Legendary thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert says he’s glad a deal was struck to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course and believes this year’s Preakness may be particularly exciting given the possibility of a horse clinching the Triple Crown in Baltimore.
Baffert, who won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah and Justify in 2015 and 2018, respectively, is training two horses that had been poised to compete in the reshuffled 2020 Triple Crown season: Charlatan and Nadal. The undefeated horses won their respective divisions of the 2020 Arkansas Derby May 2. But Charlatan’s status is unclear for the months ahead because the thoroughbred reportedly tested positive for a banned substance.
The Belmont Stakes (1 1/8 miles instead of 1 1/2 miles) will be run June 20, followed by the Kentucky Derby (Sept. 5) and Preakness (Oct. 3). For the first time in years, the Preakness will take place without the concern that it’ll be moved out of Baltimore in short order; a $375.5 million deal to keep the race in Baltimore recently passed into law.
That all sounds good to Baffert, who has won a Triple Crown race 15 times and the Preakness seven times.
“I’m a traditionalist, so I’d hate to see it being moved,” Baffert said of the Preakness on Glenn Clark Radio May 21. “It’ll be nice, upgraded, and people will [be] in a newer facility. It’s always been like a party atmosphere anyway. To me it’s the most fun leg because the pressure of the Derby is off. You’ve got a Derby winner. And this year I think it’s going to mean a lot because now that it’s going to be the last leg, if for some reason there were a horse than wins the first two legs, the Preakness is going to be pretty exciting.”
The Kentucky Derby typically kicks off the Triple Crown circuit on the first Saturday of May, and that’s followed by the Preakness on the third Saturday of May. The Belmont is third in line, taking place on the second Saturday in June. Three races across five weeks featuring elite 3-year-olds, culminating with the mile-and-a-half race at Belmont, make the Triple Crown one of the rarest achievements in sports. American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015.
The coronavirus-altered setup for 2020 allows horses more time to recover from each race, but that wouldn’t necessarily take the shine off of a potential Triple Crown winner, according to Baffert.
“It’s going to be tough anyway because I think the fields are going to be bigger,” Baffert said. “That’s what’s going to make it tougher. At Pimlico, they’re lucky if they get 10, 11. That gate will be completely full.”
Should Charlatan compete in the Belmont Stakes, he’ll have a chance to take on Nadal, his fellow Arkansas Derby winner. Florida Derby winner Tiz The Law is expected to take part in the Belmont as well.
The Arkansas and Florida Derbies were held without fans, which will also be the case at the Belmont. How do the horses react to that kind of environment?
“When they have people, they know they’re there. When there’s nothing around, they tend to lose focus a little bit so the rider has to keep after them,” Baffert said. “Belmont, as big as it is, you could put 20,000 people in there, the place would still look empty.”
This figures to be an unusual Triple Crown season for Baffert, who’s worried about more than just his horses.
“I was checking hotels in New York, and they’re not going to open until July, so I don’t know. I might have to get myself a Winnabego cross country or do something,” Baffert said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do there. I might pitch a tent or something.”
For more from Baffert, listen to the full interview here:
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