When crowd coach Bob Baffert talks about the Preakness and the fierce racetrack that has held him for 144 years, his eyes light up. If he hears speculation that the breed may be leaving Baltimore, that's another story.
"They hear rumors, well, they'll postpone it or whatever," he said Wednesday. "It's magical for me, there's something in it, I've watched it since I was 10, 11. You think of Jim McKay, you think of the Preakness, there's so much history here."
Three years After American Pharoah crossed the city on the way to the first Triple Crown since 1978, Baffert is back at Justify ̵
Maybe another Triple Crown would not change much for Baffert. He is already revered as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. But the strong possibility of another Triple Crown, so soon after Pharoah's historic triumph, adds to the aura around the Preakness at a time when their future continues to be debated.
Baffert is happy. He's a Baltimore booster for a long time and it's not just public relations fluff.
The first time I met him in the 1990s as a chance meeting at Hollywood Park, I was just a baseball writer who on vacation was betting the horses with a buddy who turned out to be a mutual friend, he introduced me as a writer from Baltimore before, and Baffert immediately began to praise Charm City as if he had grown up there or worked for the Chamber of Commerce.
This was 20 years ago, around the time he won his first Kentucky Derby and Preakness and less than the Triple Crown won in 1997 with silver charm. He had already formed an opinion on Baltimore, which despite the ugly headlines that have damaged the reputation of the city since then, has not faltered.
He is not alone. The coaches and jockeys who come here on the third weekend of May are raving about the hospitality. In a famous interview after the 2014 race, California Chrome's owner Steve Coburn was so impressed with Pimlico that he openly criticized Churchill Downs for treating his group during the Derby Week.