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Jun 05, 2015

Up the Backstretch: The fourth time is the charm for Baffert

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Trainer Bob Baffert has been in this same exact situation three times before.

The Hall of Fame conditioner has previously led three 3-year-olds to the door step of winning the Triple Crown, and each time he saw his horse fail to finish the deed.

"I'm reminded every year of Real Quiet and Silver Charm," said Baffert, who on Saturday will saddle American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes.

In consecutive years, 1997-98, Baffert brought colts to the 1 1/2-mile "Test of the Champion" at Belmont Park only to watch his runners come up second. Probably the most frustrating was Real Quiet in 1998, losing by a nose to Victory Gallop, the second-place horse in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness that year.

One year earlier, Silver Charm, with Gary Stevens aboard, dropped a decision by less than a length to Touch Gold. And in 2002, the front-running War Emblem stumbled at the start and finished eighth in the Belmont.

"(American Pharoah) is a different horse than they were," Baffert noted. "You really don't know until the whole series is over how good the horses are. I'm just hoping I brought the right horse here, but we won't know until halfway into the race."

A different horse is definitely what's needed if this 37-year absence for a Triple Crown champion is ever going to be quenched.

American Pharoah is now the 14th 3-year-old to capture the first two legs of the Triple Crown since Affirmed last completed the sweep in 1978. Maybe this is the year because American Pharoah appears so dominant and his competition is not so good.

"The way he won his races, and then the Preakness, he was so dominating that day. When he's right, he likes to dominate. He's that kind of horse," Baffert said. "Hopefully, he can bring it one more time."

The colt's jockey, Victor Espinoza, has plenty of experience in this situation. The native of Mexico was the rider for War Emblem and last year for California Chrome. In Espinoza's case, maybe the third time's the charm.

"I can't look back and worry about the two times I lost the Belmont," Espinoza said recently. "When I rode War Emblem, he stumbled really bad at the start and that was it. My chance was gone right away.

"California Chrome was tired going into the race and his energy wasn't quite what it was. Also, another horse stepped on his foot and that happens when a horse doesn't have the energy it should. They do things in slow motion, and that's what happened."

Just eight horses have been entered for Saturday's race. The 3-5 favorite will start from the middle of the field in post 5. He won the Kentucky Derby from an outside post and Preakness from the inside. It's a small field on a big track going a long way. American Pharoah is by far the best horse in the race with only himself as competition.

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