BAFFERT AND BODEMEISTER: LIKE TRAINER, LIKE HORSE

BAFFERT (Getty Images)

By Gary West | Special to ESPN.com

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — He’s a kidder and a jokester and a hipster, but don’t let him fool you. Bob Baffert isn’t what he seems, or at least not entirely: In other words, he’s like one of the horses he’ll saddle in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

Bodemeister gets a bath after a Tuesday morning workout at Churchill.

Yes, Baffert is horse racing’s jolly reaver, glib as “30 Rock” and tranquil as a turtle. And, yes, at 59 the Hall of Fame trainer remains that rarest of party animals, the one whose natural habitat is the winner’s circle. That’s why there might as well be neon lights atop his barn announcing it as the place to be: Everybody wants to occupy a winner’s circle. And so Tuesday morning in the stable area at Churchill Downs, Terry Bradshaw, the erstwhile Steelers quarterback who’s also known as something of a jokester, stopped by the Baffert barn, just for some jollies and photographs.

Not even a heart attack could suppress the Baffert sense of play. On March 26, in the middle of the night, after traveling halfway around the world for the Dubai World Cup, the trainer felt intense chest pains. “If it happened on the plane, I would have been toast,” Baffert said. Still, he got toasty enough to give his wife, Jill, some post-Bob instructions. Sell the horses, he told her.

BODEMEISTER (Reuters)
But three “duty-free stints” later, he said, he hasn’t “missed a beat.” An improved diet, regular exercise, a healthier lifestyle and an end to “sweating the small stuff” and the jolly reaver is back to normal. Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes, agreed that the trainer “hasn’t changed at all” since the heart attack. That was just a blip on the old cardiogram, and so let the fun resume. But don’t let him fool you…

To read the rest of West’s column, click here.