And there was Bob Baffert, the man with the quickest quips this side of the late “no respect” comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, fighting back the emotion of the moment as NBC’s Kenny Rice asked him the obligatory questions minutes after Justify’s Triple Crown sweep at Belmont Park Saturday.

This was not the propitious time for a self-demeaning remark, ala Dangerfield, such as, “Our family had an old car. Ooh, it was old. Every Sunday we’d take it out for a push,” or, “My wife can’t cook at all. Ooh, she’s a bad cook. I don’t think meat loaf should glow in the dark.”

There was Baffert, red tie with white stripes adorning his white shirt covered by a florescent blue sports coat, walking to the winner’s circle as thousands at the massive track cheered and millions more around the globe celebrated the historic event on TV.

“I’m very proud to be an American,” said Baffert, suppressing tears while glowing in the colors of the nation’s flag. Betsy Ross would have been proud, too.

Justify, the strapping chestnut colt who along with Baffert, makes Santa Anita home, had become the 13th Triple Crown winner and only the second to accomplish the feat unbeaten, joining Seattle Slew, who swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1977.

Justify led throughout the demanding mile and a half race, final jewel in the Triple Crown, winning by nearly two lengths under Mike Smith, who also is based at Santa Anita and who at age 52, became the oldest rider to win the Belmont Stakes in this, its 150th running.

Winner of six straight races including the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Justify earned $800,000 for the Belmont win, increasing his bankroll to $3,798,000 and wrapping up Horse of the Year honors six months in advance of the voting.

Baffert, meanwhile, likely will return to his glib demeanor once the dust settles from the hubbub surrounding the momentous occasion, but don’t be fooled. It’s a façade, because deep in his soul is a caring man. Take it from this first-hand experience:

March 3, 2017, 7:50 a.m. at Santa Anita, another day at the office for me, but suddenly I became dizzy. Everything went black. In my mind, I’m hanging with both hands from a long, thin string, slipping, slipping ever downward, and when I reach the end, falling into nothingness. Is death on the way?

An ambulance rushed me to nearby Arcadia Methodist Hospital. En route, I could hear voices but couldn’t see anyone. It was an out-of-body experience. “Can you hear me?” I asked no one in particular. “We can hear you, dude,” came a reply.

Five hours and $22,000 in medical expenses later, I had been diagnosed with a vertigo attack and was discharged. Sitting in the waiting room for a relative to pick me up and drive me home, my cell phone rang.

Still lacking 100 percent of my faculties and still a bit woozy, I didn’t recognize the voice on the other end. But it was Bob Baffert, the most famous trainer in the world, calling to see if I was all right.

Baffert and Dangerfield might have some things in common when it comes to superficiality, but when the chips are down and push comes to shove, there is one very meaningful difference:

Bob Baffert gets respect.



Mike Smith and success with horses go hand in hand, like mustard on hot dogs, catsup on French fries and butter on corn on the cob. He has that winning touch.

There was no better example than yesterday, when Smith, at 52, became the oldest jockey to win the Belmont Stakes, rating Justify with sagacity to sweep the Triple Crown.

Trainer John Shirreffs is up close and personal when it comes to Smith’s prowess. The trainer gave Smith a leg up on 50-1 shot Giacomo to win the 2005 Kentucky Derby and hoisted him multiple times aboard wonder horse Zenyatta, the 2009 Horse of the Year and only female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year.

“Mike connects with horses, and you saw that with Justify yesterday,” Shirreffs said. “He kept talking to him and petting him, trying to keep him calm and bonding with him. That’s so important with a horse in stressful situations.

“He just seems to know what to do at the right time. Out of the gate, here’s Justify straight to lead. Mike wanted the lead, but then he eased off and relaxed.

“Going into the first turn on Giacomo in the Derby, Mike knew he couldn’t go wide, but there was a horse right in front of him, and he knew he had to get over, so he closed his eyes and went to the inside and saved ground around the first turn.

“He’s instinctive about what he needs to do in a race.”


FINISH LINES: There is a Single Ticket Pick Six Jackpot carryover into Sunday of $168,759 . . . Paved, handy 3 ½-length winner of Saturday’s Grade II Honeymoon Stakes under Gary Stevens for Michael McCarthy, is likely to make her next start in the Grade I Belmont Oaks on July 7, the trainer said . . . Ron McAnally, recovering from a broken ankle, hopes to make it back to Santa Anita before the meet ends on June 24. “The boot on my foot is scheduled to be removed next week,” the 85-year-old Hall of Fame trainer said by phone this morning from his Tarzana home . . . Next Sunday, June 17, will be Fathers’ Day at the Races at Santa Anita. Choose from Fathers’ Day packages including Drams for Dads (21 and over), BBQ Trackside, Brunch in the FrontRunner and Turf Terrace and Fathers’ Day in Club Court. The following Sunday, closing day, June 24, Santa Anita presents a Latin Music festival featuring Banda Machos. General admission is only $15 online. Visit for more info on both events . . . Santa Anita will be dark for live racing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, resuming live racing on Thursday, June 14, at 12:30 p.m. It will be open for simulcast racing Wednesday, with free parking and free general admission. Admission gates open at 10 a.m.

(Current Through Saturday, June 9)
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% ITM% Money Won
Flavien Prat 104 27 19 14 26% 58% $1,525,431
Joseph Talamo 131 23 22 16 18% 47% $1,283,766
Geovanni Franco 139 23 20 16 17% 42% $1,052,642
Mario Gutierrez 92 20 13 18 22% 55% $974,950
Tiago Pereira 117 19 10 18 16% 40% $641,517
Drayden Van Dyke 101 17 18 15 17% 50% $1,050,605
Asa Espinoza 127 17 17 22 13% 44% $527,545
Martin Pedroza 92 14 14 11 15% 42% $459,000
Stewart Elliott 125 13 15 12 10% 32% $631,653
Franklin Ceballos 106 13 10 9 12% 30% $378,868
Kent Desormeaux 78 13 8 20 17% 53% $815,860
Tyler Baze 111 11 22 10 10% 39% $629,700
Tyler Conner 98 7 16 19 7% 43% $397,330
Edwin Maldonado 78 7 16 11 9% 44% $334,300
Heriberto Figueroa 46 7 8 5 15% 43% $149,300
Kyle Frey 52 7 5 4 13% 31% $237,388
Martin Garcia 51 7 3 7 14% 33% $312,465
Gary Stevens 31 7 3 4 23% 45% $400,120
Victor Espinoza 47 7 2 8 15% 36% $767,452
Trainer Starts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% ITM% Money Won
Doug O’Neill 101 24 22 16 24% 61% $1,191,005
Philip D’Amato 85 22 16 18 26% 66% $1,411,348
Peter Miller 93 21 11 16 23% 52% $986,534
Richard Baltas 76 10 13 11 13% 45% $639,739
Vladimir Cerin 35 10 2 6 29% 51% $288,513
Jerry Hollendorfer 66 9 9 7 14% 38% $653,502
Bob Baffert 37 9 7 4 24% 54% $663,545
Peter Eurton 46 9 4 8 20% 46% $331,410
John Sadler 76 8 19 11 11% 50% $758,701
Mark Glatt 49 8 6 3 16% 35% $301,225
David Jacobson 44 8 5 6 18% 43% $202,910
Mike Puype 28 8 2 2 29% 43% $246,755