Bob Baffert’s return to Belmont Stakes highlights big day

The skies over Belmont Park had cleared, removing the orange haze from the Canadian wildfires that forced state officials to halt racing and practice two days before the final stage of the Triple Crown.

Horse racing was about to resume in a couple of hours when Bob Baffert jumped out of his black Escalade and pointed upwards.

“The weather here is better than in California,” Baffert said. “We haven’t seen the sun for two weeks, it’s cloudy and gloomy there.”

On Friday, Baffert was back at Belmont Park for the first time since 2018 as Justify completed its attempt to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. It was crazy back then, around 50 media representatives waited breathlessly for every statement from the Hall of Fame coach.

Only three reporters and a TV cameraman were there on Friday morning. Baffert conducted three separate interviews instead of one joint interview. He had the time.

“It feels good to be back,” Baffert said. “Belmont is beautiful and growing [Saturday]. It is exciting. The classics are exciting. Being there with a horse that has a chance is exciting.”

Obviously, the media audience was missing because Triple Crown is not at stake. In fact, no horse has won two stages of the series since Justify. If anyone other than Baffert’s horse, National Treasure, wins the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, there will be a streak of 16 mixed-winner races, beginning with Justify.

“Nobody’s aiming for a Triple Crown this year,” Baffert said. “The Triple Crown makes the difference. History is being made and it is difficult. You learn to appreciate it.”

This year’s Belmont is probably the best Triple Crown race. The Kentucky Derby has been overshadowed by a rise in horse fatalities and scratches. The Preakness Stakes didn’t have an impressive number of horses. Most of Belmont’s attention is on Forte, who was the Derby favorite before Kentucky state officials scratched the colt on race day for a hoof injury. At 5-2 odds, he’s the morning favorite for Belmont. Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the derby, is 3-1 second pick while Angel of Empire, who finished third in the derby, is 7-2.

Baffert’s top assistant, Jimmy Barnes, has been overseeing the practice of Preakness winner National Treasure as Baffert didn’t arrive in New York until Thursday night after a six-hour flight delay.

His late arrival also partly explains why he was away from Belmont Park for so long.

“Usually we were at Churchill Downs,” Baffert said. “If we’re coming from Churchill, we’ll arrive on a Wednesday. But since I wasn’t in Churchill but came from California, I came later. If I were in Churchill I would be here sooner.”

The reason Baffert was not at Churchill is a two-year suspension imposed by the track after Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned drug on race day following his 2021 Kentucky Derby win. After it was clear that Medina Spirit would not be competing at the Belmont, the New York Racing Assn. Baffert was suspended for two years, later reduced to a year, though never has a horse in the state failed a drug test.

“We’re still dealing with that,” Baffert said of the ongoing litigation. “We still wonder why they did that. We are just at the bridge and haven’t crossed it yet. I just want to clear my name.”

Last year, Baffert served a 90-day ban from Kentucky during the Triple Crown series and was honored by all states for violating the Medina Spirit.

Baffert’s Churchill ban expires on July 3. For the past two years, Baffert’s Derby horses have been transferred to Tim Yakteen, his former assistant. National Treasure was moved to Yakteen this year to compete in the Santa Anita Derby, but his fourth place finish wasn’t good enough to get him into the Derby field. After the race the colt was brought back to Baffert.

“It’s difficult to get to the derby,” Baffert said. “If a horse doesn’t run well in the derby, you say it’s just tired. And people are tired too. It will still be an exciting race, the Belmont is very important for the fans in New York. It’s tradition.

“All good horses used to take part in all the big races. Now the trainer wants to choose their places and give their horse a month off. … Look, it’s only nine horses [in Saturday’s race]. We had three weeks and it’s still only nine horses. … It’s the classics and the Breeders’ Cup that keep this sport going.”

With the 2023 Triple Crown series drawing to a close on Saturday, the sport is hoping to emerge from the shadow of controversy and focus on November’s Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita.

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

Related Articles

Back to top button