Monday, April 29, 2002

Baffert's back, but signs missing

Kentucky Derby notebook

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — You've got to look twice to find Bob Baffert's barn at Churchill Downs.

        Gone are the large signs commemorating the trainer's 1997 and '98 Derby victories with Silver Charm and Real Quiet, respectively. They were removed during the winter and not rehung outside Barn 33.

        “They sold them on eBay,” Baffert joked Sunday. “I've got to get a bucket of paint and put my name there.”

        The shed row is covered, so it's impossible to see which horses are being walked until they appear in the doorway.

        “Sometimes I walk by the barn myself,” he said. “These horses won't know where to come back to.”

        Baffert even sported different eyewear, eschewing his trademark round dark glasses for square ones. “These are my super sunglasses,” he said.

        LIMPING TRAINER: Ken McPeek, hobbled by a broken left foot from a pickup basketball game, plans to have one of his assistants saddle Harlan's Holiday in the Derby.

        “I don't think I'm even going to try,” he said.

        The honor is likely to go to Helen Pitts, the exercise rider for Harlan's Holiday, the probable Derby favorite.

        McPeek is struggling to get around the barn on crutches. He has to hop up stairs on the clockers' stand to watch his horses work; ducking in and out of stalls is a hassle.

        His foot will be in a removable cast for another six weeks. If it hasn't healed correctly, doctors will have to implant a screw.

        But he's not complaining about last week's injury.

        “I've had so much good luck this year, what's this?” he said.

        McPeek can only hope his bad luck turns into the kind of good luck trainer Elliott Walden experienced in 1998. Walden broke his ankle prior to the Belmont Stakes, which he won with Victory Gallop.

        COLORED TOWELS: For the first time in the Derby's 128-year history, each horse will wear a color-coded post position saddle towel.

        The towels are used to identify horses in most of the thoroughbred races run in the United States. Churchill Downs adopted the standardized color-coded towel system in 1994, but had never used it for the Derby.

        The towels will also be used for the first time for the Kentucky Oaks, a race for fillies to be run Friday. Among the more exotic towel colors will be turquoise, lime, khaki, copen blue, denim and fuchia.


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