Chad Brown has won an Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding trainer for the past three years, but if there was a category for most recognizable trainer, Bob Baffert would have retired the cup by now.
He's on TV more than Lucy reruns.
Winning the Kentucky Derby five times and sweeping the Triple Crown twice will buoy your mainstream popularity.
The 66-year-old Hall of Fame member with the signature shock of white hair is poised to add to his laurels on the Triple Crown trail thanks to a nucleus of three-year-olds with seemingly unlimited potential, although it is three months from the 145th Run for the Roses on May 4.
The latest to show his merit is Mucho Gusto, who rolled to a 4 ¾-length triumph in Saturday's Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes, covering a mile and one-sixteenth on a sloppy/sealed track in 1:41.81 under a patient ride by Joe Talamo.
Baffert was delighted with the outcome. It was his record seventh win in the race, which was run as the Santa Catalina Stakes from 1964 through 2006.
“The horse got to sit off the pace and they have to learn to do that,” Baffert said. “I was happy with Joe. He rode him with a lot of confidence and was on his own. I didn't give him any instructions. When he asked me what he should do, I told him, 'You need to WIN THIS RACE.'
“This is the time of year when you start getting excited about the big three-year-old races. We're still dreaming in Technicolor, but the horses have to start performing and moving forward from this point, and it's fun to be in this position.”
Whether Mucho Gusto remains first string or a sub off the bench from Baffert's varsity remains to be seen. At the moment, Mucho Gusto is among Baffert's “starters” along with Improbable, Coliseum and his “Michael Jordan,” undefeated Eclipse Award winner as outstanding two-year-old male of 2018, Game Winner.
Coliseum is scheduled to start in this Sunday's Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs. The gray son of Tapit owned and bred by Godolphin LLC worked six furlongs from the gate Wednesday in a bullet 1:12.20 under Mike Smith.
“He came away from the gate a little slow,” Baffert said, “but he settled really well, which I really liked. I'm pretty happy with that.”
If one of his three-year-olds were to go on and join American Pharoah (2015) and undefeated Horse of the Year Justify (2018) as Triple Crown winners, Baffert would become the first trainer to capture the Classics three times and the Kentucky Derby six times.
Had the fates allowed, however, he might already hold those records.
In 1998, Victory Gallop hung an excruciating nose defeat on Real Quiet, preventing a Triple Crown sweep for Baffert, and in the 1996 Kentucky Derby, Grindstone nailed Cavonnier on the wire, also by a nose, defeats that will live in infamy.
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