed Susan Day, it was sunny and pleasant, with the temperature in the mid-80s by late afternoon. Saturday dawned cool and partially overcast, with expected highs approaching 80. By 6:48 p.m., the scheduled post time of the Preakness, there was a 15-percent chance of a “stray shower,” according to weather.com.
First post for the 14-race card was unusually early, 10:30, when the main track was rated fast and the turf firm.
One disturbing note: A full moon, often the bringer of weirdness, would begin rising over Pimlico at 5:11 p.m. The Independent called it “a rare full flower blue moon that will be one of the biggest and best of the year.”
Gulp. Crazy things often happen at Old Hilltop, where 20 years ago on Preakness Day a disturbed man ran onto the track and threw a punch at a horse as the field charged down the stretch. Fortunately, he missed, and seconds later a security guard tackled the intruder.
The year before, a power outage hit the Preakness on a hot and humid day. The Baltimore Sun reported that the track lost an estimated $2 million in wagers because the pari-mutuel windows in the grandstand and clubhouse went dark.
OK if I crash here, man?
For the first time in 23 years, the Derby winner skipped the Preakness. Runner-up Country House was awarded the victory by disqualification. Trainer Bill Mott said the colt began coughing a few days after the Derby, and he not only skipped the Preakness but will miss the Belmont, too.
Stall 40 in Pimlico’s stakes barn is traditionally reserved for the Derby winner, so it was vacant until Thursday. That’s when Everfast, a late entry in the Preakness, arrived by van from Churchill Downs, and he filled the empty stall.
A year ago, undefeated Justify occupied the stall before taking the Preakness on his way to a Triple Crown. Everfast is 1-for-10 lifetime, having lost nine in a row since taking his debut last August. That occurred at Kentucky’s little Ellis Park, nicknamed “the Pea Patch” for the soybeans in the infield.
Travel light, travel right
The round trip on light rail from the suburbs to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor costs $1.60 with the senior discount, making it the greatest travel bargain in America.
Although Everfast was in stall 40 early Saturday morning, he was moved next door to stall 34 before 11 a.m.