Baffert taking new approach after health scare
BY BETH HARRIS Associated Press
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
5/01/12 at 4:55 AM
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Michael Matz is back at the Kentucky Derby with a strong contender for the first time since he won in 2006 with Barbaro, whose bronze likeness now greets all visitors to Churchill Downs.
Bob Baffert is a regular at the Derby, a three-time winner who's been looking for No. 4 since 2002. Only this year, he returns a changed man. A heart attack has a way of doing that.
Either trainer could have the favorite for Saturday's big race.
Matz trains Union Rags, who has never finished worse than third, while Baffert's top horse among his two runners is Bodemeister, named after his 7-year-old son Bode.
Wrenching as it may be to recall Barbaro's tragic end - he broke down in the Preakness and, despite a valiant fight, was euthanized nine months later - Matz doesn't try to temper his delight to be back in the Run for the Roses.
"It's a great feeling to be here after six years, especially with a horse that has a good chance," he said. "This doesn't happen too many times and I was lucky enough once. It's hard to believe you can get lucky twice."
Baffert knows you can.
His lifestyle of eating fried food and lots of meat, combined with already high cholesterol, caught up with him last month in Dubai, where he had gone to watch his horse, Game On Dude, run in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. He fell ill and was rushed to a hospital, where surgeons inserted three stents in two arteries.
"It was a pretty big scare for him," said Bernie Schiappa, who co-owns Game On Dude. "He thought he was going to check out."
Bodemeister's owner, Ahmed Zayat, greeted Baffert with a big hug outside his barn Monday. The biggest change Zayat sees in Baffert is a new contentment.
"He doesn't have to get everything done perfect," Zayat said. "His demeanor is telling me that 'I'm happy to have a second chance and now I'm going to try to enjoy it and try not to stress myself.' "
That includes watching his horses during races. Instead of getting fired up, waving his arms and shouting, Baffert sticks to a more subdued, "Come on, boy."
Mostly, though, Baffert's new mantra is not to worry about things he can't control, not an easy task for a perfectionist.
"I used to get upset over little things that I shouldn't have even worried about," he said. "This sport can really get you down. I'm actually enjoying my sport a little bit better."
Original Print Headline: Trainers excited to return to Derby
At Louisville, Ky. Post time 5:24 p.m. Saturday
Trainer Bob Baffert talks to the media after Kentucky Derby hopeful Liaison worked out at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Monday. The Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday. CHARLIE RIEDEL/Associated Press