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Now, life for Baffert has become real quiet

But the trainer hopes Captain Steve changes that.

It was a pathetic sight for the former king of Triple Crown media.

Bob Baffert stood almost alone in the restaurant area of the ESPN Zone, swishing ice in his souvenir cup, blending into the mix of horsemen and curious tourists at the Inner Harbor attraction. His only companion at the Preakness post draw news conference was the teenage girl in the yellow-and-black outfit, holding a placard over her head that read: Captain Steve.

It might as well have read, "Remember me?"

Baffert became one of the sports' most-recognized figures when Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998 won the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Two years later, the 47-year-old trainer is back with an admittedly less formidable colt: Captain Steve.

With Fusaichi Pegasus dominating fan interest this spring, and Red Bullet, viewed as the best hope to defeat him, Baffert and others have attracted little attention.

He and free-spirited owner/buddy Mike Pegram have become sidelights instead of highlights as the 125th Preakness nears. And that has left them subdued.

"Bob's a little quiet this year, that's for sure," said Pegram, whose Real Quiet is one of 20 horses Baffert trains for him.

Baffert admitted there is no comparing the feeling of taking up residence in the Pimlico Stakes barn as the Derby champion.

"When you come in here from the Derby, you're still floating," he said. "You're excited. When I won with Silver Charm, the first thing I did when I got into my room in the hotel was have my wife get a video machine so I could watch the Derby all day long over and over and over. And when I won it with Real Quiet, I did the same thing. Last year, no VCR. This year, no VCR."

Baffert means no offense to Captain Steve, who finished a disappointing eighth in the Derby, but he knows he does not compare with his glory colts.

"I had the cream. I had super cream," Baffert said. "This year I came here with a little bit watered down. This year I had half-and-half."

Baffert's Kentucky Derby and Preakness win streaks were broken at two last spring by Charismatic, when Excellent Meeting and filly Silverbulletday failed to live up to their older stablemates. Excellent Meeting, regarded as Baffert's best colt last year, was fifth in the Derby and last in the Preakness, and Silverbulletday was entered in neither classic.

Captain Steve looked like a prospect when he won four times and finished third twice in eight starts as a 2-year-old, but he has finished no better than third (three times) in four starts this year.

Pegram admitted entering race week as an underdog is an odd experience, one he does not mind, as long as it does not become a habit.

"It's nice to come in here and kind of be on the back streets," he said. "Neil (Drysdale) is getting all the attention, as he should, because he's got a real good horse."

Baffert said thoughts of their surprise loss to Victory Gallop in the 1998 Belmont helped persuade him and Pegram to take another shot at Fusaichi Pegasus on Saturday.

"I said, "Mike, should we take a shot? I don't know if we can beat that horse?'

" Baffert said. "But, we decided we had been beaten before when we were low odds, or odds-on. Things happen. We don't wish anybody any bad luck. But things happen."

Pegram was easily persuaded by that argument.

"I know I still have scars on my belly from these 2-5 shots getting beat," he said. Pegram admits Captain Steve will need "to get lucky" to win Saturday. He added sarcastically "maybe somebody will run interference for (Captain Steve) like they did at the Derby," in reference to Wheelaway's bump of Captain Steve that knocked him off a late charge.

As strong as Fusaichi Pegasus appeared in the Derby, Pegram believes Real Quiet was stronger.

"He can't beat Real Quiet," Pegram said. "You think I'm going to talk bad about my boy? No way."

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