AAA  May. 15, 2015 6:01 PM ET
Trainer Baffert could lose by winning Saturday's Preakness
  Dave Sheinin
The Washington Post News Service
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BALTIMORE — There is but one thing in horse racing that expands the sport's reach beyond its own small, insular world and out into the popular American culture: the Triple Crown. There is but one horse, Kentucky Derby champ American Pharoah, who can, with a victory in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, keep alive hopes for a first Crown winner in 37 years. And there is but one human who is the dual agent at the center of it all, trying simultaneously and paradoxically both to make history and to prevent it.

There is no getting around the fact Bob Baffert is serving two masters at Pimlico Race Course, just as he did two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby, just as he likely will three weeks from now in the Belmont Stakes. As the trainer for 2-5 morning-line favorite American Pharoah, his mission for owner Zayat Stables is to prepare his horse to hold off seven challengers and secure the second leg of the Triple Crown.

But as the trainer for Dortmund, the third-place finisher in the Derby and a 9-1 morning-line pick here, Baffert's mission for owner Kaleem Shah is to prepare his horse to run down Pharoah and ensure yet another year passes between Affirmed's 1978 Triple Crown and the next one.

None of the connections for either horse, nor Baffert himself, sees (or at least admits publicly to seeing) any problems or conflicts of interest with the two-horse, two-owner, one-trainer dynamic — even though the Zayat family surely would not have minded at all if Baffert had decided not to race Dortmund in Baltimore, a decision Shah left to the trainer.

"As long as they are fit, I feel they should get a chance," Baffert said. "In my barn, everyone gets a fair and equal shot. If Pharoah is going to win, he's going to have to beat his stablemate."

Asked before the Derby about the unusual arrangement, Zayat Stables owner Ahmed Zayat said, "He does right by his owners, so I don't see any conflict."

It is not uncommon for a trainer to have multiple horses entered in the same Triple Crown race, but it is less common for those horses to belong to different owners, and even less common for one trainer to have the two favorites — one of them gunning for a Triple Crown, the other looking to play spoiler.

Twenty years ago, trainer D. Wayne Lukas raced favorites Thunder Gulch and Timber Cat for different owners in the Derby and Preakness, winning the former with Thunder Gulch and the latter with Timber Cat. (Thunder Gulch came back and won the Belmont, for which Timber Cat was scratched after developing a fever.)

"When this kind of thing happens, you just do the best you can with both of them," Lukas said this week. "Bob has said, 'If Dortmund wins, so be it.' That's the way you have to look at it."

Baffert, 62, has brought the Derby winner to Baltimore three previous times, and each time he scored another win. All told, he has five Preakness wins, to go along with four Derbies and one Belmont.

The Baffert dynamic might be the most compelling storyline of the Preakness, but not its only one. The eight-horse field is the smallest since 2000, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality; this year's race marks the first time since 2009 that the top three Derby finishers are all entered. And all three — American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund, who staged a memorable three-way duel at Churchill Downs — have trained well all week.

"He's a very good horse. He's got a lot of quality, a lot of class," Baffert said of Firing Line. "He's tough. He was tough to get by [in the Derby]. He's going to be tough again."

Wednesday's post-position draw added another layer of intrigue to the race, as Baffert's horses drew the inside positions — with Pharoah, who once again will have Victor Espinoza as his jockey, getting the dreaded No. 1 spot on the rail. Firing Line will start from the outermost post, from which veteran jockey Gary Stevens will have plenty of options.

"Everything is going perfectly," said Firing Line's Simon Callaghan, at 32 the youngest trainer in the field. "I think [the course being] 1/16th of a mile shorter could definitely help us. We've got a good post, and maybe [Baffert's horses] have got a tougher post. So there's a few factors that could help us turn the tables."

Some of the best Preaknesses were the ones with the smallest fields — such as Secretariat's 1973 win out of six-horse field, the Affirmed-Alydar duel in 1978 in a seven-horse field and the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer showdown in 1989 in an eight-horse field.

On Saturday, the most fascinating aspect of this eight-horse field is the fact one trainer is responsible for 25 percent of it. And should Bob Baffert win, especially with upset-minded Dortmund, it will also be true to say Bob Baffert loses.

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Video: Just two weeks after protests over the death of Freddie Gray erupted in Baltimore, a quiet neighborhood next to the Pimlico Race Track is preparing for all that the Preakness has to offer. (By Whitney Leaming/ The Washington Post)


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