Robert A. Baffert (born January 13, 1953) is an American racehorse trainer who trained the 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. Baffert's horses have won seven Kentucky Derbies (a record), seven Preakness Stakes, three Belmont Stakes and three Kentucky Oaks.
Early life and career
Baffert grew up on a ranch in Nogales, Arizona, where his family raised cattle and chickens. When he was 10, his father purchased some Quarter Horses and he practiced racing them on a dirt track. In his teens, he worked as a jockey for $100 a day in informal Quarter Horse races on the outskirts of Nogales. From there, he moved to racing at legalized tracks, scoring his first victory at age 17 in 1970.
Baffert graduated from the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program with a Bachelor of Science degree, got married, and began training quarter horses at a Prescott, Arizona farm. By age 20, he had developed a reputation as a trainer and was hired by other trainers to run their stables. His first winner was Flipper Star at Rillito Park on January 28, 1979. In the 1980s, Baffert moved to California and worked at Los Alamitos Race Course, where he switched to training Thoroughbreds full-time in 1991. He got his first big break in 1992 when he won his first Breeder's Cup race with Thirty Slews.
Baffert established his early reputation with less expensive horses like Silver Charm and Real Quiet, bought for $16,500 and $17,000 respectively. Fellow trainer D. Wayne Lukas attributed Baffert's success to his "extraordinary eye for a good horse" and his management ability in finding the right opportunities for his charges.
American classic history
Baffert's history in the American classic races began in 1996 when he trained a three-year-old colt named Cavonnier, who ran second in the Kentucky Derby. In 1997, he trained the gray colt Silver Charm to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, finishing second in the Belmont. Baffert revisited the Derby the next year, sending two top colts, Real Quiet and Indian Charlie, to Louisville. Real Quiet won the race that year, but Baffert also finished third with Indian Charlie. Real Quiet won the Preakness as well, but, like Silver Charm, the horse was denied a Triple Crown win and finished second in the Belmont Stakes by a nose. Baffert, however, became the first trainer in history to win the Derby and Preakness in back-to-back years.
Baffert did not win another classic race until 2001, when he won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes with eventual Hall of Fame member Point Given. Although he was denied a Derby win that year, he finished third in the race with Congaree. Baffert won the Derby a third time the following year with War Emblem. The colt went on to win the Preakness Stakes, giving the trainer his third shot at winning the Triple Crown. The colt lost the Belmont Stakes after breaking poorly from the starting gate. Baffert did not have a horse hit the board again in any of the Triple Crown races until 2009, when he trained Pioneerof The Nile to a second-place finish in the Derby.
Finally, after waiting eight years, Baffert trained Lookin At Lucky, co-owned by longtime client and good friend Mike Pegram, to win the Preakness Stakes in 2010. The colt skipped the Belmont Stakes but became the champion three-year-old colt that year. In 2012, Baffert saddled Bodemeister, named for the trainer's youngest son, Bode, to second-place finishes in the Derby and Preakness. He saddled Paynter in the Belmont Stakes later that year, but that colt, like his stablemate Bodemeister, finished second.
In 2015, Baffert trained the 2014 champion two-year-old colt American Pharoah to win the Triple Crown, the first to do so in 37 years. He won the 141st Kentucky Derby, bringing his total number of victories in the race to four; Baffert also ran the third-place finisher, the previously undefeated colt Dortmund. American Pharoah next won the 140th Preakness Stakes, making six victories in that race for Baffert, who also finished fourth with Dortmund. Then, when American Pharoah won the 2015 Belmont Stakes, the win was the fourth attempt at a Triple Crown for Baffert, who at age 62 became the second-oldest trainer to win a Triple Crown.
Baffert also trained the 2018 Triple Crown Winner, Justify and the 2020 Kentucky Derby winner, Authentic. Baffert became a 7-time winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2021 with Medina Spirit. However, he later acknowledged that Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone. Despite denying any wrongdoing, this would mark the fifth time in under a year that one of the race horses Baffert trained failed a drug test.
As of May 2021[update], 31 of Baffert's horses had failed drug tests over four decades, including four horses in 2020. One notable event involved Triple Crown winner Justify, who tested positive for scopolamine after winning the 2018 Santa Anita Derby. Although the amount detected was well in excess of the regulatory limit, the case was eventually dismissed as the regulators felt all the facts supported an instance of feed contamination. Similarly, cases against two horses who tested positive in Arkansas in 2020 for lidocaine were dismissed as being the result of accidental transfer from an assistant trainer who was using the medication on himself. Following this incident, the state of Arkansas suspended Baffert for 15 days.
In 2021, a post-race test from Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit showed 21pg/mL of betamethasone. In Kentucky, any amount of betamethasone detected in post-race testing is a violation and could result in a disqualification. In a news conference on May 9, Baffert said that Medina Spirit was never administered betamethasone. In addition to a request for a split drug sample, Baffert also requested an independent DNA and follicle test. He told reporters that he would fight the issue "...tooth and nail because I owe it to the horse, I owe it to the owner, and I owe it to our industry." During a May 10 appearance on America's Newsroom Baffert asserted that the win was valid by suggesting that Medina Spirit may have tested positive after a groom took cough medicine and urinated on some hay, which the horse then ate. Baffert also said the situation was a "was like a cancel culture kind of a thing"; moreover, he said that he believed the investigation into Medina Spirit would take months. The positive test also led to former president Donald Trump calling Medina Spirit a "Junky" in a statement. Sports Illustrated also argued that the positive drug test was a sign that Baffert's "leaking credibility" had reached "the saturation point."
Baffert has trained horses that won fifteen American Classic Races, fifteen Breeders' Cup races, three Dubai World Cups and the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. In 2010, Baffert scored a first when Misremembered, a horse he bred, owned by his wife Jill and their friend George Jacobs, won the Santa Anita Handicap, marking Baffert's first Grade I win as a breeder. He also has nine wins in the Santa Anita Derby, nine in the Haskell Invitational Handicap, and fourteen wins in the Del Mar Futurity, a race he won seven straight times from 1996 to 2002, when run as a Grade II event. He also won the race in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 when run as a Grade I event. He has won the Kentucky Oaks three times: first in 1999 with Silverbulletday, who was later selected for the Hall of Fame, then with Plum Pretty in 2011 and lastly with Abel Tasman in 2017. Following Authentic's win the 2020 Kentucky Derby, Baffert tied the record for most Kentucky Derby wins at six. Only Ben Jones, who won Kentucky Derbies between 1938 and 1952, would also score six Kentucky Derby wins as a horse trainer.
Baffert has trained for numerous owners including The Thoroughbred Corporation (Prince Ahmed bin Salman), Golden Eagle Farm (John C. Mabee), the late Bob Lewis and his wife Beverly, Robert and Janice McNair, for whom he trained champions Chilukki and five-time Grade I winner Congaree, and his good friend Mike Pegram, for whom he has trained champions Real Quiet, Silverbulletday, Captain Steve, Midnight Lute, and Lookin At Lucky. In 2014, Baffert teamed with owner Kaleem Shah to win his first Breeders' Cup Classic with Bayern. Most recently, Baffert has trained horses for Zayat Stables, including Pioneerof The Nile, Zensational, Bodemeister, Paynter, and American Pharoah, and for Juddmonte Farms, most notably Arrogate.
Hall of Fame
Baffert was inducted into Lone Star Park's Hall of Fame in 2007, and in 2009, he was nominated and inducted to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame. Baffert was elected alongside one of the best fillies he trained, Silverbulletday. Point Given was nominated in 2009, but elected and inducted in 2010.
Baffert has five children: four from his first marriage to wife, Sherry: Taylor, Canyon, Forest, and Savannah. He married his second wife, Jill, a former television reporter based in Louisville, in 2002. They had a son in 2004 they named "Bode" (// BOH-dee), after skier Bode Miller. Baffert and his family reside in California.
He appeared in an episode of the TV show Take Home Chef.
Following the 2015 Belmont win, Baffert outlined several charities that he and his wife Jill supported. He had been paid $200,000 to allow the Burger King to stand behind him in the grandstand during the televised broadcast of the Belmont, after having turned down $150,000 to allow the mascot to appear with him at the Preakness. At the post-Belmont press conference, Baffert announced he and his wife would be making donations of $50,000 each to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), and Old Friends Equine, all programs for retired race horses; and to the Permanently Disabled Jockey's Fund in memory of a Quarter Horse Jockey named Robert Z. "Bobby" Adair. A friend of Baffert's and an inductee into the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame, Adair died on Preakness Day, May 16, 2015, at 71. Baffert had dedicated American Pharoah's win to Bobby.
A 2021 Sports Illustrated article said his political views were "hard right", with Baffert expressing support for Donald Trump.
Triple Crown in-the-money finishes
The Kentucky Derby
The Preakness Stakes
- ✝ - won Triple Crown.
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- "NYRA Media Guide 2021 (PDF)" (PDF). NYRA.com. pp. 50–52. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
- "Baffert nears $300M mark with an all-star stable". www.bloodhorse.com. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
- ESPN News Service (June 6, 2015). "American Pharoah claims first Triple Crown since 1978". ESPN. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
- Bob Baffert discusses tumble in Kentucky Derby winner's circle. WLKY (News). September 5, 2020. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
- Graves, Gary B. (May 10, 2021). "Bob Baffert no stranger to failed drug tests by his horses". Associated Press. Retrieved May 12, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Medina Spirit's Kentucky Derby win in doubt after postrace drug test". Retrieved May 9, 2021.
- "Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Withdrawal Guidelines Thoroughbred; Standardbred; Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, and Arabian" (PDF). Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. April 2020. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
- Crosby, Claire (May 9, 2021). "Medina Spirit Tests Positive for Betamethasone". bloodhorse.com. The BloodHorse. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
- Graves, Gary (May 9, 2021). "Baffert says Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive". apnews.com. Associated Press. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
- "Trainer: Kentucky Derby winner faces disqualification due to 'cancel culture'". The Guardian. May 10, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
- Gaydos, Ryan (May 10, 2021). "Bob Baffert asserts Medina Spirit's Kentucky Derby win was valid, invokes 'cancel culture'". Fox News. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
- Forde, Pat. "Baffert Has Turned Medina Spirit Controversy Into a Circus". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
- Forde, Pat. "Baffert's Leaking Credibility Reaches Saturation Point". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
- "Churchill Downs' Statement in Response to Medina Spirit's Post-Race Test Result Allegations" (PDF) (Press release). Louisville, KY: Churchill Downs Incorporated. May 9, 2021. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
- "Press Release Racing Museum April 20, 2009". Archived from the original on April 24, 2009. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "2015 Belmont Stakes Press Conference" (video). The Blood Horse. 12:45. June 6, 2015. Retrieved June 6, 2015.CS1 maint: location (link)
- Paulick, Ray (June 8, 2015). "Bafferts Make Whopper Of A Donation To Equine Charities". Paulick Report. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
- Myrick, Steve (June 6, 2015). "Bafferts, Espinoza donate Belmont winnings". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved June 7, 2015.
- Press release (May 16, 2015). "Robert Adair Dies". Archived from the original on June 14, 2015. Retrieved June 7, 2015.