Saturday's Santa Anita Derby was more a belaboring of the obvious than a horse race.
It confirmed that Dortmund was a really good 3-year-old, good enough to be one of the favorites for the
It confirmed that
When his unbeaten Dortmund won the 1 1/8-mile exercise, over an eager but overmatched entry of five others, it was Baffert's seventh Santa Anita Derby win since his first entry in 1996. In that time, he has sent 26 horses to the gate in this prestigious Kentucky Derby prep race, and finished in the money 13 times, with eight second-place finishes. That includes Saturday's runner-up, One Lucky Dane.
And it confirmed that, in the week before May 2, when they fill the gates with 20 horses for the annual Churchill Downs cavalry charge, Baffert will be the belle of the ball. Along with his entry of Dortmund and One Lucky Dane, Baffert will have a third in American Pharoah, who probably will be another Derby favorite candidate and who will go to Louisville regardless of his performance in next Saturday's Arkansas Derby at Oak Lawn.
Horse race writers nationwide are already burning candles of gratitude. If Baffert ever runs out of quotes and quips, the sport will need to declare a day of mourning.
Dortmund's owner, a distinguished-looking Kaleem Shah, from San Diego by way of India, told the media afterward that Baffert had been promising him a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
"Yeah, and it took me six years," Baffert cracked.
Dortmund is a big horse, almost in the 17-hands category of Zenyatta. His size works name-wise, too. His daddy is the
Dortmund broke from the No. 1 hole, a spot Baffert hates but one that didn't matter Saturday, with only five other horses to get in the way. Martin Garcia took Dortmund to the lead immediately, tried his best to hold him back and didn't completely succeed. The first quarter was a fast 22.46 seconds, giving those who wagered on other horses hope that he had gone out too fast and would fade.
He turned for home, Garcia tapped him a couple of times, the afterburners came on and he was 4 1/4 lengths ahead of One Lucky Dane when he hit the finish.
Baffert indicated that he had little to do with the quick first quarter-mile or any of the strategy.
"I just tell my jockeys," Baffert said, "that if you know you are on the best horse, ride him like that."
Dortmund paid $3.20, $2.40 and $2.10 and gamblers were lucky to get that.
One thing that hasn't been obvious in horse racing in recent years, but became a bit more so Saturday, was that there is still fan appetite for the sport. If it has become a niche sport, the niche still can have sizable days.
Saturday's on-track attendance, for this Grade I race with the $1-million purse, was 38,647. It wasn't the record 63,130 that showed up in 1984 — before satellite wagering — but it was the best in five years.
Despite Baffert's tough trio — mostly the terrific twosome of Dortmund and American Pharoah — there are no givens in this sport. Nor any in a race such as the Kentucky Derby that, for the first few furlongs, resembles the 405 Freeway seconds after the end of a traffic break.
That's even the case in a year when the field outside Southern California looks underwhelming. In Saturday's two other Derby prep races, Frosted won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Carpe Diem won the Bluegrass at Keeneland. Neither resembled Secretariat.
The problem is, these thoroughbreds often are as fragile as they are fast.
Jill Baffert, Bob's wife and a prominent owner in her own right, summed up the uncertainty of it all just minutes after Dortmund had made his future stardom appear certain.
"Oh, my, you just never know. You can't relax," she said. "The phone rang this morning, it was Jimmy [Barnes, Baffert's main assistant]. I hear them talking, then Bob runs out of the house. I thought something bad happened. Turns out Jimmy was just running a little late."
For the sake of Jill Baffert's nerves, that's one thing she has yet to worry about with Dortmund. He never arrives late.