Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Healthy Again, Assistant Relishes Role with Justify Baffert's Longtime Aide Can Run Show

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Healthy Again, Assistant Relishes Role with Justify Baffert's Longtime Aide Can Run Show

Article excerpt

ELMONT, N.Y. - When there's a Triple Crown hopeful in the Bob Baffert barn, it's a little like this: Baffert comes and goes. Jimmy Barnes is forever.

The longtime assistant trainer always is there, on the ground, on his pony, on the radio, on the phone. He was there on crutches at the Breeders' Cup in 2017 after taking a spill from his horse and suffering a broken pelvis in September.

He has been there since 1999, and his wife, Dana, has been there longer as an exercise rider for Baffert since 1997.

When Baffert had a heart attack in Dubai in 2012, Barnes was there to take the reins and kept the operation going. When Barnes was slowed in the fall, it wasn't for long.

"I went [to the hospital] to see him and he's laying there, and he says, 'Man, I feel like I let you down,'" Baffert said. "That's the way Jimmy is."

If it seems like Barnes works all the time, it's only because he does. Up and to the barn at 4:30. Leave around noon. Come back later in the afternoon. On a race day, stay all day sometimes. He travels, New Mexico to California to Arkansas to Kentucky to wherever.

And with Justify, like American Pharoah, Barnes is a near-constant presence, serving as Baffert's eyes, ears, hands and heartbeat when Baffert is away while minding the rest of his operation.

His experience with high-end horses and his knowledge of Baffert and his way of doing things is difficult to duplicate; its value is impossible to estimate.

"He makes my job so much easier," Baffert said. "I've got to be concentrating on all these horses, where they're going to run, dealing with the ownership, buying horses. So, when he's back here with the horse, I don't have to worry about it. He knows what he has to do. He knows the way I think.

"I'm running a big operation in California, and we'll talk, he'll shoot me a text, 'How do you want to handle this? …

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