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Santa Anita Meet Never Gets Old for Baffert

Bob Baffert

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 season.”

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 same thing.”

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.”

 

 

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