Baffert not sure what to expect with Derby runner

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Associated Press

Posted on May 4, 2011 at 3:00 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Bob Baffert only wants to be at the Kentucky Derby with horses that have a legitimate shot at winning. He thought he had three this year, now the Hall of Fame trainer is down to one.

And even Baffert doesn't sound convinced that Midnight Interlude can get it done in Saturday's 137th Derby.

The colt lacks the seasoning that many of Baffert's previous entries have had over the years. Midnight Interlude didn't compete for the first time until Jan. 29, and he'll try to become just the second horse to win the 1¼-mile Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. Apollo did so in 1882.

"Hopefully, we can break that," he said. "Right now you need horses that are moving forward and can go the distance and he should."

Baffert's higher-profile Derby candidates, The Factor and Jaycito, were done in by a poor performance and an injury, respectively.

The Factor used his jaw-dropping speed to cruise to victory by 6¼ lengths in the Rebel Stakes before he finished seventh in the Arkansas Derby. That result gave Baffert a bad feeling about trying him in the Kentucky Derby.

"It was very tempting because that horse is so talented," he said. "He's such a fast horse, but I didn't want to ruin him. He's a franchise horse, I have to take care of him."

The Factor is at Churchill Downs this week, although he won't return to racing until sometime this summer.

Jaycito was forced out of the Santa Anita Derby with a foot injury, but Baffert won anyway when Midnight Interlude edged Comma to the Top by a head. Jaycito won't be ready in time for the Preakness on May 21, either.

"It's a shame because he would have thrived here," Baffert said. "It's so tough to get here and you never know who you're going to get here with."

The white-haired trainer with three Kentucky Derby trophies to his credit — but none since 2002 — didn't expect it to be with Midnight Interlude.

The colt didn't race as a 2-year-old because he was slow in developing. He even spent time at low-level Fairplex in Pomona, home of the Los Angeles County Fair. He finished third in his career debut on Jan. 29 and followed up with a second-place showing in February.

Midnight Interlude is one of three horses in the Derby with just four career starts; probable Derby favorite Dialed In and Animal Kingdom are the others.

Midnight Interlude is coming into the Derby off two wins in his last two races, although Baffert said the colt is still learning how to run.

"The only thing with him is he hasn't been in a big crowd," Baffert said, referring to the 20-horse Derby field. "If he gets jostled around, I don't know how he's going to react."

Midnight Interlude completed his final Derby workout on Monday. His time for five furlongs was the fastest of seven workouts at the distance, but Baffert didn't sound enthused because another day of rain kept the dirt track sloppy.

"I never got to work him on a dry track here. When you're working on slop, you don't know," he said. "All we can do is get him there and hope he's going to keep on surprising me like he has been. He's learning as he goes along and we're learning about him."

Around the barn, Midnight Interlude is no pussy cat. Like Baffert's last Derby winner, War Emblem, this colt "will bite anyone. He has a nasty temperament, but he's tough."

So is Baffert, after going nearly a decade without a Derby win. He thought he had the best horse a year ago with early favorite Lookin At Lucky, but after the colt drew the No. 1 post along the inside rail Baffert was ready to go home to California.

Lookin At Lucky banged into the rail and finished sixth.

"You can come in here with a good horse like Lucky and get demolished," he said. "I think I can win it with all of them every time I come here and I walk away talking to myself."

Baffert is keeping his TV tuned to the weather forecast (rain is possible on Saturday) as he waits anxiously for Wednesday's draw that decides the post positions.

"You never know when that upper cut is just right around the corner," he said.

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