Top two 3-year-olds are in Hall of Famer’s barn

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - Bill.dwyre@la­ Twit­ter: @dwyrelatimes

Bob Baf­fert finds him­self in a sit­u­a­tion th­ese days that could give a guy white hair.

Oops. Never mind.

The fa­mous thor­ough­bred horse trainer not only has the fa­vorite for this year’s Ken­tucky Derby, he has the top two fa­vorites. It is a rare abun­dance of riches for any trainer. It can also cause an abun­dance of stress.

It is one month to the May 2 Derby, the first leg of the sport’s much cov­eted, and re­cently much elu­sive, Triple Crown. There have been 11 Triple Crown win­ners, none since Af­firmed in 1978.

It is also nine days to the Arkansas Derby at Oak­lawn Park and two days to the Santa Anita Derby. If Baf­fert had any more balls to jug­gle, he’d need an­other arm.

His thor­oughly tal­ented thor­ough­breds are Amer­i­can Pharoah and Dort­mund. The most re­cent Churchill Downs Derby

fu­ture book had Amer­i­can Pharoah at 9-2 and Dort­mund at 5-1. A fu­ture book ex­acta on the two set a mere $50 pay­out for a $2 bet.

Amer­i­can Pharoah, or AP as the fans have started call­ing him, has lost once in four races — “His first one, a fluke,” Baf­fert says — and was the 2014 Eclipse Award win­ner as the cham­pion 2-year-old. He will race in the $1-mil­lion Arkansas Derby.

Dort­mund has yet to lose; ac­tu­ally, he has yet to be any­thing but im­pres­sive in his five races. He will lead the field in Satur­day’s $1-mil­lion Santa Anita Derby.

“This is why you get into the busi­ness, Triple Crown time,” Baf­fert says. “It’s our March Mad­ness.”

Amer­i­can Pharoah is owned by suc­cess­ful horse­man Ahmed Zayat. He is 52, from Egypt, and made his money in soft-drink dis­tri­bu­tion and glass man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Zayat has fin­ished sec­ond in the Ken­tucky Derby three times, with Pioneerof The Nile in 2009, Nehro in 2011 and Bode­meis­ter in 2012. In 2010, he had the fa­vorite in Esk­endereya, who ended up be­ing scratched a week prior to the big race with an in­jury. Pioneerof The Nile is AP’s sire.

“He’s had plenty of rac­ing bad luck,” Baf­fert says, “but he loves the sport and keeps try­ing.”

Dort­mund is also owned by a suc­cess­ful horse­man, Kaleem Shah. He is also 52, is from In­dia, and has been a player in sev­eral big-money stakes races. His Bay­ern won last year’s $5-mil­lion Breed­ers’ Cup Clas­sic.

He made his money in a com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech com­pany that works with the gov­ern­ment and does the kind of work that Shah once said, in an in­ter­view with the Rac­ing Form’s Jay Hov­dey, “I can­not talk much about.”

Shah’s fa­ther was among the more prom­i­nent train­ers in In­dia’s his­tory and did as much as he could to make his son get a good ed­u­ca­tion and stay away from the ponies. That worked un­til Shah got to the U.S.

He is a huge soc­cer fan — thus his horses named af­ter Ger­man ri­vals Bay­ern Mu­nich and Borus­sia Dort­mund. Dort­mund, the horse, was sired by 2008 Ken­tucky Derby win­ner Big Brown.

So Baf­fert jug­gles all this, laugh­ing all the way to the bank. He plays no fa­vorites, just smiles a lot at the men­tion of ei­ther horse.

“My own­ers, they un­der­stand,” he says. “They know I’ll take care of them at the end of the day.”

He says he puts all the daily in­for­ma­tion “into the drone” and then “I send the drone out.” The drone is his main as­sis­tant, Jimmy Barnes, the op­er­a­tional lifeblood of Baf­fert’s sta­ble.

“My clients know the drill,” Baf­fert says. “I have own­ers tell me that they’d love to have horses with me, but they know they’d want to get too in­volved, so they don’t even bother.”

Baf­fert says Amer­i­can Pharoah and Dort­mund are cer­tain en­tries in the Ken­tucky Derby. He also says he is very care­ful not to look too far ahead. In rac­ing, you can­not, be­cause th­ese 1,000pound an­i­mals are as frag­ile as they are tal­ented.

“You ex­pect the worst,” Baf­fert says, “and hope for the best.”

He says that Zayat and Shah, vet­er­ans that they are, now live on the same sort of pins and nee­dles that he does.

“I know now that, when I call them, es­pe­cially around work­out time in the morn­ing, and they see my phone num­ber come up on their phones,” he says, “they kind of panic. So the first words I say are: ‘This is a good call.’ ”

The two horses have shown no in­di­ca­tion of fragility, nor any un­will­ing­ness to run their hearts out.

Amer­i­can Pharoah won the March 14 Rebel Stakes on a track that had en­dured three days of rain and was ba­si­cally muddy slop. Com­ing out of the gate, he kicked loose his right front shoe and ran the rest of the way with the loose shoe flap­ping. He won by 6 ⁄ lengths.

“He could have torn stuff apart with the loose nails,” Baf­fert said, in amaze­ment and grat­i­tude.

The un­beaten Dort­mund got a hefty chal­lenge in the Bob Lewis Stakes from Fir­ing Line and vet­eran jockey Gary Stevens, who put his horse in front in the last fur­long and was amazed to see Dort­mund dig deeper to come back and win on the rail.

Ear­lier this week, Amer­i­can Pharoah was walk­ing the shedrow out­side Baf­fert’s barns at Santa Anita, and Dort­mund was in his stall about 20 yards away.

Be­cause they’ve never been in the same race, Baf­fert was asked if they got along with each other.

“They don’t even know each other,” he says. “But they will.”

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

DUCKS DE­FENSE­MAN Cam Fowler tries to avoid trip­ping over his goal­tender, Fred­erik An­der­sen.

Kevin C. Cox Getty Images

BAF­FERT trains the un­beaten Dort­mund and once-beaten Amer­i­can Pharoah.

Benoit Photo

DORT­MUND , with jockey Martin Garcia, took the San Felipe Stakes last month for his fifth con­sec­u­tive win.

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