The following feature was originally published in the Paulick Report Special, our print edition distributed at major Thoroughbred auctions
Bob Baffert and wife Jill had never met gold medal Olympic skier Bode Miller when they had a son and decided to give him the unusual name of Bode.
The Hall of Fame trainer, who likes to ski whenever the opportunity presents itself, said he came to admire the “all-out” style the two-time World Cup champion employed while becoming the most successful American male alpine ski racer of all time.
Bode Baffert's name and his father's high-profile position in the Thoroughbred racing world eventually brought the Olympic skier and Hall of Fame trainer together, meeting for the first time at the 2005 Kentucky Derby, and they became fast friends. When the winter Olympics were at Vancouver, Canada, in 2010, the Baffert family headed north to cheer on Miller, who won three medals: a gold in the super-combined, silver in the super-G, and bronze in the downhill. Miller's five lifetime Olympic medals put him in a tie for second on the all-time men's list, behind Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway, with eight.
It wasn't that surprising that Miller and Baffert met at the Kentucky Derby. By his own count, Miller has been to the Derby 10 times, having learned about horseracing from his grandfather. Baffert has hardly missed a Derby since his first starter in the race, Cavonnier, finished second, beaten a nose in 1996. He's won the Run for the Roses three times, and had two seconds and two thirds going into the 2012 running.
Baffert's big 2012 hope rested on the muscular shoulders of Bodemeister, an Empire Maker colt owner Ahmed Zayat named after Baffert's son. Indirectly, then, the big colt was named after the skier.
Bodemeister, according to Miller ran “balls out,” just like he skied, and he placed a healthy wager on the colt at the windows. Bodemeister led until the final few strides of the mile and a quarter classic, losing to I'll Have Another, who went on to win the Preakness with the exact same tactics.
Miller and his girlfriend (they've since married) joined the Bafferts at the Preakness, but didn't let Bodemeister's second defeat at the hands of I'll Have Another get him down.
He asked Baffert if he could tag along with him to look at some of the 2-year-olds in training at nearby Timonium that would be sold by Fasig-Tipton following the Preakness. Miller indicated he might want to buy a horse, or at least get into a partnership.
“He got the DVD for the workouts, looked at every one of them, and called me with some ideas about the ones he liked,” Baffert said.
Miller ended up going partners with Jill Baffert on a colt by Any Given Saturday consigned by pinhooker Eddie Woods. The hammer price was $55,000 on Miller's first Thoroughbred acquisition.
Baffert didn't want Miller's hopes running too high, so he warned him that the colt, subsequently named Carving, would probably race for a claiming tag when he debuted. That came in an $80,000 maiden claiming race at Del Mar on Aug. 23. Carving won by 1 3/4 lengths and Miller starting dreaming of his own Derby.
Less than three weeks later, Carving jumped into a minor stakes race at Fairplex Park, the C.B. Afflerbaugh, and Miller thought this one would be just as easy as his debut. Again, Baffert, tried to temper his enthusiasm. “Those were his friends he raced against last time,” Baffert said, a reference that all of the horses in his debut were entered to be claimed. “This could be a little tougher.”
But Carving won again, this time by 3 1/2 lengths, giving Baffert enough encouragement to try him in graded stakes competition next time out. In that race, Carving held his own, finishing fourth behind stablemate Power Broker in the Grade 1 Frontrunner at Santa Anita. He didn't enter the Breeders' Cup but is training forwardly for his next “all out” run.
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