Why the Breeders' Cup Could Turn Around Bob Baffert's Year

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Why the Breeders' Cup Could Turn Around Bob Baffert's Year
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Even legends have tough years...

Even before Game on Dude ran in March’s Dubai World Cup Classic, Bob Baffert’s trip to Dubai was a near disaster. The legendary 59-year-old horse trainer suffered a heart attack on the trip, an event which foreshadowed a difficult year for both Baffert and his horses.

Soon after arriving in Dubai for the 10-million-dollar Dubai World Cup, Bob Baffert suffered a heart attack. Throughout the medical emergency, the ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, made sure Baffert had the highest quality medical attention.

Baffert was rushed into surgery and had three stents placed in two partially blocked arteries. Despite the surgery, Baffert still made an appearance at the Medan Racecourse to cheer on his two horses and brush shoulders with celebrities, including California Horse Racing Assn. commissioner Bo Derek (Yes, that Bo Derek), and the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Daily Sports Herald was in attendance that night and noted that Shiekh Mohammed went out of his way to praise Baffert’s endurance and commitment to the sport.

When Chantal Sutherland mounted Game On Dude for the night’s final race she became the first female jockey to race in The Dubai World Cup Classic. However, despite that historical accomplishment, it was “game over” for Game on Dude, who finished a disappointing 12th in the world’s richest horse race.

The Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown began just weeks later, and both would also prove equally troubling for Baffert. Despite high hopes for the 3-year-old Bodemiester and his early speed, the horse came up just short in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

Baffert went back into his arsenal and rolled out another horse, Paytner, for the Belmont Stakes. Unfortunately Paytner, like Bodemiester, failed to hit the pay dirt and fell short just strides from a win.

Paytner became seriously ill this past summer and Bodemiester injured himself throwing a rider during the 37-day Del Mar meeting. The meet also produced a second high profile loss for Game on Dude when the horse failed to win the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. But the worst news of the summer came in August, when Bob Baffert’s father passed away after struggling with an unspecified health condition.

The stressful year has taken its toll on Baffert, as seen by his twenty-pound drop in weight. Despite these hiccups and tragedies, he has stayed focused on the Breeders' Cup and his team will field 10 horses across some 15 races this year. Baffert remains cheerful as ever, and Game On Dude is a big reason why.

Game On Dude is an early 9-5 favorite and is Baffert’s best hope for finishing the year with a bang. Despite coming up short in Dubai and Del Mar, the horse is undefeated in 5 starts at Santa Anita. Chantal Sutherland has retired from racing, but Rafael Bejarano will return to Game On Dude’s saddle for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Bejarano previously won the Santa Anita allowance race with Game On Dude in early 2011.

Game On Dude had a near triumph in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic held at Churchill Downs. Perhaps the horse just doesn’t travel well, and a big win could erase a lot of the difficulties the trainer has faced this year. Either way, the strong-hearted Bob Baffert knows that there is still a lot more to win in this game.

By Joseph Hammond
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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