The morning after their Triple Crown victory with American Pharoah, trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat talked to media at a press conference at Belmont Park:
Ahmed Zayat: “When he was at the farm, every single person, since he was born, has told me that this horse stood out at the farm. You get phone calls from farm managers, excited — all babies are cute, everybody loves babies. One person at Vinery where he grew up told me he goes out in the field and plays, but it's how he plays with his other friends that made him different. His demeanor, the way he carried himself – there was a lot of maturity to him. Little babies do silly things as people know, but he was doing it in a different way. That was the most important. I really wanted to learn what was he doing that was so different. That was the first stage.
“At Taylor Made, one of the largest farms in Kentucky, they told me that this is the nicest colt on the entire farm and we have something coming here. Of course we were tickled because we bred him and owned the sire, Pioneerof the Nile. That was the second stage. The third stage was when he actually went to training …. [I was told] “Mr. Z, I can tell you unequivocally, this is the fastest horse I ever put a saddle on. This one is special.” Some horses do things in the morning called morning glory, and don't do it in the afternoon.
“So to go from there to the master here – from Day 1, Bob Baffert was absolutely super high on this horse. I see a different Bob. Bob never hyped a horse to me. And he's had very good horses for me. But he keeps telling me, ‘This is the one, this is the one.” From very early on, he knew. He told me ‘I've been waiting all my life for a horse like that.' And I said, ‘Bob, you're scaring me. Those are big words.' Bob did things that are unorthodox for him. For him to take a maiden and put him in a Grade 1, seven furlongs, is a tall order. That is not a Bob Baffert move.
“Reflecting back, what greatness have we witnessed? Is this just accidental or is there a method to his madness, in a good way? The more I think about it, I think that every single stop, this horse has been doing things … the good ones, perhaps the great ones, outrun their pedigree and do things that are better.”
Bob Baffert: “Some of the horses I've had in the past, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, they went through it and it was really tough on them. I looked at this horse today and for a horse than ran 1 ½ miles he looked pretty darn good. He's just a tough horse and he's handled it. We may give him a few days off. He's an athlete and we have to keep him moving. He'll tell me. He lightened up a little bit, but he was supposed to.
“Today, he looked like I could run him back in three weeks. He's that kind of horse. I had him out there and he was enjoying all the photographers today. He's a people horse. He just loves to be around people, people petting him, loving on him; he's such a sweet horse. We're just going to share him with everyone. Everyone wants to get a good look. Bill Mott came over and wanted to get up close and personal with him. To me, I remember going to Bill Mott's barn to see Cigar up close. Even as a trainer, you're in awe of the superstars of our sport. It was really neat this morning to be able to share this horse with everyone else.
“I knew he was a really good horse when he won the Del Mar Futurity and before the Breeders' Cup. Then he came back and won the Rebel, and we thought,' That's good.' But when he won the Arkansas Derby I thought, ‘Oh, crap, this horse is a really, really good horse.' Even my wife, Jill … then I started getting nervous. He's a super star.
“Victor did a tremendous job riding him at Oaklawn. I always told him ‘If everything goes well, don't win by a lot.' All his races he could have won by 12-15 lengths but he saved a little something. That just shows the confidence he has in the horse. He actually apologized for winning the Arkansas by eight lengths. That's been a big key to this horse.
“When you ship horses, it takes a little bit out of them. You ship horses back and forth [like him] … that takes an extraordinary horse. You cannot do it. The only horse I've had that could handle something like that was Point Given, who was one of the greatest horses I've ever trained. He could handle something like that. This horse took everything in stride, never missed a meal, kept in his grain…he never uses any excess energy but every time he goes to the track he just loves to train. He is so happy when he's on that track.
“That's why yesterday, going a mile and a half, he was so happy. He made the lead on the first turn and he threw those ears forward, that's a happy horse right there. He was loving it. When he came to the quarter pole and Victor still had a hold of him after going that far, it was ridiculously insane what he did yesterday. Then he pushed the button and he just dropped down and flew home.
“I've never had a horse like that, and I've never seen a horse run like that. Every time he runs he shows me something we've never seen. In the Derby, he was behind horses in an uncomfortable position that's why Victor was so aggressive with him. We were lucky to get by that one. His breezes were sick. He still had his fastball. That's why I got nervous. He just needed a clean break. In the paddock, I said to Victor, I think he can really do it.
“It was a beautiful moment. I'll never forget the sound of the crowd. When he turned for home, and even past the wire, people were just … they erupted. I've never been involved in anything like that. And plus I noticed yesterday, which was unheard of, I didn't get one heckler. I always get one or two hecklers, you know, ‘Bob, not today.'. Even Bode was disappointed we didn't get a heckler. Everyone was on board with this horse.
“This journey with this horse has been incredible, from when we started from the Rebel – it's been very stressful for all of us. I was relieved to win the Derby and happy to win the Preakness. Yesterday I was thinking of Bob and Beverly Lewis with Silver Charm, and Mike Pegram with Real Quiet, Ahmed bin Salman with Point Given … and all the people that tried to get here that they have so much passion, and didn't.
“To see this horse finally do something – for a while I was starting to think maybe it's never going to happen. It's changed, it's too tough … maybe it's the breed. It's not the breed. You just have to wait for these superior horses to come around. They don't come around that often. This horse, he was made for it and I just feel fortunate that this guy bred him and gave him to me. He could have sold him. But something told him not to sell him. And here we are, we made history. And Victor got another chance like this … I believe in fate. It was meant to be. I can't believe I'm here talking about the Triple Crown. If I didn't win yesterday I was going to take a bat to the Triple Crown trophy and destroy it [the jinx and everything].”
“I think the Triple Crown has to stay the same. If you spread it out, it would lose its build. Once the Derby is run, everyone starts getting on board. You want it to stay in a short time frame. I think this is the most attention that probably, with social media and all, that people watching this horse feeling like … I felt he could do it but I didn't want to jinx myself. I had a lot of confidence. A clean break, and then it's over.”
Ahmed Zayat: “You have to earn it. Spacing or not spacing, you talk about breed – it's a different time but it's very hard to come and change tradition. You have to have a benchmark and some standards. He had run the second-fastest Belmont since Secretariat. He ran a slow Derby, he ran a very easy Preakness – he floated over the slop. Then to come and do the way he's done – his last quarter here was in :24 seconds. You're happy to get a horse to work like that, not [to mention] a mile and a half.”
Bob Baffert: “The only races after we freshen him up a little bit, the only options out there are basically starting the end of July or something. You've got the Haskell, the one in Saratoga, the Travers — no, the one before that, the Jim Dandy. So you've got that, Del Mar has a little race down there. Right now we're just going to love on him and enjoy him. We'll figure something out.
“I've seen that a lot of horses come out of the Triple Crown and come back get beat, and I don't want to see that. I want to make sure that when you see him out there you can feel good about it, that when the gate comes open, Victor will have him in lockdown going around the first turn …by the way, why did you win by six lengths yesterday?
“I still haven't soaked in that we won the Triple Crown. It'll probably take a few days. I want to take it in. At least Billy Turner has someone to talk to now, so we can talk about how great we are. I just really want to enjoy it. It's so difficult, and no one knows better. I was the closest one there. I remember all those beats … so disappointing.
“But the Pharoah, he's golden. You can always count on him. Enjoy the moment. I don't know if I'll ever have another horse of this caliber. Hopefully there's some out there. I think that Victor deserved it and Mr. Zayat deserved it. He's been so passionate about the sport. He's been through a lot. It was supposed to happen, and supposed to happen to him. The first time we met, a friend of mine introduced us. I had lost a lot of my clients, he really helped me at a time when I needed help. And I'll always remember that. He came in there and helped me out. This is how I repay [him], by winning the Triple Crown.”
Ahmed Zayat: “Honestly, it's how we are going to move forward. I take this very responsibly. I think it's a huge, huge honor and privilege, and we owe it to the sport to do the right thing. Money plays an important factor in this game; I've already sold his breeding rights. It is my genuine desire, as someone who loves horses, as a fan, to race him to race him as long as I possibly could, at least – at least – until he finishes [as a] three-year-old.
“I'm going to leave it to Bob to prep him as he has done brilliantly through the whole career, the right way. We're not thinking about value or money or anything like that. When the horse is ready, we're not going to be scared about running him, to lose or not lose. Saying that, it's all about the fans, and this belongs to history. I'm personally thinking, taking this responsibility very seriously, and that we will be worthy, With this horse we owe it to the sport to continue properly, and as often as we possibly can. This is a pledge to my family, the industry, and racing and we take it really seriously.”
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2018 Paulick Report.