Bob Baffert won his second straight Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday afternoon. He just happened to do it while sitting in the wrong owners' box, his expectations pinned on the other horse he had trained for this race.
After sitting a few stalls and a long shadow away from Derby favorite Indian Charlie in Baffert's barn all this week, Real Quiet _ the horse known as "Fish" _ outraced his stablemate down the stretch, and held off a late surge by Victory Gallop, to capture the 124th Kentucky Derby in 2:02 1/5. Victory Gallop finished second, Indian Charlie third.
Baffert was seated in the box belonging to Hal Earnhardt _ Indian Charlie's owner _ when the horses came out of the last turn, and the trainer's guts seized when he saw a horse pass Indian Charlie from the outside. Then he did a double-take and completely lost his composure.
"It's the Fish!" Baffert shrieked, practically in Earnhardt's ear. "Go, baby, go!"
Out front by the mile mark, Real Quiet held steady as Indian Charlie faded slightly and Victory Gallop rallied wide, vanquishing Baffert's hopes of a 1-2 finish. Still, the charismatic trainer from California had good reason to be thrilled with his day - he became only the sixth trainer to win back-to-back Derbies.
"I didn't think I'd ever feel as excited as I did for Silver Charm, but it's unbelievable," Baffert said, referring to the horse that gave him his first trip to the Derby winner's circle last May. "When those horses turned for home, it just feels better. ossed the finish line, and barely stopped long enough to gasp out a few words.
"I was in shock for the first 80 yards past the wire," he said. "I was like "Ahhhh!' "
Desormeaux was dressed in red and gold silks _ McDonald's colors _ emblazoned with an "MP" in honor of Real Quiet's owner, Mike Pegram, who owns 21 of the hamburger franchises in the state of Washington. Pegram was the first owner to bring Baffert, originally a quarter-horse trainer, into the thoroughbred business. And Pegram got tears in his eyes last spring, when Baffert stood in the winner's circle with Silver Charm and thanked him even though he had not won with one of Pegram's horses.
Saturday, Pegram, who grew up just across Kentucky's border in Princeton, Ind., packed as many of his childhood friends as he could fit into his box for his unexpected, but thrilling, Derby victory. And he didn't seem to mind a bit that Baffert wasn't among the crowd.
"I told everybody that day I felt like I'd just won the Kentucky Derby," Pegram said of Baffert's comments last spring. "And now I did it again today."
When Baffert first purchased Real Quiet for Pegram, the owner raised his eyebrows slightly as the paltry price tag-Real Quiet cost $17,000-and wondered aloud what kind of horse his old friend had found for him. "What does he have, cancer?" Pegram said to Baffert, who couldn't help but laugh.
Actually, Real Quiet was a skinny thing-so skinny, in fact, that Baffert compared him to a tropical fish in a tank: gorgeous from the side, but all but nonexistent when viewed from a head-on direction. Hence, Real Quiet became known simply as "Fish." He also became known as the Baffert horse with a lot of potential, but not much to show for it.
"I took him to San Francisco," Baffert said, referring to the Golden Gate Derby, which was run in January, "and he got beat there by horses that are claimers now."
But Real Quiet filled out, and bloomed, this spring, running a strong race last month at the Santa Anita Derby, where he finished second behind none other than Indian Charlie. That race established Indian Charlie as the Derby favorite, and he went off today at 5-to-2 odds, to Real Quiet's 8-to-1.
Despite all the focus on Indian Charlie this week, Baffert did stop often to mention that Real Quiet was running the best workouts he'd ever seen the horse run. Still, Baffert was predicting an Indian Charlie triumph, and long-ago, half-joking conversations he'd had with Pegram about the Fish winning a Derby were far from his mind.
"I started thinking about that when they were coming down the stretch," Baffert said today. "And I told Mike Pegram I can't believe it. We talked about this way back, and the Derby gods were there. I tell you, I almost started crying when we hit the wire."