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Connection to skier is personal for Baffert
By DAWN REISS
Published May 5, 2006
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Bob Baffert spent most of Thursday morning hanging out in front of Barn 33 at Churchill Downs, talking with Olympic skier Bode Miller , the man for whom Baffert named his fifth and youngest child.
Baffert said he was watching the 2002 Winter Olympics when he became a Miller fan.
"I just got this connection with him," Baffert said of the double silver medalist at the Salt Lake City Games. "I liked the way he handled himself. I would rush home to watch him ski on TV."
Baffert said later: "I'm still like a little kid when I see somebody like that. I'm in awe of these great athletes."
Miller, a 2006 gold-medal favorite, created controversy in January when he touted skiing "wasted" during a 60 Minutes interview and a month later went 0-for-5 during the Winter Games at Turin, Italy.
When Baffert's 11/2-year-old son toddled a bit in the gravel outside the barn, Baffert joked he looked like Miller the night before a race.
"I was telling Bode today that friends of mine were saying, "Is it too late to change your son's name to Apollo,"' Baffert later joked, referring to Olympic short-track speed-skating gold medalist Apollo Ohno .
BODE ON RACING: Miller said he doesn't get to the track as often as he would like, but he loves horse racing.
"The jockeys are doing their thing but the horses are going crazy," Miller said. "It's very similar to skiing where there are no judges."
Miller said he probably would bet on all three of Baffert's Derby horses: Bob and John , Sinister Minister and Point Determined , all 12-1.
"I bet on his horse last year when it was 50-1 and he told me not to bet any more than $2 on it," Miller said of Sort It Out , who finished 17th. "But this year he seems a bit more excited about it."
BACK IN BUSINESS: Last year, trainer John Shirreffs overcame 50-1 odds with Derby winner Giacomo . Shirreffs returns with A.P. Warrior , who is 15-1 and starts from the same post position - No. 10.
Last year's experience reinforced what Shirreffs suspected about the 11/4-mile Derby: "It's a grueling and testing race." But even after overcoming as much as he did last year, Shirreffs jokes there is something he still does before he races. "Pray," he said, laughing. "I need all the help we can get."
LONGING FOR MORE: Nick Zito had five horses in last year's Derby: Bellamy Road (sixth), Andromeda's Hero (seventh), High Fly (10th), Noble Causeway (14th) and Sun King (15th).
This year he has none. Standing outside his barn, the two-time Derby winner admitted it was hard to watch everyone get ready for the first leg of the Triple Crown.
"I've always said before honors, humility," the 58-year-old Hall of Fame trainer said. "This game will humble you no matter what. I take it that way. But it is hard because I'm human and I've got feelings. I got a little anxiety, which probably is not the right word, but I got a little whatever it was when I walked by the track and I didn't have anybody. I'm very competitive. The best thing is to be in the Derby, even if I knew I was going to lose. The fact that I'm in it would give me satisfaction. A lot of people would say I'm a sick guy, why can't you just be happy without being in it."
OVERHEARD: When O.J. Simpson was asked during the morning workouts what horse he'd bet on, the former football star joked it was an easy choice: Lawyer Ron . "You know how much I love lawyers."
KENTUCKY OAKS: Balance leads a field of 14 3-year-old fillies in today's $685,900 Grade I companion event to the Derby, which is run at 11/8 miles.
Balance, the 2-1 morning-line favorite from No. 4 post, will try to rebound from an uncharacteristically poor effort in the Ashland Stakes on April 8 at Keeneland.
After starting the year with a pair of Grade I wins at Santa Anita, Balance ran third in the Ashland as the 1-2 favorite, finishing 103/4 lengths behind Brushfire .
"She didn't care for that racetrack," trainer David Hofmans . "She trained over it okay ... it rained that morning and it was just sort of weird. It wasn't muddy, but I watched the tapes a bunch of times and she was just all over the place. It wasn't like her at all."
Bushfire, 15-1 in the Ashland, will try to prove that race was not a fluke. She is 5-1 from the No.10 post today. Wait A While , the Ashland runnerup, is also 5-1. She will break from No. 8 post. Miss Norman , Red Cherries Spin , Top Notch Lady and Last Romance were supplemented for $25,000 each with the money added to the purse. The $685,900 will be a record if all four supplements start.