Sunday, May 02, 1999

Baffert hit hard by finish

Race stymies outgoing trainer

Enquirer contributor

        LOUISVILLE — It was hard for Bob Baffert to let go of the dream of becoming the first trainer to win three consecutive Kentucky Derbies.

        His three highly regarded entrants in the 125th Derby on Saturday finished fourth (Prime Timber), fifth (the filly Excellent Meeting) and 11th (General Challenge).

        There was space on the Barn 33 wall for a sign to match those honoring Baffert-trained Derby winners Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998). But the spot will remain unfilled for now.

        The usually gregarious Californian didn't show up at his barn for a post-race interview. Instead he talked by cellular telephone with Steve Bisheff of the Orange County (Calif.) Register and asked that Bisheff pass his comments on to waiting reporters.

        “I don't know how to act,” Bisheff said Baffert told him. “We're sort of lost souls.

        “We just didn't have any luck. There were so many horses (19), so much traffic.

        “After watching the replay, I think Prime Timber ran a good race, Excellent Meeting ran the best of the three, and General Challenge had a horrible trip.

        “I'm very disappointed that we didn't get it, but I got a big kick out of watching the Lewises (Californians Bob and Beverly Lewis, the owners of Derby winner Charismatic and also the owners of Silver Charm). The best wins are when you don't expect them.”

        Gary Stevens, General Challenge's jockey, nearly doubled over in pain after the race, clutching his lower right rib area, but later he said a doctor told him it was probably a cramp.

        Stevens called the ride his “worst trip ever in horse racing.”

        He said: “We got away from the gate not too bad. I did get bumped out of there, but not too bad.

        “In the first turn, I was between Charismatic and Prime Timber, and they came together and put the squeeze on me. They picked me up and carried me about four strides. I don't know how I didn't fall.

        “Over on the far turn, I got hit again. I finally got him out and he made a little run late, but by then it didn't much matter. But that's the Derby. You either get a good trip or a bad trip. Today we got the nightmare trip.”

        Kent Desormeaux, Excellent Meeting's rider, told a similar story. “We got pinched back leaving the gate,” he said. “Then the horses in front were getting shuffled back and I ended up last and she wanted to go. I literally galloped her to the three-eighths pole ... She never took a deep breath.”

        Prime Timber's jockey, David Flores, said he had a “great” trip.

        “But then they ran away from me. They ran away from me at the end.”


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