Santa Anita begins the latest chapter in its storied history on Dec.
26 when it kicks off the 76th season of one of America’s most
anticipated meets, a 71-day session that offers 41 graded stakes, nine
of them Grade I’s, and nearly $10 million in stakes money.
It never gets old for Bob Baffert, a record 11-time Santa Anita
training champion who makes his headquarters at The Great Race Place
where he has developed a plethora of champion Thoroughbreds.
“It starts a fresh new year,” said the Hall of Fame trainer, who
turns 60 on Jan. 13. “It’s the day after Christmas and it holds a lot of
tradition. People look forward to it. It’s like opening day of the NFL
Baffert, whose personal trademarks include his snow white hair
and his occasionally bawdy banter, had an opportunity to draw a new
perspective on life following a heart attack he suffered in Dubai last
March and the loss of his 88-year-old father, Bill Sr. in September but
his grass roots demeanor hasn’t changed much.
“A lot of things happened this past year, but it’s still like
that Bill Murray movie, ‘Groundhog Day,’ Baffert said. “Every day’s the
With a barnful-plus of blueblood stock, that may be a stretch.
The three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer understandably seeks new
horizons to conquer, one of which will be another Santa Anita Handicap
victory on March 2. Baffert hopes to have Game On Dude ready for the
$750,000, Grade I race at a mile and a quarter. If he wins, Game On Dude
would become only the fourth back-to-back winner, having won the race
in 2011. He would join the fabled John Henry (1982-83); Milwaukee Brew
(2002-03) and Lava Man (2006-07)
“He came out his race (the Native Diver at Betfair Hollywood
Park) really well,” Baffert said of the gelding owned in part by
baseball legend Joe Torre. “We’ll probably run him in the San Antonio
Stakes on Feb. 3.”