From Rillito to Churchill Downs, he wins horse races

2011-08-07T00:00:00Z 2011-08-08T14:28:06Z From Rillito to Churchill Downs, he wins horse races Arizona Daily Star
August 07, 2011 12:00 am

In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star will feature our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams. Throughout the summer, we will showcase our list - with the first 90 in no particular order. Later this month, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.

Bob Baffert

Achievement

In his biography "Baffert: Dirt Road to the Derby," Bob Baffert writes about his post-UA days when he was a substitute teacher in Nogales.

"They even voted me 'Teacher of the Month' one time," Baffert wrote. "But I was only a substitute and basically a kid myself." He informed the principal that he wasn't going to be a teacher.

That summer, training quarter horses in Prescott, Baffert roamed the Arizona county fair race circuit, from Holbrook to Globe and places in between. Without much luck, he moved to Tucson and got a job selling veterinary supplies, earning $800 a month.

"But I always felt something was missing," he wrote. He was soon training horses at Rillito Downs, winning his first race on Jan. 28, 1979, with a horse named Flipper Star.

The rest is history, although it reads more like a storybook.

By 1991, Baffert switched from quarter horses to thoroughbreds. By 1997, he had won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm. By 1999, he won three consecutive Eclipse Awards as the top thoroughbred trainer. By 2009, he was selected to horse racing's Hall of Fame.

Baffert grew up on a 244-acre ranch near Nogales and did everything from farming to being a jockey. He graduated from the UA's Race Track Industry Program and has now won the Kentucky Derby three times, the Preakness five and the Belmont Stakes once.

His outgoing nature is as much his calling card as his ability to successfully train the world's top thoroughbreds.

Writing in GQ magazine, William Nack said, "Nobody has more manifest gifts as a horse whisperer than Bob Baffert."

At the 2010 Kentucky Derby, in which his horse Lookin At Lucky was a favorite until he drew the pole starting position, Baffert stood near his barn at Churchill Downs and told the Star, "I don't have anything to complain about; look at me: I've had more than my share of good luck. I should include the word 'luck' in the name of every horse I train."

Hometown, age

Nogales, 58

Quotable

"Although I always wanted to be the best, I never dreamed of getting to where I am now. I was just some kid from Arizona who couldn't even put a halter on a horse." - Baffert, in his biography.

Greg Hansen

On StarNet: See the archive of Sports Centennial articles at: azstarnet.com/sportscentennial

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