Since his heart attack 5 1/2 years ago in Dubai, Bob Baffert, the most recognizable human in horse racing, rarely leaves his Southern California base unless it is for a major horse sale, the Breeders’ Cup, a Triple Crown race or a race for his 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Even though the Hall of Fame trainer is sending the two favorites to Parx Racing for Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and $1 million Cotillion, Baffert, as his custom, was going to watch from what he calls his Grade I couch at home, entrusting the horses to the care of longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes.
On Sunday, however, Barnes, suffered a broken pelvis when he was thrown from a horse during training hours. So, Baffert, after watching Travers winner West Coast and Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman put in their final prerace workouts Monday morning at Santa Anita, will be making the trip east for his first visit to Parx.
West Coast, the hottest 3-year-old in America, will be the favorite for the Pa. Derby, a Grade I race for the first time. The race drew a field of 10 when entries were taken Monday. West Coast got started late so he was not ready for the Triple Crown races, but, since his Feb. 18 debut, he has five wins and two seconds in seven races, including a dominant win in the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes, a race that included the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Abel Tasman, a Grade I winner as a 2-year-old, was transferred to Baffert’s barn in March. She got a set of blinkers in her second start for Baffert, a win in the Kentucky Oaks. She has won two more Grade I stakes since then, clinching the 3-year-old filly championship. She will be an overwhelming favorite in the Grade I Cotillion, a race that drew 12 entrants.
The two big races will be broadcast as the centerpieces of a show on Comcast SportsNet (4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Laffit Pincay from NBC Sports will once again be the host. Randy Moss, NBC Sports racing analyst, will be making his Parx debut as part of the broadcast team.
The 13-race card is arguably the best in the history of the race track, with only one claiming race and $3.1 million in purses. Powerhouse trainer Todd Pletcher has horses in six different races. Two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill has horses in the three graded stakes, which include the $300,000 Gallant Bob for 3-year-old sprinters. Top national jockeys such as Jose Ortiz, Javier Castellano, John Velazquez, Mike Smith and Mario Gutierrez will be there. So will Parx favorite Kendrick Carmouche who now rides regularly in New York.
West Coast and Abel Tasman are scheduled to be flown to Allentown Wednesday arriving at 2 p.m. so, a few hours later, they should be at Parx where they will be stabled and train for Saturday’s races.
Baffert, who is flying east Wednesday morning, may be there in time to see his horses get off the van in the Parx stable area. Whenever he gets there, the white-haired man, with his ever present sunglasses, will be around for a few days before his horses run Saturday afternoon.