Bob Baffert Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Doug O'Neill

By Joshua Casey
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

If you know anything about horse racing and you witnessed the running of the 2013 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, then you knew, a jockey switch was coming following the poor effort from Flashback.

People around the racing scene know this much about the legendary trainer Bob Baffert if he gets a poor ride in a big-time race, he will usually be switching riders. He did just that, going from Julien Leparoux to Garrett Gomez.

Baffert then proceeded to ready Flashback for the 2013 Santa Anita Derby. As it turns out, the jockey switch didn’t do much, as the horse ran second to the superior Doug O’Neill-trained Goldencents.

That’s where this story takes a turn.

Compare the situation of Flashback with Baffert to how O’Neill handled Goldencents and you will see a lot of similarities, and one glaring difference.

You see Goldencents also ran in the San Felipe Stakes, and got a horrible ride from jockey Kevin Krigger. Goldencents got away from Krigger early, was rushed up, and got into a deathly speed duel which would eventually doom him as he had to settle for fourth.

Taking the Baffert route, one would assume O’Neill to switch from a seemingly incapable rider to a prestigious jockey such as Rafael Bejarano, but O’Neill took the high road.

O’Neill, rather than blame the jockey, chose to place the blame partly on himself and partly on the way the race turned out. Baffert should take note.

So, heading into the Santa Anita Derby, with the presence of the always-formidable Garrett Gomez aboard, Flashback went to the gate at even money, and is the overwhelming favorite. Meanwhile Goldencents, still being ridden by Kevin Krigger, went to the gate as a tepid 6-1.

As the race unfolded, it seemed as though Flashback seemed to be in perfect striking position, but Goldencents did as well. In fact, this time around, Krigger had placed Goldencents in the garden spot, sitting right off the speed of Super Ninety Nine, another Baffert-trained horse. As the field of nine turned for home, Goldencents and Flashback met at the top of the stretch, and the match race ensued.

Having saved energy and receiving a great ride from Gomez, Flashback seemed poised to overtake Goldencents in the stretch, and power home to an easy victory. At least, that’s what Baffert thought.

As it turns out, Krigger let Goldencents see the whip, and he knew it was go time. Goldencents came home with a powerful kick and put the race away.

Although he only won by about a length and a quarter, there was never a doubt to anyone watching the race that Goldencents was the better horse. The trust that Doug O’Neill showed in leaving Krigger aboard Goldencents proved to be worth it, as he will now be heading back to the Kentucky Derby with another Santa Anita Derby win under his belt.

Meanwhile, Baffert has managed to yet again strain a relationship with another jockey, one who had done a solid job aboard his horses. Instead of putting the blame on a jockey the next time he apparently receives a bad ride on a horse, Baffert should follow in the footsteps of O’Neill. Look in the mirror and put the blame where it really belongs.

Your horse wasn’t ready to run, and that’s no ones fault but your own.

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