Baffert Grateful For More Than Just Arrogate

Photo credit Dubai Racing Club and Mathea Kelley

By Michele MacDonald

Lying in a Dubai hospital bed in March 2012, Bob Baffert was experiencing an agonising array of emotions after being forced to consider his own mortality.

When a heart attack struck America’s best known trainer, one of his first thoughts was that perhaps the luck that had propelled him through three Kentucky Derby wins, five Preaknesses and a Belmont Stakes by that time—as well as Dubai World Cup triumphs with Silver Charm and Captain Steve—had come to an abrupt termination.

“When I was having the heart attack, all I was thinking was, ‘Is this the way it’s going to end?’” Baffert recalled. He even advised his wife, Jill, to sell some of their horses and other assets if he did not survive that trip to Dubai to prepare Game On Dude and The Factor for the 2012 Dubai World Cup and Dubai Golden Shaheen, respectively.

Following emergency surgery to place stents in two blocked arteries and a subsequent morale-boosting hospital visit from HHH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Baffert began to regain strength. He determinedly went to Meydan five days after his operation to watch his horses run, visibly shaken but not wanting to be anywhere else. His luck, as it turns out, was far from over.

While neither Game On Dude nor The Factor would perform well in Dubai, a foal born in Kentucky just seven weeks before Baffert’s heart attack would evolve into his most glorious runner.

Baffert developed that colt into the first horse in 37 years to win the American Triple Crown, and American Pharoah also reigned as the world’s highest rated racehorse of 2015.

In 2016, along came Arrogate (USA), who Baffert had selected as a yearling from Juddmonte Farms. While sore shins as a juvenile precluded him from making the Classic races, Arrogate burst on to the scene with a record-breaking Travers Stakes win last August and then ran down 2016 Dubai World Cup winner California Chrome in an unforgettable Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Baffert thus celebrated his third consecutive triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, following the victories by Bayern in 2014 and American Pharoah.
Remarkably, Arrogate also became the trainer’s second consecutive leader atop the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.

Now Baffert has returned to the UAE, accompanying Arrogate on a quest to capture the gold trophy for the Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline.

“I never thought I’d be back here,” Baffert said.

He recalled that after Game On Dude and The Factor lost on Dubai World Cup night in 2012, he told downcast friends and family at Meydan that racing results were not a cause for despair.

“I told them, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a happy man after what I went through,’” Baffert related.
Honoured as America’s outstanding trainer four times, including in 2015, Baffert has honed 11 horses into winners of 15 championship titles, including Arrogate, America’s champion three-year-old male last year.

The immense talent of Arrogate, who possesses a stride Baffert describes as the longest he has ever seen, is what convinced the trainer to return to Dubai. On this preeminent world stage, Arrogate will face his toughest test to date but will have the chance to enhance his trainer’s already epic accomplishments.

“This horse has been so good to me,” Baffert said, “and hopefully we will know after the race just how great he is.”