Born in Arizona in 1953, Bob Baffert began working with horses as a child on his family ranch. One of the top quarter-horse trainers in the 1980s, he went on to success in thoroughbred racing with such champions as Silver Charm and Point Given. In 2015, Baffert became the 11th trainer of a Triple Crown winner when American Pharoah swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
Robert Baffert was born on January 13, 1953, in Nogales, Arizona. Raised with six siblings on a chicken and cattle ranch owned by parents Bill and Ellie, Baffert was introduced to his career calling when his dad began buying quarter horses, and by age 10 he was riding every day.
Baffert became skilled enough to compete as a jockey, winning a sanctioned race in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1970. The following year, he claimed his first win as a trainer, with a horse named Baffert's Baron. He went on to attend the University of Arizona, earning his degree in animal sciences and racetrack management.
After graduating college, Baffert tried his hand as a substitute teacher and veterinary supplies salesman before returning to training full time. He began working with horses at Rillito Downs in Tucson, Arizona, scoring a win with Flipper Star in January 1979.
Baffert relocated to the Los Alamitos Race Course in California and gradually earned recognition as one of the best in his field. Two of his horses won the prestigious Champion of Champions race, with Gold Coast Express also being honored as the 1986 quarter-horse world champion.
Convinced to step up to the big-money industry of thoroughbred racing, the rancher's son proved he belonged, thanks to his well-honed instincts for finding quality horses. His first thoroughbred purchase, the $30,000 yearling Thirty Slews, went on to win the $1 million Breeder's Cup Sprint in 1992.
Baffert's first entry into the Kentucky Derby, a colt named Cavonnier, finished a close second in the 1996 race. The following year, Baffert won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes with Silver Charm. He became the first trainer to repeat that accomplishment in consecutive years with Real Quiet, but fell just short of the coveted Triple Crown when Real Quiet lost the Belmont Stakes by a nose.
Voted the trainer of the year from 1997 through 1999, Baffert continued to display a golden touch for producing champion racers. In 2001, Point Given became the first thoroughbred to win four straight races with purses of at least $1 million. In 2002, it was War Emblem's turn to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the bid for history dashed this time by a poor start at Belmont.
Following a dry spell, Baffert returned to the racing headlines with wins by Midnight Lute (2007 and 2008 Sprint), Indian Blessing (2007 Juvenile) and Midshipman (2008 Juvenile) in Breeder's Cup events. Elected to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in 2009, Baffert claimed his fifth Preakness win with Lookin At Lucky in 2010, and Breeder's Cup victories with Secret Circle in 2011 (Juvenile) and 2013 (Sprint).
Triple Crown Victory & American Pharoah
As the trainer of American Pharoah, a long-striding colt owned by Zayat Stables, Baffert earned his fourth Kentucky Derby win in May 2015. Two weeks later, American Pharoah easily outpaced the field on a muddy track at the Preakness to set up Triple Crown hopes once again.
This time, history would not be denied. On June 6, 2015, before 90,000 fans at Belmont Park, American Pharoah, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, recovered from a hiccup at the starting gate to take a commanding lead. With his 5 1/2-length victory, after a 37-year drought, American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, making Baffert the 11th trainer to achieve the elusive trifecta. Espinoza also made history that day when he became the oldest and first Hispanic jockey to win.
Having endured the roller coaster of Triple Crown heartbreak several times, Baffert recognized how lucky he was to capitalize on one more opportunity. "I just feel like I have a very special horse and he's the one that won," he said afterward. "It wasn't me."
Baffert married wife Jill in 2002. He has a son, Bode, with her, as well as four children from a previous marriage.
The trainer survived a heart attack while in Dubai in 2012. Afterward, he was the subject of an investigation due to the mysterious deaths of seven horses at his Hollywood Park stable, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In addition to the Racing Hall of Fame, Baffert was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and was named the University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni Portraits of Excellence Honoree that year.
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