After almost a decade as one of the nation's top quarter horse trainers, Bob Baffert has left the breed and shifted attention to his 20-horse thoroughbred stable.
Baffert, 38, trained quarter horses and thoroughbreds from 1989 until last week, when the bulk of his quarter horse stable was transferred to trainer Carlos Lopez. Baffert had intended to leave quarter horse racing in January, at the end of the current meeting, but moved the date forward for several reasons.
He was spending the majority of his time tending to the thoroughbreds at Santa Anita, while his assistant quarter horse trainer, Chris Gilmore, cared for the quarter horses. Also, he received a huge boost to his thoroughbred program on Nov. 9 when he saddled three California Cup winners at Santa Anita.
Baffert had been waiting until the end of the quarter horse season because his 2-year-olds--Ed Grimley, Holland Ease and Rush Fora Firstdown--were having such impressive seasons. Eventually, however, his largest quarter horse clients--the Dutch Masters III syndicate of Dr. James Streelman and Denny Boer--shifted their horses to Lopez earlier than expected to prepare for 1992.
"I would have pulled out a long time ago if it wasn't for Holland Ease, Ed (Grimley) and Rush Fora Firstdown," Baffert said. "I wanted to take a shot at the All American." Ed Grimley finished second, beaten by a neck, in the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, N.M., on Labor Day, while Holland Ease was sixth.
"This is something I knew I was going to do," he said. "You just can't keep them both. I grew up with quarter horses. I'd like to maybe run one with Dutch Masters."
Baffert trains the thoroughbred Thirty Slews for Dutch Masters and Mitch DeGroot, Ed Grimley's owner. Thirty Slews was an allowance winner at Hollywood Park last Saturday.
Baffert, of Nogalez, Ariz., came to Los Alamitos in 1983 after several years training quarter horses in Arizona. He won virtually all of the major stakes at Los Alamitos and, in the past few years, has been one of the nation's top money-winning trainers.
Aside from training Ed Grimley, who won the 1991 Bay Meadows Futurity, Baffert will be remembered as the trainer of 1986 world champion Gold Coast Express, 1988 co-champion 3-year-old Shawnes Favorite and 1987 champion gelding Easygo Effort. Both Gold Coast Express and Shawnes Favorite won the Champion of Champions, the nation's most prestigious race for older horses, in their title years.
"The two Champions wins have been my most exciting races," Baffert said. "I knew I had a chance, but I didn't expect to win them."
"We won a lot of stakes, (including 13 Grade I events), but the Gold Coast Express era was quite a thrill. A horse like that spoils a guy. They're so hard to come by."
Baffert joins an exclusive list of trainers who made the full transition from quarter horses to thoroughbreds. Wayne Lukas, eight times the nation's leading thoroughbred trainer in money won, was one of the leading Los Alamitos trainers in the 1970s, before switching in 1978. Bruce Jackson, who trains thoroughbred horse-of-the-year candidate In Excess, left Los Alamitos in 1987. Caesar Dominguez, currently one of the leading quarter horse trainers at Los Alamitos, also campaigns a string of thoroughbreds in the Southland.
Baffert's recent success in the California Cup surprised him. "I expected at least one (victory)," he said. "The Charmonnier race (in the $250,000 California Cup Classic) was awesome. I think I've seen that race 50 times.
"I wasn't excited about beating Best Pal, just winning that race. The day was like winning three Academy Awards. I haven't felt like that since winning with Shawnes Favorite and Gold Coast Express."
Last Nov. 9 was also the night of the Quarter Horse Breeders Classic, in which Baffert saddled Rush Fora Firstdown to a dead-heat victory in the Freshman Classic. It was his last victory as a quarter horse trainer. Rush Fora Firstdown is owned by Robert Kieckherfer, who also owned the horses's dam, Five Oclock Rush, Baffert's first Los Alamitos quarter horse winner in 1983.
The California Horse Racing Board is pressing forward with a plan that would require quarter horse breeders to verify the parentage of foals through blood-typing. The proposal, which will be made public this week, is expected to be heard at the CHRB's January meeting and, if approved, would go in effect for foals of 1992.
The CHRB plan has been adopted by the American Quarter Horse Assn., based in Amarillo, Tex., and serves as the breed registry for all quarter horses, not only those that race.