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143rd Kentucky Oaks Post-Race News Conference with Abel Tasman Connections

LOUISVILLE, KY – Fans braved an all-day rain and the coldest Oaks Day since 1940 as Abel Tasman captured the 143rd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs Racetrack. The dreary weather, which kept thousands of fans at home, still resulted in attendance of 105,100. The highest all-time attendance record for the Kentucky Oaks of 124,589 was set just last year under perfect weather.

Wagering from all sources on the full Kentucky Oaks Day race card of $48.9 million was down only slightly to 2016’s record-setting total of $49.0 million and represents the second-highest all-sources wagering on Oaks Day. All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Oaks race of $14.9 million was also slightly down compared to 2016’s $15.0 million.

On-track wagering for the Kentucky Oaks Day race card, $9.3 million, was down 22% compared to 2016. On-track wagering for the Kentucky Oaks race, $2.4 million, was down 21% compared to 2016’s $3.0 million.

Abel Tasman, owned by China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms and bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms, rallied from far back to win the Longines Kentucky Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths at odds of 9-1. Jockey Mike Smith won the race for the second time after his 2013 win on Princess of Sylmar. Trainer Bob Baffert won the race for the third time, with prior victories coming in 1999 with Silverbulletday and in 2011 with Plum Pretty. The daughter of Quality Road out of the Deputy Minister mare Vargas Girl was the first Longines Kentucky Oaks winner owned by China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms. She returned $20.40 for a $2 win wager.

Kentucky Derby Bonus: Access our Top 10 Kentucky Derby Wagering Mistakes for a step-by-step guide on how we’ve hit three straight Kentucky Derby winners.

News Conference Transcript

JOHN ASHER: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the 143rd running of the Kentucky Oaks, America’s top race for 3‑year‑old fillies. We have a winner. And that is #13, Abel Tasman, from the barn of Bob Baffert, three Kentucky Oaks wins for Bob Baffert. We will have Bob in a few minutes. He has a filly saddling for this race, so he will be a little late. Pretty nice filly named American Cleopatra. We are happy to have back for a second time in this position, having won the Kentucky Oaks, ladies and gentlemen, jockey Mike Smith, winner of this year’s Kentucky Oaks. (Applause)

All spring long, all winter long, it looked like you would be the favorite for this race, Kentucky Oaks. Unique Bella looked like she might be a filly that takes on the boys in the Derby. Neither happened. You wound up here on Abel Tasman, and you win the race. Talk about the race, first of all. You were far back in the early going, dead last, I believe, in the early going. Did you expect that?

MIKE SMITH:  I didn’t expect to be that far back. But at some point I wanted to see if I could make my way over to the rail. I just felt that the rail was playing really good all afternoon. And I made my way over there. Once I got over there, she didn’t care to be down inside and getting all the kick‑back like that. So then I had to go to another plan and see if I could work my way back out again, which I was able to do about halfway down the backside. Once I did that, she leveled off. And she really started picking horses up at that point. And I felt confident that I was back in the race and it was just a matter if I could run them down. I felt they were going quick enough. For as far back as I was, I knew they were going really, really quick early. That worked out for me.

Pretty much after that, it was a matter of keeping her busy. I was going to hit the front a little bit too soon. I had already got her going, and I wasn’t about to tap on the brakes at that point. I just wanted to keep her running.

You can see her, she’s still having a little bit of trouble with the mud. She’s really big. There’s a lot of legs to her. She finally switched over to right lead there, and then she kind of leveled off. And I felt comfortable I would hold the horse off that was coming to her outside.

JOHN ASHER: And it worked out well. Again, far back in the early going, but they were really zinging along on the front end.

MIKE SMITH: They were going fast. I actually rode her, and I was still that far back. I knew they were running really quick, especially for that racetrack. Again, I angled to the rail immediately after that and thought that I could get down in there. It seemed like the place to be. All day long, horses were finishing strong down on the inside.

Like I said, once I got down in there, she was really just having trouble with it. Once I was able to move her back to the middle of the track, we call it the crown of the racetrack out in the middle. Once I got out there, she seemed to level off and was starting to pick up horses one at a time pretty quick. So, again, at that point I felt that I was back in the race. It was just a matter if we were good enough to go ahead and pass them all.

JOHN ASHER: Feeling fairly confident at that point, at least you were going to get the best effort out of her?

MIKE SMITH: I was feeling good enough that she was going to run well. Where at that point, I didn’t have time to think that much through. But I knew she was certainly going to run well at that point.

JOHN ASHER: Like your previous win in this race came with Princess of Sylmar over an accomplished field, a lot of people thought it was one of the better fields in the history of the Kentucky Oaks. You surprised on that one. This one, considering where you were a few weeks ago, what it looked like you would be riding in this race. How did this one feel? Kind of a surprise for you to be back in the winner’s circle?

MIKE SMITH: The first ones are always great, of course, but for some reason, I enjoy the second ones better. Now you know what it felt like. And you know how to ‑‑ I don’t know. You just savor the moment a whole lot more. I think the first time I was just shocked I had won. I was probably about 30‑1, I believe, that afternoon. And I’m enjoying this one.

JOHN ASHER: As are the gentleman immediately to your left. I think they are enjoying it as well. Two representatives of the China Horse Club, one of the partners in this horse, China Horse Club owning Abel Tasman along with Clearsky Farms. We only have the representatives from China Horse Club here. I will ask Mr. Teo to pronounce your name.

AH KHING TEO: You are right.

JOHN ASHER: And also we have Michael Wallace, who is racing in Bloodstock Managers with the China Horse Club. Teo, just your thoughts, first of all? Marvelous win for this filly. First one for your ownership group and in this race. What does it mean to you?

AH KHING TEO: Well, first of all, I would like to thank Kentucky Oaks and the organizers here at Churchill Downs for allowing us the opportunity to have our partner together with Baffert to stage a show, which was fantastic. We got the number one jockey and trainer, Bob Baffert, as a team with Michael Wallace, and also my man standing behind there, Mick Flanagan. Put together a show today that was incredible. Not only are we here, but our friends and members and partners in all of Asia and China and all our partners specifically in China. We have over, I think, about 800 million people reaching out in China. And we hope that today’s race, which is very significant, will put the geographical location and the significance of Kentucky Oaks in the mind of the Chinese, to understand the significance of this race and being here with my family, Ivy and Johanna. And we are very, very happy, I would say.

JOHN ASHER: Could you talk a bit about the origin of the club?

AH KHING TEO: China Horse Club, as the name suggests, is a platform in the aspiration of the Chinese to get involved in the business of racing. Not only that, China Horse Club also promotes business networking. We have also heavy involvement in promoting the area of sports, especially in supporting in charity for jockeys. And we have set up a foundation to help and to train, especially in the area like Chinese jockeys in English so that they can well‑equip and learn. So we have sent them overseas in a country like Barbados ‑‑ in Australia, currently ‑‑ to equip the Chinese jockeys to understand. They will be dying one day to be able to have a chat with Mike Smith internationally and to learn and upgrade their skill.

And not only there, China Horse Club are also heavily involved in nine other countries. And to date, we are now ‑‑ I was told, top 10 in the world in the top 500 owners and trainers. And we are dedicating our resources to protect the welfare of the horse industries. And we are also building a new industry in China. And, hopefully, we can learn from all the experts, especially here. And we can bring expertise and have a two‑way exchange so that China, even though they are a late starter, they will not learn all the bad things. And they will learn all the right things to start off, though they are late. Thank you.

JOHN ASHER: This victory is only a few minutes old. What do you think it will mean to you?

AH KHING TEO: Well, I will just let you know that my phone is ringing right now and vibrating nonstop.

I don’t know if they are calling me. But I’m sure there’s an impact of a win for China Horse Club, representing aspiration of many around the world and to be able to win very significant race here in United States, especially in Churchill Downs. I think that says a lot about the team, the dedication. Today I’m very happy with Mike Smith, and also our trainer and all the team here and our partners as well. Thank you.

JOHN ASHER: Michael Wallace is part of the team. Talk about this filly. She’s been one of the outstanding members of the crop throughout the winter. Some people might have slipped off the radar a little bit after second in the Santa Anita Oaks. Here you are. Your patience was rewarded.  What does this filly do for the operation and what you are trying to accomplish?

MICHAEL WALLACE: Obviously, we are on the biggest stage here. To win a classic like this is right at the top end of what we are trying to achieve really. She’s a filly that’s obviously been there and done it at this level before. And Bob was very confident that he trained her up. So she was a filly that Mick Flanagan identified for us and brokered a deal with Clearsky and the Cleary brothers. And have been, luckily, been proven very right today. So she’s a filly that’s got a lot of scope, a lot of size, a lot of power. She’s going to be one to have a bit of fun with in the next 18 months.

JOHN ASHER: The second time you have ridden her. First time out was a distant second to Paradise Woods who ran ‑‑ the favorite here today, ran a monstrous race that day. What were your thoughts coming out of that day and the lessons you learned that were valuable here today with her?

MIKE SMITH: Coming out of that race, I knew there was a whole lot of upside to her. I didn’t feel she ran her A race that day. Although we got beat 11 lengths, I mean, it was a pretty good second. I wasn’t going to catch the winner that day by no means. Paradise Woods had broken very well and pretty much had gotten the race her own way early on.

But we ran well enough to get a good second. She was still well within herself. And I thought coming out of that race into this race, the way the race was looking on paper anyway, that it could really shape up for us today a whole lot better. I didn’t have ‑‑ by no means did I plan on being last. But it’s just the way it worked out. Like I said, after I was able to get her clear down the backside, I knew they were going quick enough and I knew they would come back to me. It was a matter of were we good enough to pass them. She was that and more.

Q. Mr. Teo, can you explain how you kind of connected with Bob and with Mike in terms of was the situation with Simon and Joe, was that only the silks and solely and simply the silks? And, Mike, if you could, just explain your thoughts with kind of the unusual circumstances that let you getting this mount in this race.

AH KHING TEO: I will let Mike handle that.

MICHAEL WALLACE: Obviously, everybody is well aware of the situation that the filly was transferred across ‑‑ we haven’t commented on that till now. And we won’t comment on it. You know, Simon is a very good trainer. And he trained her to a group win. Bob’s also a champion trainer, and he’s carried that on. So, you know, we’re thankful for both. And everybody can just move on from this moment. And we’ve got a nice filly. And we are lucky to have Mike on a day like this. And we’re lucky to have Bob on a day like this. 

Q. Mike, your thoughts?

MIKE SMITH: Well said.

Q. Were you surprised to be in this situation because of the change?

MIKE SMITH:  I am blessed to be riding some really nice horses for Bob right now. I’m very grateful that I got the opportunity to ride her and happy to be a part of it. Like everything sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. And I just happen to be doing really well for Bob, so he decided to use me.

Q. Mike, what does it say about Bob that he doesn’t have a Derby starter this year but he still makes his presence felt at Churchill Downs?

MIKE SMITH: That’s Bob Baffert. Big Money Bob.

He really liked this filly coming in. He made a slight change of equipment, added a slight pair of blinkers, cut back really short, nothing too drastic. But she seemed to be a whole lot more forward with the blinkers on in her work. Although we were last ‑‑ I mean, we didn’t plan on being there the first part of the race, she really did focus a whole lot more through the backside and onto the lane, which was a great move on his part to add those. And I think it really helped a lot today.

Q. Mike, considering how the track had been playing all day, were there any prerace instructions from Bob? Did he just say, “Yo, Mike, be Mike?”

MIKE SMITH: He pretty much lets me ride it like it comes up. We had an idea. We thought ‑‑ we both thought that the rail was golden today. It looked that way. And he had mentioned it and I did, too, at the time that I liked to see at some point if I could get down in there without doing anything too drastic.

We broke. They were going quick early on. And I was able to just go ahead and shoot right down in there. So I thought I would get down there and see what happened. She wasn’t happy. And she wasn’t handling it down in there for whatever reason. I don’t know if it was the kick‑back and the mud hitting her at the same time. She is real tall, a lot of legs to her. I thought, this ain’t working out too good. In saying all that, she was still wasn’t like ‑‑ she was still well within herself.  I felt if I could get her comfortable somewhere, she would make up some ground and we would see what would happen after that. Once I was able to get her off, she started picking them off one by one. If anything, I probably hit the front a bit too soon. In the slop, once you got them going, you might as well keep them going.

Q. China Horse Club has invested in several stallions recently. I just wanted to get an overview of China Horse Club’s interest in stallion operations.

MICHAEL WALLACE: Obviously, as part of our global portfolio, stallions worldwide are part of what we are trying to achieve. This time last year, we were coming to the Derby with Exaggerator. Tomorrow, we come with Irish War Cry and a new partnership that’s been formed around him. That’s a long‑term view that we’re taking for Chinese invested that are looking to participate in the global market. There’s a lot of investment in stallions worldwide. And horses like Irish War Cry will play into that long‑term. So that’s part of a long‑term philosophy of people from our members within China wanting to participate in the entire industry.

Q. When you say members in the club, how many investors are involved in your group? Can you talk about what the knowledge, the fan level of horse racing in China kind of is at this point and where does that sort of fit on the sports map over there?

AH KHING TEO: Thank you for asking. The China Horse Club history now I think is in the fourth year. In our first and second year, we probably got less than 100 members. And in our unique situation, our members, each of them have to put their money where the mouth is. That means they all put in $1 million. And we charge a little bit of management fees. The rest of the money are all involved in what Mike was saying, short, medium, long‑term views about horse industries.

Now, as you know in China, we have not really opened up or legalized gambling or wagering. So there are many other ways that we try to innovate and encourage investors. There’s no difference between investing in store chains or investing in stallions. The only thing for them investing in stallions, we would calculate and they can look at the returns.

So far what Mike was saying, we invest in more than 20 stallions. And the numbers are growing. And we are enjoying a partnership with reasonable and trustworthy and very humble and result‑oriented partners in America and Europe and Australia. And so far in the less than two years I think our result shows their investments have quadrupled and they are very encouraging.

And, therefore, the way to look forward I think in the next three years, we foresee there will be a very encouraging involvement for the resources that’s going to come from that part of the world.

JOHN ASHER: Mike Smith likes it, judging by the smile on his face. Could be the start of a beautiful friendship here, ladies and gentlemen. 

Q. Mike, you talked about the blinkers. How recently was that added? And can you give me a sense for how quickly Bob was able to diagnose any issues with this filly?

MIKE SMITH: Immediately after her second-place finish in her last race in the (Santa Anita) Oaks, he seemed ‑‑ and we both ‑‑ everyone kind of saw she broke okay. She was kind of ‑‑ not 100% focused. She would get a hold of you for about 16th of a mile and there was a little bit of focus again. It is a good indication they probably need just a little bit of a blinker. So, as soon as we got off, he said, “What do you think about a little bit of a blinker?”

I said, “I was just getting ready you to tell you that.” They went on. So her next work she had a slight pair on. She worked really well. Although I wasn’t on her for the work, I was standing with Bob when she worked. She was in the bridle the whole time breaking off. Even when she ran by her company, she stayed in the bridle and with her head down instead of looking up.

She actually beat me ‑‑ I was on a filly for Bob at Los Al. When she ran by me, you could see her. She ran by me pretty handy. She through her ears up and did all this. I actually came back to her. I knew that she would kind of do that a little bit. The blinkers kept her from doing that today. As I said earlier, I hit the front just a little bit early because I knew she would pull up. I finally got her running. I couldn’t do much about it. The blinkers kept her focused, and she ran on through the race and actually got even better.

Q. Mike, classic example of faith. I mean, like John said, a month ago we didn’t know because Unique Bella was hurt. And here you are on the stage today. Just a classic example of faith and how you got to have faith and keep the faith and things are going to work out?

MIKE SMITH:  You surround yourself with the right people, good people and good things happen. And there’s something to that. Your mom tells you that growing up, and there’s something to that. It’s really true. I surround myself around Bob Baffert and some other great trainers that I get to ride for and great owners. And this is the outcome.

It’s all about getting prepared yourself and being the best you can but also surrounding yourself with the right people and the right horses.

Q. An additional question about the ownership group. Is this y’all’s most significant win in y’all’s silks? Is this your greatest at least in North America? Or what other ones would you have had?

MICHAEL WALLACE:  Today it is.

We’re very young in our racing participation in America, basically. We had just a couple of horses early on. But, you know, our 3‑year‑old crop is really our first foray into it. Obviously, we were lucky enough to get a Group I (Grade I) winning filly Yellow Agate in the first season. And we have got some nice horses, colts that we share with WinStar. One Liner’s unbeaten.  He’s a colt that we think is hugely talented.

Outside of that, obviously, we’ve had Epsom Darby wins. We had a good spring in the last two or three weeks and in Australia, a good autumn, sorry, with a couple of stallion colts. Invader winning a group on 2‑year‑old race, and Russian Revolution, a very good 3‑year‑old. There’s been a really high level of success in a short period of time. But to win a classic like this here at Churchill Downs, this will take great weight and carry a lot of news through China and worldwide. Yeah, it’s a really important result and something we’re very proud of.

Kentucky Derby Wagering Guide

JOHN ASHER:  Ladies and gentlemen, we are joined by Bob Baffert, Hall of Fame trainer. Now a three‑time winner of the Kentucky Oaks.

BOB BAFFERT:  Thank you.

JOHN ASHER:  To go with his fourth Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown. Bob has had some luck here at Churchill Downs.

Just think back to six weeks, two months ago. I’m sure you envisioned yourself here at Churchill Downs in the first weekend in May. Lovely colt in Mastery. This filly was not in the picture. And you don’t have one in the Derby but here in the Oaks with this filly, and you get one done?

BOB BAFFERT:  Yeah, this sport, things change overnight. We were ‑‑ Mike was sitting on Unique Bella, Mastery, then everything just changes. And we show up. I have a horse in the ‑‑ thanks to the China Horse Club, they sent me this filly. So, you know, we gave her one run, sort of like a test run. We came back, made some changes. And she just came in here, was training well. It was nice flying under the radar and coming in here.

But the way the track was today, I was really worried earlier because it seemed like just all speed on the rail. I was thinking I am just always a day early or whatever. And I got to give a lot of credit to Mike. He just rode her with the confidence he does. Just the older he gets, the better he gets. I don’t know what it is. Big Money Mike.

Last thing I told him, “Don’t think you are running Arrogate.” Sure enough, “Well, you rode her just like Arrogate.” The thing is, Mike, he knows I have confidence in him, whether it’s right or wrong. Whatever move, it’s not the end of the world. And the clients I have, if you don’t have mutual respect for each other, you have to trust each other. So there’s really less pressure.

And you get a horse like this in your hands, and we know what we’re going to do. If we’re good enough, we’ll win. I have to give a lot of credit to all my team ‑‑ Jimmy Barnes, Dana who works with this horse. We never had a bad day with her. She is just so classy. She’s beautiful. In the paddock, she was like ‑‑ oh, she was just perfect in there. Just ‑‑ I mean, her head. And she’s a kind, sweet filly. So deserving. I was Just proud of her the way she came down that stretch.

That stretch is so long there, I thought it was going to be forever to get to the finish line. It’s so ‑‑ never gets old. It was exciting, especially when you are not the heavy favorite, when you can sneak up and win one like that.

There was some really tough fillies in there. When I saw that speed up front, I knew that was going to help us. We needed something like that to happen, because those are two really good fillies that were just battling down the backside.

As a matter of fact, Mike says, “Did you see me down the back side?”

“Dude, I was watching Paco Lopez and (Flavien) Prat just going at it.”  I was looking at the fraction because that was our good chance. And so it just happened. They just went real fast early. You know, that’s the way horse racing is. You take advantage of a situation like that.

But, you know, this filly is just getting better and better. And China Horse Club, thank you again.

AH KHING TEO:  Thank you.

BOB BAFFERT:  We ruined our shoes and our sport coats, but it was well worth it.

JOHN ASHER:  Talk a bit about this filly coming out of the Santa Anita Oaks, and Paradise Woods was such a dominant winner that day. Your thoughts and the ground you had to make up. Again, it was the first time you had been that close to her, first time you had started her.

BOB BAFFERT:  Right before her last work, Martin Garcia ‑‑ he helps out a lot. He told me, “I think she needs blinkers.” I didn’t want to tinker with her. So Mike, she came, she broke. And we gave her a couple works, didn’t really do a lot with her.

And then when the ‑‑ Mike first thing he said, “She needs to put blinkers on her.” That’s what Martin told me. That day, Paradise Woods, she was ‑‑ nobody was going to beat her. She put on a show that day.

But we really thought after that, she was ‑‑ the blinkers, a big change. Big. I could see she was into the bit. The first day we brought her here, Dana said she galloped her, and she went around there sort of like she was lost. So then we ‑‑ we put the blinkers on her to gallop, and she was a different filly.

And she just does everything professionally. We’ve never had a bad day with her. So it’s been really calm, cool the whole time.

But her demeanor in the paddock was just perfect for what you want. And she was just, you know, looking at those other fillies. She just looked like a picture. She looked healthy. She can tell ‑‑ she’s getting better and she’s filling out her frame. She’s a really nice filly.

I’m just fortunate that I got a call one day that says, “Would you take this filly?”  I go, “What? Of course.”

You know, she was in great shape. When I got her, she looked fantastic.

JOHN ASHER:  Before we open it up for questions, just one more question. She is the one filly you have with China Horse Club. Would you like to have more after this result?

BOB BAFFERT:  We had another horse that was on the Derby trail, American Anthem. He hasn’t lived up to ‑‑ but he’ll be better down the road.

You know, it’s tough. It’s a business of numbers. You have to have numbers. And you’re going to hit that lotto ticket. But they go after the right horse. They went after the right horse.

And Clearsky, they bred him. They are making me famous. It’s like, you know, all those good horses they’ve bred. But it’s just that ‑‑ I was happy for them. They just ‑‑ they breed great horses, sell good horses. They’re not cheap either.

But they have ‑‑ they just have a knack for it. I mean, they should be really proud because they just have a great organization.

Q. The other day you were talking about trying to shrink out of town like a golfer who missed the cut at the Masters. Does this change your plans? Are you still leaving early in the morning?

BOB BAFFERT:  No, we’re still leaving. You know what? I don’t have ‑‑ if I had something in, I would stay. But, if I don’t have anything in. It’s just not the ‑‑ I mean, I don’t know what I would do with myself. I need to have something to get me nervous or some challenge or whatever. We’ll get back to California. It’s going to be a nice trip back. To win the Kentucky Oaks, it’s a great honor to win that. These two days of racing, it’s the biggest stage in the country. So, when you can do that when everybody is watching, it makes it better. And, unfortunately, the weather was a little bit crappy, to say the least. But at least it was nice and cool. It was great for our little filly to pull that off.

Q. Bob, Mike indicated that he thought he might have hit the front a little too early with the filly. Was there any point from your vantage point that you thought you might get caught on the outside? Or when did you know you had it?

For Mike, your thoughts on the Oaks‑Derby double potentially?

BOB BAFFERT:  I mean, I was ‑‑ I think ‑‑ when she started moving at about the 2 1/2, then I knew. Down the backside, I thought, I don’t know what’s going on there. And I’m watching the pace setters. I’m watching what’s going on up front. You could tell there was some serious pace going on. And then up at the 2 1/2, that’s when you ‑‑ when you come to the 2 1/2, if you are not moving, if you start moving there, that’s a really good sign in racing. I saw her move. And I thought, wow, she’s moving. I could tell she’s picking horses off.

I thought, wow. She came wide, turned for home. And I thought, here she comes. But I don’t think he moved too early. I thought ‑‑ I think that was the most brilliant performance I have ever seen.

But that wire is so far down there. It just took forever. I was like, where’s the wire? Mike can be a little hard on himself. It was another brilliant ride by Mike.

MIKE SMITH:  I’m just going to leave it like that. Thank you. (Smiling)

In saying that, what I meant was, in the past she had a tendency to look around a little bit. At the time I’m not even thinking about the blinkers. But, as she was running through the lane and kept on running without looking around, I knew those blinkers had really helped a lot. So that’s all I meant by that part. I appreciate the kind words, though.

BOB BAFFERT:  I got to say something funny. My son, Bode Baffert, sometimes when we get beat in these big races we stay downtown. And there’s a sports bar there. Everybody’s tired. We get beat. He says, “Why are we eating in a sports bar? Everybody is tired.” So we’re not going to go out and go to Jeff Ruby’s and have a big steak or something.

I didn’t hear him. But Jill said down the backside, he said, “I guess we are eating at the sports bar tonight.”  (Laughter)

Q. Since you don’t have a horse in the race tomorrow, do you have a breakdown of tomorrow’s race? And do you have a pick?

BOB BAFFERT:  You know what? This is a really — I ask people ‑‑ other people. And everybody says, “I don’t know.” It’s like the “I don’t know” Derby. I think there’s some nice horses in there. There’s a lot of parity. There hasn’t been a horse separate himself from the pack yet. And usually the Kentucky Derby will do that. I think a horse is going to do something tomorrow ‑‑ I don’t know which one it is. But one of them is going to do that to get everybody chimed in.

I think all the races have been pretty close. You know, you’ve got the winner of the Florida Derby. I think Todd Pletcher’s horse is really fast, Bodemeister (referring to sire of Always Dreaming). A lot of horses have to have their own way. Irish War Cry. You have got the California horses, they’re tough.

McCraken is a hometown horse that everybody’s ‑‑ you hear all these whispers. That’s the only thing about this week. I didn’t hear anybody whispering about Abel Tasman. I was sort of like, wait a minute, maybe I don’t have a shot.

But, you know, forget the whispers. At the end of the day, the cream rises to the top. And I think tomorrow one of them is going to really ‑‑ whether it’s Irish War Cry who looks good. They have all looked really, really good. I have been watching them train. And my wife says, “Which one do you like?”

I said, “When they come by, they all look good.” The horse that won the Blue Grass, Irap, maybe he’s waking up. A lot of horses wake up once they start going a 1 1/8. That starts separating those horses.  1 1/16, they all stay together. When they start going 1 1/8, they’re real quiet.  War Emblem, you remember him. When they start going that distance, that’s when the big engines kick in.

Q. In your mind, are any of these horses equal to Mastery?

BOB BAFFERT:  I don’t think that’s fair to really compare him. We knew Mastery was a very gifted horse. And he had me ‑‑ he had us all really excited. I mean, he was ‑‑ when he won that ‑‑ that just shows you how brutal this business. You have to have the stomach for it. And one minute you win and I’m walking down, like, wow, this is the horse that we have always thought he was.

And the next thing, 20 seconds later, you know, you see Mike is taking the saddle off. It’s Just a horrible feeling. But, luckily, it could have been worse and he’s fine. You just can’t take anything for granted. He was just ‑‑ he was a special horse. We were really ‑‑ you know, we thought we were going to come here to the Derby with a ‑‑ and I thought he was the kind of horse that would be Derby, Preakness, Belmont type. He had brilliance. Unfortunately, those things happen.

I have seen a lot of horses that, you know, other trainers had that were really good horses. The horse that ran second in the Breeder’s Cup (Juvenile), Dale Romans, (Not This Time), he was a really good horse. And he got hurt. These horses, you just have to swallow that pill. It’s tough to swallow.

Today, thank God for Abel Tasman. She saved the day. Thank you very much.

Q. Bob, the ups and downs of this game, is that why you love it?

BOB BAFFERT:  Well, it’s crazy. It’s why I have white hair.

But you know what? It’s a sport. As a trainer, it’s like being a coach. You cannot rest on your laurels. I never look back. What I have done ‑‑ I look forward. Hopefully, you get back here again with a horse. There’s a lot of challenges out there. But, you know, you have to have a certain stomach for it. it’s not for everyone. Like the jockeys, they’re like ‑‑ they’re almost like downhill ski racers or bull riders. There’s no fear. They just got to go in there.

That’s a real cowboy right there, Tuff Hedeman.  But it’s one of those things where you just really ‑‑ it’s ‑‑ you just got to accept you’re going to have bad luck, you know? You’re losing 80% of the time, but you’re doing well. I mean, that’s the only sport that you’d be lucky to win 20% of the time. So you’re going to take a lot of lumps. But you have to get back up and get back in the saddle. That’s what we do. We have had some really great luck, and we have had some really bad luck. And it’s tough to take, and it can wear on you.

I just wake up the next day. And you just got to move forward.

Q. After the race, NBC cameras caught you and the family celebrating by doing the Dab. Whose idea was that?

BOB BAFFERT:  Bode is a super Dabber. Bode is the best Dabber. He’s got me Dabbing now. It’s like we release. We have so much tension coming into these races. And that’s just ‑‑ the Dab is just a release of ‑‑ it just makes you feel ‑‑ we’re just celebrating, you know? We probably get 10‑yard penalty or whatever for overcelebration. That’s our way of, You know what? We just pulled off something really spectacular. We don’t Dab at every stake race. This is a really special one.

Churchill Downs

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