For trainer Bob Baffert, his wife Jill and his staff everyday is filled with hard work and care for the the horses that make up their barn, it’s a 24/7 job.
“I go to sleep thinking about them and I wake up thinking about them and it’s almost like your children,” says Baffert.
Baffert‘s career is legendary. He went from training horses with his dad in Arizona to winning five Kentucky Derbies and becoming only one of two trainers to win two Triple Crowns, one with American Pharoah, the other with Justify.
But the everyday work is far from glamorous.
“We don’t make a living off of them, it’s a way of life, you have to put it, sacrifice a lot of hours,” says Baffert.
And while it may may look like business as usual it’s not, not when the of the deaths of 29 horses since December at the track he trains the horses he loves have been dominating the headlines.
He says the deaths weigh heavy on the hearts of everyone who works here, “When they get hurt on the track, you know we mourn, we mourn them because you know we’re close to these horses and a lot of people don’t realize and that story doesn’t get out.”
He says the problem started with the torrential rains, “When it rained so much, that the clay and the sand got separated so I think it was the problem, so these horses were getting issues,” adding while many hands check out the horse, “sometimes they’ll tip us off we can see something coming up, well he’s not moving right, we know these horses but sometimes they don’t they won’t give you a warning.”
He says he’s not among the trainers who’ve lost horses but they all bear the burden, “Every time something would happen it just affects all of us, you know and we’re all painted with the same brush.”
He says they welcome any changes that will keep horses and jockeys who ride them safe and everyone at this track is going above and beyond that to make things better from reworking the track surface to passing on knowledge, “Some of those horses they found out you know might have maybe shouldn’t have been out there and so that’s one thing we’re working on right now we’re educating a lot of young trainers, and people out here.”
Baffert says he trusts this track with his best horses, horses worth millions with potential to make millions more, “The top five favorites for the Kentucky Derby all train on this track,” adding that he feels comfortable with then on the track.
Tim Yakteen whose been training horses for decades agrees and adds that those calling to end horse racing is not a solution even halting it would instead drive the sport underground where there is zero regulation, “Because they’re trying to attempt to achieve the safest environment for the racing industry, well if you unregulate it, well, you’ve taken a big step back.”
He says despite the sports competitive nature they’re all a family and are helping those through the losses and working together to it safer for the horses and jockeys.
He says he wants to give back to an industry that’s given him everything, “I came to this country at the age of 18 with the American dream like many of us have looked for and this industry has provided me with that dream and I will do anything I can to continue to keep that dream alive for people in the future.”
And no one has lived that American dream bigger than Baffert. He says he’s ran horses in tracks all over the world and loves Santa Anita Park and will continue to do everything in his power to keep the sport safe for his beloved horses and staff that’s more like a family, “We’re they’re their keepers you know … we’re responsible for them so it’s on us.”
They also say the livelihoods of thousands of people depends on this industry that’s why working to making it better is vital. The industry has more than a $13 billion economic impact in California.
Jill has created a campaign that shows those who dedicate their lives to caring for horses in the sport of racing called, “I am Horse Racing”.