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Bob Baffert transfers some Kentucky Derby horses to Tim Yakteen and Rodolphe Brisset

Bob Baffert in a suit and sunglasses.
With a suspension looming, Bob Baffert is transferring several Kentucky Derby horses to other trainers.
(Rob Carr / Getty Images)
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Trainer Bob Baffert, with time running out for any of his legal options to reach resolution, is transferring three of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls to Tim Yakteen, and one to Rodolphe Brisset, so that the horses can gain points and qualify to run on racing’s most famous day.

Messier, Doppelgänger and McLaren Vale will all move to the barn of Yakteen, Baffert’s former assistant. Blackadder will ship to Kentucky and run for Brisset. Doppelgänger has already moved to Yakteen’s barn, and the others will move in the next few days.

“These are all good horses and they deserve to go,” Baffert told The Times on Thursday. “It’s just such a great race, both the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. It’s great for the fans and the sport. The fans deserve to see these horses run.”

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Messier won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita by 15 lengths in his last start and is scheduled to race in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Doppelgänger finished second in the San Felipe Stakes and probably will race in the Arkansas Derby on April 16. McLaren Vale finished third in the San Vicente in his last start and has yet to go two turns; Baffert said he was unsure where he would race. Blackadder, who won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields to gain an automatic berth to the Preakness, probably will race in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway on April 2 or the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 9.

All of the horses are owned in part by SF Racing. If any of the horses finish first or second in their final prep race, they should gain enough points to make the starting gate in Louisville on May 7.

After losing an appeal, Bob Baffert has one more chance to delay his 90-day suspension, which would force him to disband his barn at Santa Anita for three months.

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“We are grateful for Bob’s outstanding training effort with them,” said Tom Ryan of SF Racing LLC. “We salute Bob for making the tough but necessary decision that will allow [those horses] to prove themselves as top talents in racing this year.”

Baffert said he was still evaluating if any of his 3-year-old fillies would change barns to try to qualify for the Kentucky Oaks.

The moves were made because Baffert is ineligible to receive any Kentucky Derby qualifying points while under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs. The home of the Kentucky Derby put the sanctions on Baffert after four medication positives in about a year. Two of the positives were the result of contamination, generally out of a trainer’s control.

The one that forced the issue, in Churchill’s thinking, was Medina Spirit, when the colt tested positive for betamethasone, a legal anti-inflammatory that is illegal on race day. Baffert’s attorneys contend the rule on the drug applies only when injected, not when applied in an ointment, which is how they say the colt received the medication. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission disagreed, and Medina Spirit was disqualified as the Derby winner.

Baffert has four legal cases awaiting resolution. The most immediate is his petition to the Kentucky Court of Appeals to issue a stay of his 90-day suspension while the Medina Spirit decision is under appeal, which is another case. It is almost automatic that stays are granted while a case is under appeal, but in this case, the KHRC and a district court judge denied it. If the stay is not granted, Baffert will start his suspension April 4.

Baffert is also suing Churchill Downs Inc., its chief executive and board chairman for banning him from all CDI properties for two years. He is also fighting a ban by the New York Racing Assn., and awaiting a decision on a hearing held in January. None of Baffert’s medication violations occurred in New York.

“I think ever since I first got word after the Derby of the positive, it’s been very frustrating,” Baffert said. “I can’t believe we are going through this. It’s how your life can change overnight. It’s been a long and frustrating process. We were hoping we could get together and figure this out.

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“But I’ve stayed focused on my horses. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to train them, but I’m going to sit back and root for them and hope they do well.”

If Baffert does not get a stay from Kentucky, he will have to close down his barn at Santa Anita for the duration of the suspension because it is more than 60 days and covered by Rule 1843.3.

“The California Horse Racing Board’s position is that Rule 1843.3 applies to violations that occur in California,” the CHRB said in a statement. “However, in the absence of any clarifying language in Rule 1884, commonly known as the reciprocity rule, the CHRB intends to apply Rule 1843.3 in its entirety to Kentucky’s 90-day suspension of trainer Bob Baffert.”

If Baffert is suspended, it’s unclear if Yakteen or other trainers would get most of Baffert’s horses.

“Right now, that’s a question that’s not ready to be answered,” Baffert said.

Yakteen has had two stints as Baffert’s assistant. He started when Baffert trained quarter horses. When Baffert switched to thoroughbreds in 1988, Yakteen went with him and stayed until 1991, when he moved to assist Charlie Whittingham. Yakteen returned to Baffert’s barn in 1997, where he stayed for seven years before going out on his own.

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Perhaps his best horse has been Mucho Unusual, who won the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita in 2020. The 6-year-old mare has won almost $1 million.

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Yakteen has been a staunch supporter of Baffert and got into an altercation with trainer Richard Baltas at Santa Anita’s Clockers’ Corner one morning when, according to a CHRB incident report, Baltas was bad-mouthing Baffert after the Hall of Fame trainer had his suspension in Arkansas overturned. Yakteen came to his defense, verbally and physically, and the April 2020 incident ended with a slightly injured security guard and both trainers fined $500.

Yakteen has never had a Kentucky Derby starter but did assist Baffert for many Derbies. Brisset also has never had a Derby starter but was instrumental in the early part of Justify’s career. Justify was Baffert’s second Triple Crown winner.

“This could be a career-changing event for them,” Baffert said of the two trainers. “You hate to lose horses, but it’s the horse that makes the trainer. And they are two very good horsemen.”

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