Baffert's numbers fail to add up

High-profile trainer goes 0-for-3

`Saint' struggles as favorite

Kentucky Derby

May 07, 2006|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,SUN REPORTER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In the end, the trainer who seemed to be everywhere was suddenly nowhere to be found.

More than an hour had passed since Barbaro won the 132nd Kentucky Derby. The Maryland-based horse returned to its barn with a slow gait. Not far away, the sign hanging on Barn 33 seemed to have a glaring omission. It listed the names of past Derby winners Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem. There was a huge vacant space before Bob Baffert's name, a slot seemingly reserved for one of the trainer's three entrants in yesterday's field.

But the showy trainer left Churchill Downs empty-handed. His best chance was Maryland-bred Point Determined. Even though a horse with strong Maryland connections won the Derby for the first time in 27 years, two other Maryland horses stumbled.

Point Determined finished in ninth place, and Sweetnorthern saint, which surprisingly entered the race as the favorite, finished in seventh.

"Being the betting favorite before the race, really messed me up," said Michael Trombetta, Sweetnorthernsaint's trainer who was making his Derby debut.

Sweetnorthernsaint, the Illinois Derby winner, was running 1 1/4 miles for the first time. The length, plus a congested 20-horse field, made it difficult for Trombetta's horse to get a sniff of the front of the pack.

"My horse is real young and he'd never had dirt in his face before," said Trombetta, who grew up in Perry Hall and got started at Pimlico. "Out there, he was being sandblasted. He learned a lot today. I think we can do better."

Sweetnorthernsaint started from the 11th post and quickly made his way through the field. At the one-mile mark, he was running third but could only watch as Bluegrass Cat and Steppenwolfer raced past.

"I had to take him to the rail, which we didn't want to do," said jockey Kent Desormeaux, "but it was a necessary evil. He was all covered up and a little confused and I had to clean his path. Then he settled down and was galloping easy."

Trombetta said as long as Sweetnorthernsaint is healthy, he'll race him at the Preakness in two weeks. "I'm not backing off now," he said.

Similarly, Point Determined started in the middle of the pack and put himself in position at the one-mile mark to make a charge. But a slight bump with Seaside Retreat ended his chances.

Bred at Dance Forth Farm near Chestertown, Point Determined finished no worse than second in five starts leading up to the Derby.

He was one of three Baffert horses that entered yesterday with hope. Sinister Minister finished 16th and Bob and John finished 17th.

Baffert, who charmed reporters with his confidence leading up to the Derby, was hard to find yesterday when the race was all over. rick.maese@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Sandra McKee contributed to this report.

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