Magazine article Success

Three's a Crown

Magazine article Success

Three's a Crown

Article excerpt

Bob Baffert began 2015 as a horse trainer whose legacy was already carved in stone. He'd been inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 2009 and had more than 2,500 victories and north of $220 million in earnings. He'd been in the business for more than 40 years; his career was the stuff of legends, and he had the respect of his industry. He was just missing this one thing.

And it finally arrived as his horse American Pharoah came tearing around the final turn at the Belmont Stakes in May. There was no doubt: The Triple Crown, the lone professional prize that had eluded him throughout his career, was his. Pharoah, the colt who had already won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, ended up beating the field by a full 5!4 lengths (a unit of measurement in racing meaning the length of a horse from nose to tail). To win the Triple Crown, which is considered the sport's greatest achievement, a 3-year-old horse must win racing's three biggest events in a single year. Before Pharoah, only 11 horses had won the Triple Crown. His was the first Triple Crown win in 37 years--so lengthy a drought, in fact, that many of the sport's pundits believed that modern training and breeding practices made it an impossible feat. Baffert proved them wrong while surrounded by his family and five children: Taylor, Canyon, Forest, Savannah and Bode.

"I had an idea when [American Pharoah] went into the first turn," Baffert says. "He gets in that cruising mode, and horses just can't keep up with him when he's in that mode. But he still needed some luck. I always expect the worst and hope for the best. But once I saw him going into the last turn, I could tell Pharoah was in that mode." Baffert was already one of the sport's pre-eminent names, thanks to a career that includes 12 Breeders' Cup victories, four at the Kentucky Derby, six at the Preakness and two at Belmont. Claiming the Crown didn't create Baffert's legacy. "That was already assured," says Brien Bouyea of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "Out at the California racetracks, he's pretty much revered as a god. It's not like if he didn't get this achievement his career would have been thought of any less. But it's certainly a nice capper."

In addition to the capping, the Crown win--and run-up to it-- catalyzed a resurgence of interest in a sport that enjoys a devoted inside following but tends to break into the national conversation only on special occasions. In short, it was amazing PR. "This horse created a momentum that carried into summer and fall," Bouyea says. Pharoah and his trainer got big enough that Sports Illustrated announced the horse as a candidate for its Sportsman of the Year award. SportsCenter did a live show from Saratoga; jockey Victor Espinoza parlayed his riding success into a gig on Dancing with the Stars. "It certainly had tremendous cultural impact," Bouyea says. "And having Bob and Victor as ambassadors helped."

For Baffert, the road to the Crown took more than four decades. Known equally for his success, shock of snow-white hair, and what industry experts and writers call an "irreverent attitude," Baffert suffered a heart attack in 2012 and has been, by most accounts, a little mellowed since. …

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