You can forgive trainer Bob Baffert for being disgusted and frustrated for another gut wrenching loss in the Triple Crown.
The Belmont Stakes, which Baffert has won once but has claimed victim to him on multiple occasions including three missed Triple Crown opportunities, is always one of the toughest races to win in the world. And before the Belmont, he thought he had a great chance with his entrant.
Paynter, a newcomer to the 3-year-old elite ranks, was a horse that Baffert thought very highly of but didn't think was ready to take on the best. But after an impressive win at Pimlico on Preakness Day, the trainer decided Paynter was his Belmont horse.
Not long after Paynter won on Preakness Day, Bodemeister suffered his second straight nail biting defeat to I'll Have Another. The Preakness looked to be a perfect place for Bodemeister to turn the tables on the Derby winner as he was the lone speed but I'll Have Another proved to be too good.
The same scenario developed in the Belmont as jockey Mike Smith, who was also aboard Bodemeister in the Derby and Preakness, sent Paynter right to the lead and tried to slow down the pace as much as he could. It looked to be working as he looked comfortably in front for three quarters of the race. But, Union Rags, much like I'll Have Another did in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, wore down the Baffert trainee in the final strides.
“Is there a Triple Crown for seconds? I need a Triple Crown for second," Baffert said. "I really thought he was going to win today. He was doing so well. I just feel bad for [owner] Mr. [Ahmed] Zayat. The poor guy, he’s been tortured on this Triple Crown. Turning for home, I knew we had the horse to do it and that horse snuck up on him there. He’s still a young horse, still learning how to run. It’s over. When you get beat, you get beat.”
Upon reflection Baffert should smile widely about his Triple Crown performance. Any trainer in the world would be thrilled to have a chance to win any Triple Crown down the home stretch. It is very easy for a highly successful trainer to take that for granted but despite those tough defeats, Baffert's place among racing best all-time trainers is secure.
He already has won three Kentucky Derbys and five Preakness Stakes among many other elite races he has captured. And although he may have a restless night sleeping after suffering his third straight gut wrenching Triple Crown loss, he shouldn't want to trade places with anyone. Most trainer would want his "problems."
Saturday, June 9, 2012
BELMONT STAKES (G1) ALSO-RAN QUOTES
Bob Baffert, trainer of runner-up Paynter (No. 9): “Is there a Triple Crown for seconds? I need a Triple Crown for seconds. I really thought he was going to win today. He was doing so well. I just feel bad for [owner] Mr. [Ahmed] Zayat. The poor guy, he’s been tortured on this Triple Crown. Turning for home, I knew we had the horse to do it and that horse snuck up on him there. He’s still a young horse, still learning how to run. It’s over. When you get beat, you get beat.”
“[Jockey Mike Smith] will probably take a lot of heat for [letting Union Rags up the rail]. It’s a jockey thing. He didn’t want to give up the rail. But you know what, he did a tremendous job. The outside horse had that horse trapped. Johnny [Velazquez], you have to give him credit. He was patient and he just waited. He knew sometimes that happens in these big races.”
“There were no excuses. The first quarter was a little quick, but he had to use him a little bit to get him over because we wanted to get him on the lead and shut down the [No. 2] horse [Unstoppable U] immediately, because I figured he was in there as a rabbit for the other horse [Atigun]. Once he did that, he slowed them down and was in a perfect spot. He did all I could ask for. I had him ready. The crew did a great job, Jimmy Barnes and everybody. We had him ready, and we really thought today we were going to get it done. Unfortunately, we came up short, but we got beat by a nice horse.”
“He’s a really good horse. I really like this horse a lot. I wanted to win one of these races so badly, I’m telling you. My crew deserves it more than anything; they work so hard. And Mr. Zayat, he needed to win one of these. Poor guy. He really deserved it. It’s a shame. It looked like we had it. It looked like it was ours. I really felt like I was going to win the Belmont. It was snatched away again.”
“We were always really high on this horse. It just took him a little bit longer to come around. The horse is really green. He ran a hell of a race.”
“We’ll probably look at the Travers, something at Saratoga, something like that.”
Mike Smith, rider of runner-up Paynter (No. 9): “He ran tremendous. I’m such a perfectionist. [Union Rags] just shouldn’t have gotten through on me. I’d like to see what the outcome would have been if he wouldn’t have. I haven’t had the chance [to talk to Bob Baffert]. I’m sure he doesn’t want to speak to me right now.”
Ahmed Zayat, owner of runner-up Paynter (No. 9): “Heartbreaking defeat. A heartbreaking defeat. He ran his guts out. It’s just his fourth race. What do they call that race, the ‘Test of the Champion?’ To go a mile and a half the way he did, in only his fourth race, I am very lucky to have him. I’m very disappointed we opened the rail for [Union Rags].”
“Not only that, today Justin Phillip [second in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens] was winning for fun in crazy numbers and got beat. Sometimes when you run a lot of seconds, they say you tripped, or you got lucky. But my horses are showing up and running big. Somehow we are not able to close the deal.”
Ken McPeek, trainer third-place finisher Atigun (No. 4), sixth-place finisher Unstoppable U (No. 2): “Both horses were in contention turning for home, but the gray horse [Unstoppable U] needed the race. He didn’t have enough bottom under him. Atigun, he ran super. I was real pleased. He’s just maturing; he’s figured it out. He knows when to kick. Mr. Anthony [John Ed Anthony, Shortleaf Stable Inc.] is real happy. He’s a good man, and he’s good for the business.”
Julien Leparoux, jockey aboard third-place finisher Atigun (No. 4): “It was a very good race. There was a clean race for everybody, so that’s very important. For us, as the jockeys, for the people watching the race, it’s great to see a clean race. I hope everybody had fun today. We had a good trip. We stayed inside most of the trip. I could get him out around the turn, I thought I had a good chance to win, he made a nice move. He ran a big race, so that was good.”
Chad Brown, trainer of fourth-place finisher Street Life (No. 1): “He was in the right spot and that is where the horse wanted to be. He made a run, and he was good enough to get up to be fourth, but that was probably was as good as it was going to be today. He’s a horse that needs some pace to run at and I thought that with the blinkers on he would lay a little closer. I think he is more focused with them on, but he is a horse that comes from behind that needs some pace. In a mile and a half race we really didn’t get the pace that we needed to make the big run. We’ll probably keep him at a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter.”
Dale Romans, trainer of beaten favorite and seventh-place finisher Dullahan (No. 5): “He said he felt comfortable all around the backside. He felt he was relaxing in the right spot. Turning for home he just got to spinning his wheels. He said the track was pretty deep and cuppy. I don’t know. The race unfolded like it looked on paper to me. Paynter ran a big race, they all ran big, Union Rags ran big; we just didn’t have a finishing kick. This is a good horse, a very good horse. I was sure he was going to run a really big one. It’s disappointing.”
Was it the track?: “I’m not going to make excuses for him. I said all along I thought he could handle the dirt. I think it puts Union Rags in the picture for an Eclipse Award, I would think. There’s a lot of year left, and with I’ll Have Another out, it’s definitely in his own hands.”
Javier Castellano, rider of beaten favorite and seventh-place finisher Dullahan (No. 5): “I don’t think he really liked the track today. He’s the type of horse who likes the turf or Polytrack more. The track was a little deep today and he kind of struggled a little bit. He was in a great position and not too far back. I was right in mid pack which is right where I wanted to be. I was in a full drive and he never got a hold of the track. He never gave me the power and kick like he did at Churchill Downs [in the Kentucky Derby]. He was spinning his wheels.”
Friday, June 8, 2012
DOUG O'NEILL: Yeah, this is extremely tough for all of us. Though it's far from tragic, no one died or anything like that, but it's extremely disappointing and I feel so sorry for the whole team. We have had such an amazing run, you know, for me, taking three buses to go to Santa Anita at age ten to be here and try to make history.
Got to thank Paul and Zillah for making this possible. I've got to thank the team, too. A lot of them are back at the mansion, going to let them enjoy; I think they aren't enjoying the pool and tennis court today.
But Jonny who gets on him every day is just a great kid and Betto (ph) who came out here just in case we needed a backup, Inocencio who worked his butt off every day. Benjamin, who is grazing him right now. Savas, Leandro, and I know I'm missing guys, Thumper,
Rio, Tyler Cerin, Marcos.
But it has just been an incredible ride, an incredible run. And I've taken so many notes, a lot of mental notes and I know we are going to be back here again. I know some people have asked if I thought the detention barn had anything to do with that. And absolutely not. Just a freak‑ish thing.
He has been showing a little bit of ‑‑ you know, he has been quiet the last few days of galloping, but his legs have been great. Yesterday he galloped great, but in the afternoon we noticed some loss of definition in his left front leg to which, like every other owner and trainer we prayed he just kind of hit himself and it was just a little bit of skin irritation, we did him up in a special poultice.
This morning he looked great; so I thank the racing gods there. And we did just a little easy gallop with him today. I thought he looked great on the track.
And then cooling out, you could tell that swelling was back and at that point I didn't feel very good. I talked to Mr. Reddam, and you know, immediately we got Dr. Hunt over here and he asked and answered him and he said it was the start of tendonitis in his left front tendon; and you know, you give him three to six months and start back with him.
But obviously he's done so much that it was unanimous between the Reddams and my brother and I and everyone at the barn to retire him. And it is a bummer, but again, far from tragic, but it is very disappointing.
PAUL REDDAM: I just want to thank Doug and his entire team for the great care they have given this horse. It was a hell of a run and I know they are all personally very disappointed, of course, that he didn't get to show his stuff for tomorrow, because we tried to be quiet.
But I really thought he was going to run off tomorrow and really show something. So we were all a bit shocked, but we have to do what's best for the horse and if he can't compete at the top level, you know, he's done enough, and Doug, thank you.
Q. Have you finalized stud plans yet?
PAUL REDDAM: Stud season is over this year and the horse I assume is going back to
, being in friendly
surroundings and, I guess we would be open to talking about that at some point
But it's not an emergency to talk about where he's going to stand or what he would stand for or this and that. We are just going to ‑‑ look, the races are going to go on today. The big race is tomorrow. Going to be there as a fan now, won't tell you who we are betting on. We'll take a few days to just let this play out.
Q. Which leg and which tendon the injury occurred to?
DOUG O'NEILL: His left front. He had tendonitis in the left front, superficial tendon.
Q. What's the difference between tendonitis and a bowed tendon?
DOUG O'NEILL: Well, a bowed tendon, you get a big old profile and it's an advanced tendon. So it's ‑‑ you actually have a large lesion in the core of the tendon. This is the beginning of a tendon.
Could he run and compete? Yes. But would it be in his best interests? No. And so yeah, we are not ‑‑ he would never get a bowed tendon.
Q. Are there any concerns that the schedule he's had over the last five weeks contributed in any way to this injury?
DOUG O'NEILL: I'd say no. He's been doing great. Just a freak‑ish thing. I think when you have a human or an equine athlete, when you give 110 percent every time you step on the court or the track, you're suspect to injury. I've been hoping and praying he would stay injury‑free, and you know, it didn't happen.
But again, like Paul said, it's still going to be a great race tomorrow, and you know, we'll be there and rooting and hopefully a good, safe run. Hopefully whoever we pick wins.
Q. Do you know yet when he's going to be going back to
DOUG O'NEILL: I think he was scheduled to go back Sunday or Monday, so that will be the same plan.
Q. Did you have any concerns for bringing him out this morning?
DOUG O'NEILL: Well, if he didn't look 100 percent this morning, I wouldn't have. But you know, after yesterday afternoon, the intent was to take him out real early when it was quiet. And one of the negatives to this detention barn is that 8:30 everyone is heading out and you've got, you know, ten to 12 horses all trying to go to the track, all trying to be on the wash rack. It gets congested. I wanted a real quiet time with him.
He looked great this morning. He trained great. But when I saw the swelling come up after the training, then, you know, without, oh, yeah, go ahead, Paul.
PAUL REDDAM: It should just be clear that yesterday afternoon before any of this came up, the decision was made that he was going to have an easy morning and come out early and stress‑free and just jog around the track for Saturday.
So it wasn't like he had an injury and Doug took him out for a test drive this morning. That was not the case. He had a little heat; it was gone. He was good this morning, probably because he was treated before the race on Thursday. It was just after that, Doug called and we just discussed, okay, we have this problem, should we look at it?
I said, well, if you look at it, and the vet comes over, he'll have a lot of attention, but what the heck, that's what's best for the horse so that's what he did. Just to be precautionary, he said we'll scan the tendon and it's a good thing he did scan it, because that's when he found the problem.
So the horse is not lame. He could have run tomorrow. You wouldn't have known a difference had he not looked at it. So Doug, through extreme caution about the horse, had the vet come over and scan him.
Q. What was Mario's reaction?
PAUL REDDAM: Well, I called Mario this morning, just after I talked to Doug, and he was ‑‑ I think he was sort of stunned, because he really didn't say much at first, and I wasn't sure that he really understood what I was talking about.
Then when I explained: No, no, I'll Have Another, he's got to be retired, his immediate reaction was, "Well, should I just go home today?"
"No, you've got to ride."
So he was ‑‑ he was sad for the horse, really. He has just had a tremendous bonding with I'll Have Another, as everybody saw him on the track, and his concern was 100 percent for the welfare of the horse and he expressed in the end no disappointment for him not getting a chance to run the
He's just glad that the horse is okay and, you know, his safety, along with the other riders' safety is paramount. So that's why the decision was made.