Derby Recap: Bob and Jill’s Rocky Road to the Roses

Bob and Jill’s Rocky Road to the Roses

By Steve Haskin


On March 26, 2012 at 3 a.m., Bob Baffert’s life changed forever. That is when he awoke in his hotel room in Dubai complaining of chest pains. His wife Jill immediately called paramedics who rushed him to City Hospital, where stents were inserted into his blocked arteries.

From that point on, Baffert entered the third and most successful phase of his life. His first phase began in 1997 when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm and followed it up the following year by once again winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown with Real Quiet. Both times he saw his hopes for a Triple Crown sweep thwarted in close finishes, with Silver Charm losing the Belmont in the final yards by a half-length and Real Quiet losing right on the wire by a nose.

Those two Triple Crowns made Baffert a national celebrity with his quick wit and larger-than-life personality, and of course with his distinguishable head of snow-white hair. In 2001, Baffert felt strongly he was going to get that Triple Crown sweep with the mighty Point Given. However, the towering chestnut was upset in the Kentucky Derby, but went on to score impressive victories in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and followed it up with victories in the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes before retiring with an injury. The very next year, Baffert was back in the national spotlight winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with War Emblem, but once again that third leg eluded him when War Emblem stumbled badly at the start and could never recover, finishing out of the money.

So in the span of six years, Baffert won the Kentucky Derby three times, the Preakness four times, and the Belmont Stakes once. He was the unchallenged king of Thoroughbred racing.

But this sport has a way of humbling you, and in the next nine years, Baffert won one Triple Crown race – the 2010 Preakness with Lookin At Lucky. And he still was looking for his first victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He won his share of stakes during that time, but it was the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic that were always his main goals. The great entertainer Al Jolson used to have the theater lights turned up when he was performing so he could see the faces in the audience. Well, Baffert also needed those lights turned up so he could shine on racing’s brightest stage.

Then came his heart attack in Dubai and the seemingly indestructible Bob Baffert was humbled in a far more profound way than just being in a prolonged Triple Crown slump. Little did he know that phase two of his career was over.

Since his brush with death, Baffert, in the nine years since, has won the Kentucky Derby three times, the Preakness twice, the Belmont twice, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic three times. He not only finally got his elusive Triple Crown when American Pharoah swept all three races in 2015 to become the first horse to accomplish the feat in 37 years, he did it again in 2018 with Justify. During this time Baffert also won the Haskell Invitational four times, the Travers twice, the Santa Anita Handicap twice, the Pacific Classic twice, the Dubai World Cup, the Santa Anita Derby three times, the Hollywood/Santa Anita Gold Cup three times, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Met Mile, Whitney, Kentucky Oaks, and a total of seven Breeders’ Cup races.

With him since their marriage in 2002, has been Jill, who not only was a stabilizing influence on his life, but his number one defender against all the so-called haters that emerged on social media. The old Bob Baffert might very well have been pounding his chest during this amazing run, but Jill would not let that happen, always keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground.

Just when Bob and Jill had thought they had seen it all, experiencing racing’s highest of highs and lowest of lows (the injuries and deaths of several horses), they encountered a series of events in a 24-hour span last weekend that sent their emotions on a roller coaster ride they had never experienced before, especially during the last 30 minutes.

The Bafferts, with their son Bode and their dog Tank, packed up and headed to Kentucky to see their top horses run at Churchill Downs, with the main focus on their budding superstar filly Gamine, who was coming off two Ruffian-like romps that stamped her as something extraordinary. Of course, there also was their top-class older horse McKinzie going in the Alysheba Stakes and their pair of Authentic and Thousand Words, who were in the Kentucky Derby, but Baffert knew very well it was going to take a Herculean performance to defeat the big favorite Tiz the Law.

The weekend started off horribly when on Friday, McKinzie finished an uninspired fourth as the 6-5 favorite. Then came the shocker of them all. Gamine, favored at 3-5, gave way in the upper stretch and faded to third, beaten three lengths by 15-1 longshot Shedaresthedevil. Baffert and Jill were crushed. Gamine was the main reason they had traveled cross-country during a pandemic. This was to be her bridge to superstardom.

Now their only hope was to somehow upset what was to be one of the shortest-priced favorites in Kentucky Derby history. As they saddled in the paddock, Authentic’s odds were pretty stable at 8-1, while Thousand words was fluctuating between 11-1 and 12-1, as Tiz the Law was bet down to 3-5. Baffert was not used to sending out Derby horses with odds this high.

Just when Bob and Jill thought things couldn’t get any worse, Thousand Words reared on the walking ring and flipped over backwards, sending assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes tumbling to the ground. Fortunately, the horse was OK, but Barnes had to be taken to the hospital with a broken wrist, and on the advice of the veterinarian, Thousand Words was scratched. The weekend was now officially a disaster.

But this was Bob Baffert, the Lazarus of horse racing, who always seems to rise from the dead, as he did almost literally on that morning in Dubai. As he did in 2014 when he couldn’t get his two best 3-year-olds, Hoppertunity and Bayern, to the Derby and had to watch Bayern finish ninth, beaten 20 lengths in the Preakness, but saw him emerge as a star, winning the Haskell Invitational and Pennsylvania Derby before giving Baffert his first Breeders’ Cup Classic victory. As he did in 2016, going from the ultimate high of American Pharoah’s Triple Crown sweep to a dismal 10th place Derby finish by Mor Spirit, and then unleashing a monster that summer in Arrogate, who crushed his field in track-record time in the Travers before defeating California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to walk away with the 3-year-old championship. As he did in 2017, when he lost his budding star, the undefeated San Felipe and Los Alamitos Futurity winner Mastery, to injury, but two weeks later watched in awe with everyone else as Arrogate scored one of the most amazing victories ever in the Dubai World Cup. And as he did in 2018 when his big 3-year-old McKinzie, winner of the San Felipe and Sham Stakes, dropped off the Derby trail only to be replaced by Triple Crown winner Justify.

As it turned out, this year would be no different. From the depths of Gamine’s and McKinzie’s defeats and Thousand Words’ accident and Jimmy Barnes’ broken wrist came yet another Kentucky Derby victory when Authentic turned back the challenge of Tiz the Law and enabled Baffert to tie Ben Jones’ iconic record of six Kentucky Derby victories that had lasted for 68 years. Baffert, still stunned by the turn of events, then was given a reminder how quickly things can change in racing when Authentic got spooked in the winner’s circle and put him on the seat of his pants. It was more embarrassing than anything, but it could have been much worse. For Baffert to win the Derby sandwiched by his assistant and then himself both being thrown to the ground by two different horses was something that could happen only to him, for no one writes scripts quite like Bob Baffert.

As usual, Jill was there with him to experience the bizarre gamut of emotions, culminating with what Baffert called “the most crazy 30 minutes I’ve had in racing.”

For Jill, it was an even crazier 30 minutes. “Friday was the day we thought would be our big day,” she said. “We felt Gamine had the best chance of winning and we thought McKinzie was going to run great. So that was a big disappointment. Then on Saturday we arrived at the track around 4 o’clock. We watched a couple of races and we went to saddle the horses. I wasn’t even in the paddock, I was standing outside the paddock talking to Jeff Lifson (of West Point Stable) when Bode comes running up to me and said. ‘Mama, why was Thousand Words scratched?’ I go, ‘What? That can’t be right.’ But I looked up and saw that the number 10 horse was off the board. So I hurried to the paddock and ran into someone from Spendthrift, I think it might have been Ned Toffey.

“I asked him what happened and he told me, ‘The horse flipped over and I think Jimmy broke his arm.’ I saw Bob and he ran me through what happened. Jimmy was in First Aid, so I ran over to First Aid and Jimmy was still there and they were trying to decide if they could get him out through the protesters. Jimmy was going to stay and watch the race, but they felt they better get him to the hospital and start moving things along with his arm. I asked him if he wanted me to go with him and he said, ‘Of course not, stay and go win the race.’ In the meantime I was trying to call Kim, Bob’s assistant, and texted Dana (Jimmy’s wife) to get all the insurance information and texted it to Jimmy in the ambulance.”

With all that taken care of, Jill got to the paddock just before they were getting in the gate to watch the race with Bob. She remembers seeing the break, but doesn’t remember too much about the first part of the race, as she felt overwhelmed by everything and bent over trying to catch her breath. She looked up when they were halfway down the backstretch and watched as Authentic turned for home still on the lead. But when Tiz the Law moved up alongside, she thought, like everyone else, he was going to blow past Authentic. When he didn’t they thought, “Geez, this horse might win.” In the last eighth of a mile, Jill kept shouting, “Get it for Jimmy…Get it for Jimmy.”

“Usually when I watch a race I try to be a little reserved, because it never translates well when you see yourself on TV screaming your head off,” Jill said. “But this time I took leave of my senses. When he won I couldn’t process everything in my head what had happened to Jimmy and that the horse had just run lights out. We were all kind of shell shocked. I hate to say that because you don’t want to diminish the horse in any way, but we weren’t expecting it. We were still in disbelief about what had happened in the paddock, especially since Bob had never had a horse scratched in the paddock, let alone in the Derby.

“Everyone was just stunned. I felt like I was in a haze. I didn’t feel like I was in that moment. We walked across to the winner’s circle, and I had never had an anxiety attack, but I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like I was going to throw up. Somebody asked me, ‘Mrs. Baffert, can I get you some water?’ I said yes and he went and got me water and said, ‘If you’re going to vomit do it in the bushes.’ I sat on the steps to the winner’s platform to gather myself. Then the horse comes in and Bob tells everyone, ‘Nobody clap, just keep it down’ Everything still was kind of hazy, but the way I remember it, Bob was trying to get in position and I could see the horse high-stepping by the flowers and yelled to Bob to watch out. He tried to push me out of the way and the horse got him with his back end, and Bob’s momentum was going downhill and he couldn’t recover. He went down and landed on his back, and I’m thinking ‘Oh, my God.’ Fortunately, Bob was OK, but the horse stepped on Wayne Hughes’ son-in-law Eric Gustavson’s ankle, and he was in a lot of pain. You could actually see the horse’s hoofprint on his shoe.”

As it turned out, it was the ribbons at the bottom of the blanket of roses that came undone and kept hitting the horse around his ankles, and as Jill said, “He could see them out of the corner of his eye and he just lost his mind.”

Jill summed up the whirlwind experience of Derby Day by calling it “the damndest, most exciting, most terrifying 30 minutes of my life.”

Afterward, Bob told Jill he now holds the record of being the only Derby trainer “to wind up flat on his ass in the winner’s circle.”

“I still can’t believe it all happened,” Jill said. “It hadn’t been a good year with everything that has been going on.” That included Bob losing two top Derby horses, Nadal and Charlatan, to injury and having Gamine and Charlatan testing positive for the numbing agent lidocaine at Oaklawn Park, which resulted from Jimmy Barnes wearing a medicinal patch that contained a small amount of lidocaine to relieve the pain from a fractured pelvis suffered in 2017.

So, the 146th Kentucky Derby is history. Bob and Jill sent Bode and Tank to Tennessee to stay with her family while they headed to the yearling sales where things should return to normal and they can look for the horse that perhaps one day will get Bob that record-breaking seventh Kentucky Derby. One thing is for sure. All future Derby trails will seem like a stroll in the park to the Bafferts compared to the turbulent journey of 2020 and its chaotic conclusion.

Photo by Mike Sekulic

97 Responses to “Derby Recap: Bob and Jill’s Rocky Road to the Roses”

  1. Eric Rickard says:

    Thank you for the side story on the Baffert’s. It was one heck of a weekend. I figured Gamine was his best going in and was hoping Authentic needed to be presured and would respond well. It all ended good.

  2. Crossfire says:

    Monsieur Haskin, interesting and revealing story regarding Bob and Jill’s Rocky Road to the Roses. I am interested to know if you researched stories on the major KD contenders ahead of the race.

    If so, could you provide a sneak peek of what is in your closet for titles that would have covered the stories for Art Collector, Thousand Words, Tiz The Law and Honor AP. Obviously time permitting.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Headlines that might have been? Interesting request. I have used up almost all my headlines on Tiz the Law, especially Law and Order, but I still had Tiz Nobler in the Mind. Headlines come as I go along so nothing on the others

  3. pro vet says:

    Good lord…….betsy…….life goes on…….let the horsemen make the decisions……
    Tendons get injured…..they are never the same……bones heal stronger………….you keep reading too much into this…..
    You do right by the horse! How hard is it to understand once a tendon or ligament is damaged, streched, it is always an issue…..players with hamstrings, or sprained ankles. often get re injured….see robert parish….

    As for size of horse?…….YES …..many trainers would geld a horse with bowed tendons, to lower the bulk of a horses neck and such…………

    • Betsy says:

      Do me a favor, Prove it and don’t speak to me again. I’m done with your rudeness …I can’t put you in ignore, unfortunately, but I will be ignoring you.

      • Steve Jordan says:

        I understand your hesitancy to respond to this poster in a normal way. His demeanor and general rudeness often discredits any points he makes. On this subject, though, he is quite accurate. Not all horses are gelded for behavioral issues, but often for the reasons described, even for prophylactic purposes. I often disagree with his posts, and, although my guess he may own or have owned horses, and may be a pro for gambling purposes, I doubt he is a vet.
        Having said that, give him his due on this one.
        His most on point statement is his last one. But you certainly are entitled to your views, and I know you have horses interest at heart.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          I’m not sure what gelding a horse has to do with Honor A.P.’s retirement, but I am going to assume no one has any more comments on Bob and Jill and their Derby experience.

          • pro vet says:

            she was talking about size being a factor…..couldnt understand why…..gelding a horse makes them smaller…..especially in the neck….less weight , less stress on a bow……SHE was talking about hap…..mad at trainer….mad at writer…..

        • Betsy says:

          Steve, I’ll be honest, I didn’t read his post because his attitude is off-putting and he’s been personally rude to me. I DID just read it now and I agree – which is why I had no issue with HAP’s retirement in the first place. I did overreact to the part of the article I posted – but because Ron Flatter, IMO, made it sound like the primary reason for HAP’s retirement was his missing the Fall races. That did tick me off, but I got over that quickly – you can not take a chance with a horse like this. Bill Farish said it would have taken 6 months – and I’m sure that’s only if everything went smoothly. The Searings love Honor A.P. – they changed his name to honor his legendary grandsire. It’s frustrating to see so many people question their integrity.

          Steve H….I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for this to take over your blog.

        • pro vet says:

          I’m an expert… you would never believe……what did you NOT agree with?…..examples?……i bet i see none….

      • pro vet says:

        wasnt being rude……prove what?…………you are getting mad at everyone……the trainer, the writer etc………why?……..let the horseman do their job

  4. Amy Hurley says:

    Thanks, Steve, for the great column on my favorite trainer. I loved reading about Jill’s perspective on the whole Derby experience, which really was a whirlwind. I always enjoy watching Jill and Bode in the winner’s circle ceremonies – she always gives the winning horse a pat, if not a smooch, and you can tell she really loves the horses. Maybe some year Bob will train a Derby winner for Jill. Good luck to them and both Authentic and Thousand Words (hopefully) in the Preakness.

  5. Betsy says:

    That said, it could be Ron Flatter’s interpretation of things (he’s the reporter). There are no quotes from the Searings.

    • Betsy says:

      Yup. Ron speculated this whole thing….he all but admitted to it in tweet responses to me. He also outright told me that no one said anything to him about retiring HAP because he’d miss fall races

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Who writes a story and speculates what people ar thinking? I know Ron well and I dont get that. I texted John to see what he says…off the record.

        • Betsy says:

          Steve, Ron seems like an extremely reputable and excellent reporter, so……I do regret being so harsh on him. The problem is, that the wording does leave it up in the air. Already people are saying the usual about how racing is really all about breeding, how this was a money issue……..My friend, who loved HAP before I did, believes this is a money grab because they don’t want to miss the upcoming breeding season. She knows a lot more about horses and injuries than I do as she’s owned and does own them – and she thinks it’s BS about big horses needing more time to recover from tendon injuries. I think her comparison to Honor Code isn’t a good one because HC returned early in the season. Imagine if they tried to bring HAP back and he suffered a break down – or bowed a tendon and became lame? No, I’ve reversed course – I really don’t think this is a money grab; I really do believe Lee Searing when he said HAP was going to run next year.

          I DO look forward to hearing what John has to say – thank you!

          By the way, Lane’s End gave HAP AP Indy’s stall……they must think very highly of his prospects.

  6. Betsy says:

    I’m furious. What about next year? I was fine and happy with the retirement until now because Lee Searing had said HAP would run next year and I knew that was his intention. Now this makes it sound like they couldn’t make the big fall races, so they didn’t even bother trying to see if he could make it back by spring or so of next year?

    That pisses me off.

    I’ll be honest, I thought John would be more upset than he seems. I didn’t expect him to get emotional, but I expected him to be less matter of fact.

    “It’s a shame,” he said. “He strained his left front tendon. We suspected it after the race. Then we scanned it and confirmed it when he got back to California.”

    Although it was a relatively minor injury, it was going to keep Honor A. P. from being considered for next month’s Preakness and the following month’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. So the retirement decision was made by Lee and Susan Searing and subsequently announced this week by Lane’s End, the Kentucky breeding farm where the Honor Code colt will stand.

  7. Betsy says:

    I am livid…..

  8. Betsy says:

    David, not bad at all! I guess like many kids, he’s moving back in with his folks…well, at least his father !

  9. Nelson Maan says:

    Great column Steve. You are a master at making your readers relive events as if they were witnessing them.
    Your last two articles here confirm that there is always a woman behind a successful man.

    I watched Baffert during the presentation of the 2017 Dubai World Cup and could see in his face that he feels like a blessed man by just being with his wife and son savoring the moment together.

    “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
    – Socrates

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much, Nelson. As far a woman behind every successful man, with Bob Baffert that applies, for me it’s a woman behind every man. The successful doesnt apply, at least from a financial standpoint. But other than that I feel we have had a great life together. I guess success can apply in that regard.

      • Davids says:

        Don’t forget Steve, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

  10. Dewey Hebert says:

    Speaking of the disappointment of horse players when losing a favorite horse to injury, I neglected to add horsemen to whom the loss of a thoroughbred to racing has a profound effect of sadness and dismay. Surely, someone like Bob Baffert has had his share of disappointment. Despite winning the Derby, Bob lost two of his 3 yo stars this Spring. Both Nadal and Charlatan had so much potential to be special but the injury bug bites when you least expect it. Of course, with John Sherriff it was a hard pill to swallow losing Honor A.P. His devotion to the care and training of Honor A.P. deserved a better result in what lie ahead for this colt.

  11. Dewey Hebert says:

    We horseplayers have to endure many disappointments when a favorite race horse leaves the track due to injury. Our hearts go out to certain horses that catch our attention and we become attached to them.

    This year, for me, that horse was Maxfield. I really felt that he was going to be something special. Yet, his career has now been interrupted twice and I’m not optimistic that he’ll return.

    So, Betsy, I feel your pain in losing Honor A.P. I also was looking forward to seeing him race again. Thankfully, we still have the option of following his career at stud and seeing how his offspring turn out.

    As for me, I probably will fall in love with another horse down the road as I’m sure you will too. It’s sort of like the dating game….. you win some, you lose some. And then, you come back for more.

  12. Betsy says:

    I’m sorry to post this here, but Steve………….. Honor A.P. ran an even more remarkable race. It’s just been reported he was injured in the Derby and has now been retired.

    I’m devastated. I love this horse so much – I said from the beginning he was special, and he proved it. I kept saying he was big and strong, but even the biggest and strongest horses are fragile as glass. I’m just glad he didn’t break down in the race- I couldn’t have handled that. I’m glad he’ll be ok and that he can stand by his sire.

    I’m crying.. Steve, next time you speak to John, please convey my sympathies. He did a magnificent job with this colt.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Yes, I just read that. Another promise unfullfiled. Such a disappointing year. I can imagine how distressed you are.

      • Betsy says:

        I’m still crying…….but I can only imagine how devastated John, Mike and the Searings are. This is a rough, rough sport…..

        They say in sports that “potential” is the saddest word because it implies unfulfilled promise. That’s HAP – but he did succeed at the highest levels and proved his class. I’m glad about that.

        • Steve Jordan says:

          “There is no heavier burden than a great potential” Linus, circa 1968

          • Betsy says:

            Steve, that’s a great quote……right now I could use a security blanket to cry into, lol.

            Dewey, that’s true about Bob. I remember what John said before the Derby – at some point he said he didn’t want to keep talking about Giacomo’s win or other wins he’s had because this was HAP’s moment. That’s what hurts. Of course we’re all glad that the colt didn’t break down, and if he goes on to success at stud, that’s fantastic, but the colt (and Nadal, for sure) was deprived of the chance at career glory, and we were deprived of the fun of watching him. John did such a wonderful job with this horse. As much as I love HAP, John is the one who spent much of his time with him …..Mike, too. Riders share a special bond with their horses……It’s lousy situation all around.

            Maxfield is supposed to return, so hopefully Dewey he will come back in good form. He’s a very talented colt – good luck to him!!!

            I probably won’t be much interested in the rest of the year, certainly not the Breeder’s Cup…..yet I say that knowing that something good might happen and I’ll get excited again.

            Nelson, absolutely! Hope springs eternal…..! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to visit HAP, HC and all the other lovely stallions at Lane’s End …….I never got to it before Indy died, and I regret that.

            Paula, thank you – I really appreciate your kind words. This place is a pleasure. I’m not expecting everyone to be devastated or even particularly upset, but some of the things people are saying at HRN are so upsetting. Even on Twitter…….People are acting as if a tendon injury isn’t a big deal. Well, it is – even a minor one. This idea that HAP’s connections are retiring him because they knew he wasn’t any good makes no sense – and it’s disgraceful to suggest that. John and all involved did the right thing. Imagine if they had tried to heal the colt and make a comeback and something catastrophic had happened?

            I have to laugh, also, at the idea that this was about money. HAP isn’t going to bring in a tenth of what he might have had he stayed healthy and won more Grade 1’s – that’s what Lane’s End was counting on. As it stands, with his own sire being unproven, there are going to be concerns with him going to stud. No, HAP’s owners LOVE to run – they wanted to see this colt do great things.

            It’s nice to be on a board where you can relax with friends ……thank you all! Sending you hugs!

      • Livewire says:

        A tremendous disapoointment to be sure. What makes it hard is the shock, being we had heard he came out good immediately after the Derby I did not expect this. All week it appeared John Shirreffs silence indicated an unhappiness with something and reports that he was unhappy with Paco Lopez at the beginning of the race certainly has greater weight to it now. What if he hadn’t been between those two, what if he hadn’t received the same in the previous race by the reported 1300 pound Cezanne, what if he had gotten away cleanly. According to someone who is not in your profession but knows the connections, they say the injury occurred at the start of the race. Sometimes this game will throw you when you least expect it.

        • Betsy says:

          I’m still in shock – and it’s not made any easier by the utter contempt HAP is held in by so many.

          I don’t think they found the injury until after they returned to Santa Anita…but I’ll be honest, I can’t bring myself to read the DRF article again

          So many what if’s….sigh

          • Davids says:

            Betsy, Honor A. P. is going to stand at Lane’s End farm, one of the most prestigious studs in the world. Queen Elizabeth II has stayed there and is a friend of the owner. Not bad company?

    • Nelson Maan says:

      Hi Betsy… now we can understand why he could not join Authentic and Tiz the Law for a thrilling finish in this Derby.

      I am pretty sure that you will be following and loving Honor A.P. babies the same way you did love him during his short but dazzling career.

    • Paula Higgins says:

      Betsy, HAP is a wonderful, immensely talented horse. I had hoped to see him next
      year when I think he would have been formidable. But John would never retire him
      unless he felt the recovery time would be too long for him to get him back in shape
      to race again. John must be terribly disappointed. I am so sorry because I know how
      disappointed you are too.

  13. Mary Lou says:

    I want to add my appreciation for your insightful writing. Of course I don’t know Bob Baffert but I also know that he cannot be the monster that some racing fans comment about (not on this site). I, like many others tossed Authentic. Given your perspective, I appreciate his victory more.

  14. Deacon says:

    Sorry for the late visit, we have been dealing with these fires here in Oregon. They are all around us and the sky is so smokey it looks like 1970’s Beirut. No rain here for several months and in a forest environment that could spell doomsday. This is the 5th straight year of terrible fires. So far (thank goodness) we have been fortunate.
    This was a very heart felt written piece Steve. If I had to rank all of your posts these past many years they would all would get a #1 ranking.
    I like Baffert, he is a little quirky at times but he is great for horse racing. He wears his emotions on his sleeves, I love and respect that. I miss the great trainers of yesteryear, those guys were so dedicated and great at would they did.
    You write with so much passion, its an honor to read your posts.
    I look forward to the next one………. 🙂

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you very much Deacon, especially for commenting during such a terrible time. I wish you all the best and please be safe. As if you didnt need more things to worry about. I feel for everybody out there

    • Paula Higgins says:

      Deacon, please stay safe. It is heartbreaking out there. Please
      do not stay if it gets close to you. Get out. You will be in my

  15. Derek Manthey says:

    what a great read Fifty years from now I hope people read this. I don’t know why there are Baffert haters out there because you got to love the guy ! the Lazarus of horse racing is perfect it sings!

  16. Bigtex says:


    I’m so glad you wrote this story. You may not remember, I got hooked into this sport by watching the movie, Seabiscuit. Actually, it was the movie that inspired me to read the book, THEN, i got hooked into the sport because of the written word. I was so enthralled!

    This article is the same now as it was then to bring me into the story and make ME feel as if I’m a part of the story and history of the sport. I’ve talked with Baffert before at Clocker’s Corner and he could not have been nicer and I’m so happy for him and Jill and the rest so have these successes! You never disappoint and, just so you know, my daughter is now in love with the sport! She’s 26 and we watched the race together after we went to the Sam Houston Race Track in Houston to place our bets. I bombed totally because I wrote Authentic off after the Haskell thinking distance was going to be too much. I also did not count on Mr. Big News!

    Kudos to Baffert for his training and Velasquez for his flawless ride and to, you, my friend, for your AUTHENTIC and passionate love of the sport!

    You are, and always will be, a true treasure to the Sport of Kings and I thank you!!!


    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanki you so much, Tex. Thats very kind of you. That is great that your daughter has gotten inrerested in racing, What a great bond that will be between the two of you. You done good, dad.

  17. Ella says:

    I was majorly rooting for Tiz the Law, but when Authentic came up that stretch, turned Tiz the Law back and won, I loved him. I kept expecting him to fade– because after that half-mile time flashed up, I was sure he wasn’t even going to place– and he came out like Tom Brady in the final few minutes of the game and whupped every horse in that field. I’m not saying there weren’t some great efforts, but that day belonged to Authentic. Kudos to Baffert and his team, because they did an amazing job with Authentic. I can’t wait to see if he can keep up that form in some other big races. It was a wild year and it’s not over yet.

  18. Lynn says:

    Felt all the emotions as if I were there … Thanks Steve

  19. Judi Z. says:

    Really like the day from Jill’s perspective. Thanks!

  20. Paula Higgins says:

    First, Jill Baffert is a beautiful sturdy battler and she will defend her husband and loved ones
    against all comers. She shares all his highs and lows,
    and this year has been a real roller coaster. She should not worry about showing her emotions
    on t.v. I think it is actually endearing that she is always so happy for him when he wins and clearly
    disappointed when he loses. Helping Jimmy Barnes when he was injured shows a kind and
    caring heart. I don’t think Bob has too much to worry about with Jill in his corner.

    I wish Jimmy Barnes a speedy recovery and I am glad Bob Baffert wasn’t injured when he was
    knocked over. I was wondering why Authentic was so agitated. It is good to know that you
    also think it was the ribbons. I had heard that and did not know what was going on. Thousand
    Words took a horrible spill and it is a relief to know he suffered no ill effects. Scratching him
    was the right thing to do.

    I will be honest that this go-round I had my heart set on Tiz the Law winning the Derby and maybe a TC
    for Barclay Tagg and Robin. I did not think Authentic liked the distance. That clearly was
    not the case and he will now be the one to beat for the rest of the season. Anyone who underestimates
    Bob Baffert during the Triple Crown races does so at their own risk. Those were my words going way
    back when and I totally forgot them this time around. Authentic, with his first place finish, decided
    to remind me.

    I was really surprised about Gamine, a horse I like very much. Maybe she didn’t like the track, maybe she
    didn’t like the distance. I will be looking forward to her racing again. She has tremendous ability and
    I am hoping for a better race next time. I know both Bob and Jill must have been very disappointed
    to drive all the way across the country and then not have her win. But she will win again. She
    is just too good not too.

    Thank you Steve for an interesting behind the scenes post. It allows us to see the real human beings
    behind their public faces.

  21. Mary Darden McLeod says:

    Excellent essay, Steve!!!! I feel like I have been behind the scenes with many of my questions about Oaks & Derby Days answered. I still have one, though: What breed is Tank?!?! Take care, Mary in Boone

  22. Mary Ellen says:

    Hi Steve:
    Wonderful recounting of the events from the perspective of Jill and Bob, who were really thrown for a loop by that wild half an hour. That Jill Baffert is something else! Bob is so lucky to have her taking care of him. Love that you got all this down in a column for the ages.

  23. ALK says:

    What a great story. Your writing always moves me, and I’m delighted to find you here at this site. Jill is amazing and I suspect she plays a big part in keeping Bob focussed and organized. I love that you got her perspective.

    I took a great photo of American Pharoah in the paddock at Monmouth, and was trying to get it autographed by Bob at Saratoga that crazy and fateful morning before the Travers. Bob was being swarmed by very aggressive and pushy professional autograph hounds while he and Jill were sitting in their golf cart, and I just couldn’t get his attention. As they were about to drive away, I realized I needed to go to Jill’s side of the cart and ask her to please get Bob to sign it. With her usual calm efficiency, she smiled and handed it to him and got it done for me. I now have a gorgeous one-of-a-kind photo of Pharoah, signed by both Bob and Victor Espinoza, thanks to Jill.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you very much. It’e been great here and I hope keep coming back. Jill is indeed amazing and I’m so glad to decided to move to her side of the cart and get that autograph. She really is a sweetheart.

  24. Blake says:

    Great story! Maybe you should do a story titled…..The 2020 Derby That Never Was. Maybe a back story on these horses with a prediction of how it could have played out seeing as that it would have been a totally different race…..TTL, Authentic, HAP, Nadal, Charlatan, art Collector and Maxfield.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks its hard picking a real field, but anyone can pick a hypothetical field because you can never be proven wrong.

      • Blake says:

        I know but I’m curious with everything being equal if all those horse were healthy who’s your pick to win it? I think Nadal.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          Well, if Tiz the Law doesnt run in the Travers he would still be the horse to beat. But Nadal was really getting good and so professional. So if I had to go away from TTL I would say Nadal and if there was more pace perhaps Maxfield

          • Blake says:

            I agree. I think the Travers wore him out a little. I think Tagg had stars in his eyes. I still can’t believe TTL doesn’t pass him in the stretch. Every time I watch it I think he’s going to run by him even though I know he doesn’t. Hopefully TTL doesn’t run again until the Classic.

  25. Cynthia Holt says:

    Very engrossing, Steve! I felt a part of the action, and an insider to the weekend’s tumultuous events. A great read! The two images which will remain with me of those two days, is Thousand Words’ horrifying flip in the paddock, and Bob’s backside tumble in the winner’s enclosure. What I did not notice until I saw a replay of the paddock incident from a different angle, was John Shirreffs, ever the horseman, rushing to try to help.

  26. Mike Sekulic says:

    Bob and Jill are awesome! Thank you for yet another wonderful story! This is very well done (as usual).

  27. Bill S says:

    Great piece. I truly enjoy your work and love how you can find the real stories of human interest and as you say, the back story, where the emotions are. Great work!

  28. Alexandra says:

    Another “Wow” column, Steve. Felt like I was right there. Truly an unforgettable saga!

  29. Karen editing... says:

    *write up.* Sorry for typo…

  30. Karen says:

    Great right up as usual, Steve! You have such a way of making us all feel a part of things. So glad that you found a new home here for your writing!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you very much, Karen, I appreciate it. And I’m glad, too. Hopefully people will know we’re here and will come aboard.

  31. Sheila says:

    Just glad everyone seems to have come home safe – human and equine. What a day for the Bafferts!

  32. Rebekah Lane says:

    Another great piece, Steve. But we’ve come to expect nothing less.

  33. Nick T says:

    Unreal story and reporting Steve- only horse to go wire to wire in two days in the dirt I believe

  34. This is the kind of storytelling that fleshes out the broadcast pictures. Very memorable. Thanks, Steve.

  35. Melissa says:

    This is just terrific! I’m so glad you got all the backstory on Bob Baffert and this crazy Derby. I’m also glad you got Jill’s perspective. Eddie F. is right, it would never have sold had it not been fact. I have to say, though, the very best part is hearing how self-deprecating Bob was about being, “the only Derby trainer ‘to wind up flat on his ass in the winner’s circle.’”

  36. Abby Pena says:

    Another great article Mr.Haskin.I am a big fan of Bob Baffert and Authentic was my pick.

  37. Gloria says:

    Wow, great article, Steve! I love hearing things from Jill’s point of view and was glued to her every word. Jeez, who’s thinking of having to get insurance info from Jimmy’s wife to Jimmy with everything else going on?! Way to go, Jill. The description of her and Bob thinking that Tiz The Law was going to easily pass Authentic and then wondering if Authentic might win the Derby down the stretch is EXACTLY what was happening with my sister and I watching the race. I thought for sure Tiz The Law going to to pass Authentic, and when he didn’t…I said to my sister, “Is Baffert going to pull this off?!”. And sure enough, he did. We’ve had two oddball Kentucky Derbies in a row. I will be happy to have just a regular, normal Kentucky Derby and I hope that will be next year. Thanks, Steve, for a great read!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I appreciate it, Gloria. Thank you. I am indeed looking forward to a normal Derby and trail next year.

    • Ethan says:

      I am still in shock myself Gloria, I think everyone is. I thought Authentic had ran a good enough race to hit the board but it looked like Tiz The Law was going to blow right by him when he started his run, exactly like everyone thought it would play out. Once Authentic stayed with him a few strides it became apparent we had a battle on our hands. Despite all the craziness, it really was a very good race and historic considering the finishing time.

  38. CMH says:

    Great writing. What a great site.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you very much, I’m so glad you discovered this site. Please pass it along. We hope racing fans know to come here. It’s a fun place and the commenters are growing.

  39. Teri Shelton says:

    Great piece, you really are an amazing writer, while I was reading this I was thinking. How does he do it, write like this every week. Your stories are great, full of very engaging material, that really holds ones interest. It’s just incredible. Thanks Steve!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      That is so kind of you, Teri. I really apperciate it. Sometimes, you sit at the keyboard and it all comes pouring out. Believe me, it never used to be this easy, but when you do something you love long enough it becomes easier and more fun.

  40. Linda Rowell says:

    Thanks again Steve for walking us through the life of Bob And Jill on Derby Day as only could happen in 2020 fashion! You have such a story telling gift! Love reading them! ❤️

  41. Crossfire says:

    There are many things associated with the 2020 KD that should be committed to memory.. I am of the opinion that the most memorable was not an occurrence but rather non-occurrence. The absence of three undefeated top class colt and one that exploded on the scene late, certainly robbed KD fans of the what could have been the most competitive KD in ages, if not ever.

    A KD field that included Art Collector, Charlatan, Maxfield, Nadal along with Authentic, Honor AP and Tiz The Law. Would likely have been the best ever assembled for a version of the KD. Just about any of the 7 colts cited could have emerged the winner.

    Destany can be defined as the hidden power believed to control what will happen in the future; fate. It appears that neither Destiny nor Fate mandated the assembling of best of possibly the best KD field in 2020. I believe Destiny missed an opportunity that is unlikely recur anytime soon.

    Many views have been advanced regarding whether an asterisk should be placed against the name of a likely 2020,TC winner, given the numerous changes to the series. Should an asterisk placed against Tiz The Law and Authentic given the absence of Art Collector, Charlatan, Maxfield and Nadal?

    Would any story about the winner and runner-up in KD 2020, be worthy of mention, if the 4 top class colts cited above comprised the final field?

  42. Eddie F says:

    If these events hadn’t really happened, and a movie or a work of fiction told a story like this one, critics and audiences/readers would have mocked it. “Unrealistic!” “Overly melodramatic!”

    But it really did happen, and Steve brought the events to life in an absorbing, yet succinct, narrative.

    Thanks, Steve!

  43. Ethan says:

    Wow, now that is a first hand account. I imagine that the win is just now starting to set in. When that many extreme things happen in such a short amount of time it is hard to process it. In the end, we witnessed the 6th or 7th fastest Derby in history, with one of the shortest favorites of all time getting turned away down the stretch, and a legendary performance that will be talked about for years. Yeah, what Authentic did was that special. However, what will make it more memorable is the story surrounding it and Steve did another amazing job capturing it perfectly.

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