One of the most unusual things about the 2017 Kentucky Derby is that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert does not have a horse in the race.
Baffert appeared to have another Derby favorite on his hands when Mastery blew past a strong field in the March 11 San Felipe Stakes. But before Mastery even made it off the track that day, jockey Mike Smith pulled him up. The bad news came moments later — a condylar fracture to the left front leg that likely ended the undefeated horse’s racing career.
“It was tough to take, but it’s one of those things where I’ve had a lot of good luck and some bad luck, but I can’t really complain,” Baffert said Wednesday morning from his traditional barn 33 at Churchill Downs. “He was a very good horse. I think the hardest part is I feel bad for the owners. They were looking forward to it, and it’s so hard to get a good horse. And then when you do get one and something like that happens … that’s why you have to enjoy the American Pharoahs and the Arrogates, all the great horses that were healthy enough to show their full potential.”
As Baffert suggested, his fellow trainers won’t shower him with tears of sympathy, not after American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015 and Arrogate emerged as the most dominant horse in the world over the last year.
“It’s pretty incredible that I’ve had two superior race horses right in a row,” he said. “They are so superior to anything I’ve had. And that’s saying a lot, because I’ve had some great horses.”
He’s glad he never had to endure the stress of pitting Arrogate and American Pharoah, who retired at the end of 2015, against one another.
“It would have been quite a race, and I don’t know who would have won,” Baffert said. “Those two are so close.”
He and his wife, Jill, will drive to visit American Pharoah at Coolmore Ashford Stud on Thursday. Then Baffert will saddle Abel Tasman in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday. But the week inevitably feels different than it would have if he had arrived with another Derby favorite.
Baffert said Mastery is recovering well but added that he can’t see owners Cheyenne Stables running the colt again given his value as a sire.
So he’ll join the long list of could-have-beens in Derby lore.
“It’s more fun to come here with a Derby favorite than with like a long shot,” Baffert said. “To me, that’s the part that stings the most.”
Childs WalkerContact Reporter
The Baltimore Sun