Most summers, Bob Baffert makes the cross-country trip from SoCal’s lovely seaside track at Del Mar to Saratoga Springs during the racing season. America’s most famous, successful and recognizable Triple Crown-winning trainer doesn’t travel 2839 miles for our mineral water—but he certainly appreciates the atmosphere. Baffert comes for the big races or to check out a hot prospect at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale. In 2009, he was in town for his induction into the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing.
Baffert knows Saratoga and Saratoga knows the white-haired superstar, who grew up on a chicken ranch in Nogales, AZ. He’s won the Travers Stakes three times—including with track-record-smashing Arrogate in 2016—and was part of a historic loss in 2015, when his Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, was dealt a major upset at the fabled “Graveyard of Favorites.”
During and after Baffert’s horse, Justify, swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes this year, giving him his record-tying second Triple Crown, saratoga living spoke with the trainer about a number of topics, including what it’s like bringing horses to Saratoga Race Course—and what he does in town when he’s not on the clock.
1. You’ve been to plenty of tracks in your career. What makes Saratoga and its fabled racetrack stand out?
Saratoga is a horse racing town. There’s so much history there, and you know when you go, you’re going to see top-class racing. The fans are so enthusiastic.
2. Is there a different feel to winning at Saratoga?
Definitely. When you win at Saratoga, you know you’ve beaten the best. It’s a big stage—the best trainers, best jockeys, best horses and biggest owners. Everyone wants to stand in the Winner’s Circle in Saratoga.
3. Do you remember your very first visit to Saratoga Springs? Why were you here?
My first trip to Saratoga was with Silverbulletday in 1999 for the Alabama. She won the race.
4. Did you expect her to blow away the field by nine lengths?
We felt pretty confident going in after her poor performance in the Belmont Stakes [she ran seventh; she was beaten by 10½ lengths]. She had been working up a storm in Saratoga. It was a great feeling to win in front of such a large and important audience. Greatness is defined in Saratoga.
5. What do you do in Saratoga when you’re not at the track?
I love Siro’s. The food’s great, and it’s a fun place to go after a big win to “talk about it.” I also love the turkey dinner at Winslow’s. It was [HOF inductee trainer] Bobby Frankel’s favorite place, and he used to take me there.
6. What’s the best horse you’ve trained that won at Saratoga?
7. What was your biggest disappointment at Saratoga?
American Pharoah. Obviously.
8. What has been the most satisfying moment of your career as a horse trainer?
There have been so many, but I’d have to say winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah. It was such a relief to get that monkey off my back. Then to finish out the year with him winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It was the perfect ending to his racing career. Winning another Triple Crown with Justify this year was unbelievable, too. And raising the Derby trophy is always satisfying.
9. If you weren’t training racehorses, what might you be doing right now?
I’ve never wanted to do anything other than be around horses. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
10. What are your memories of being inducted into the Hall of Fame in Saratoga in 2009?
I remember looking out in the audience and seeing my mom and dad sitting there. I got so choked up thinking about them and everything they meant to our family and to my career. My wife and all of my children and siblings were there. So many of my owners and friends made the trip just to be there beside me. It was one of the best and most humbling days of my life.