Bob Baffert found an excuse to not get on the plane.
The California-based trainer couldn’t find an excuse, though, to not send Bayern. Baffert said he always looks for an excuse to not ship, but the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $1.25 million Travers is fresh off an impressive front-running win in the Grade I Haskell at Monmouth, and has been working well.
“I was waiting to see what he did in the Haskell, because I thought if he runs like he’s been training, he should win; you know, I think he’ll win if he gets the lead,” Baffert said during Tuesday’s National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference. “But after he ran in the Haskell, I didn’t see any real reason not to maybe try him a little farther, because it wasn’t really taxing on him. He handled it pretty well.”
Baffert’s excuse for staying in California while Bayern is sent to Saratoga Race Course is to saddle both Shared Belief and Game On Dude for the Pacific Classic on Sunday.
He said Bayern enjoyed the two-turn race, and that it “was his weapon.” The speedster will be sent to the front under jockey Martin Garcia, breaking from post position 2.
Baffert was unsure how Bayern would handle two turns, thinking he may be more of a one-turn miler, especially after a convincing 7 1⁄2-length victory in the Grade II Woody Stephens on June 7. Then he saw him win the 11⁄8-mile Haskell going away, finishing 7 1⁄4 lengths clear to assure his trainer the extra ground was easy to cover.
“What he did in the Haskell was pretty impressive, so that gave me a little bit of encouragement there,” he said.
Less encouraging is the fact that Travers runners coming out of a prep race at Monmouth have won 13 of the past 54 runnings of the Mid-Summer Derby, while horses coming out of the Jim Dandy at Saratoga have won that many Travers in just the past 23 years. Baffert, though, pointed out he won the Travers in 2001 with Haskell winner Point Given.
He brought Bayern back to Del Mar to continue training after the Haskell, so he could keep an eye on him and decide whether to run him in the Travers or wait until a later spot elsewhere.
“Everything that I’ve seen so far is — will he take a step backward? I don’t know, but he looks good and he’s not a really big horse, but he’s just fast,” Baffert said. “He’s a handy horse, and he’s got a lot of speed, and a mile and a quarter. Still, I’m not totally convinced yet he can get a mile and a quarter.”
He compared Bayern’s running style to that of Game On Dude, who will have to contend Sunday with last year’s 2-year-old champion, Shared Belief, who is 2-for-2 this year and 5-for-5 in his career.
He said both Bayern and Game On Dude just want to go, and it’s best to let them.
“You just have to let him go, and, you know, what happens, happens,” Baffert said. “You just can’t worry about it, and go on to the next one. But utilize your speed. They’re just fast, brilliant horses, and when you have a brilliant horse with that kind of speed, you’ve just got to use it.”
If the field let’s him get out too far, the extra distance may be a moot point. Turned loose, Bayern could make his nine rivals’ connections wish they had shipped their horses across the country to avoid him.
Horses like Bayern make Baffert enjoy shipping, but only when they’re ready. Then he can be the excuse other trainers may have for staying away.
“I want to make sure when I ship, we want to ship to make sure that it’s going to be a winning ship,” Baffert said. “We put him on the plane to win. We don’t want to run just to be part of the race. But I just want to make sure that they’re going to make a good showing of themselves. I want to make sure they’re going to fire, you know? If I feel they’re going to fire, then if he gets outrun, he gets outrun. But we like to ship. [But] I don’t want to ship them unless I have a really good chance.”