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Real Quiet Serious About Belmont

June 4, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Just after Real Quiet added the Preakness to his Kentucky Derby victory, Bob Baffert became concerned that he was making too much fun of his knock-kneed, light-boned thoroughbred with the paltry price tag.

``I’ve made so much fun of this horse, calling him `The Fish,′ the way that he looks, and everything else,″ Baffert said of Real Quiet, who Saturday goes for the Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes.

``We treated him like a $17,000 horse, but Seattle Slew was a $17,000 horse. You never know where they’re going to come from.″

But on Oct. 18 of last year, after winning a 1 1-16 mile maiden race at Santa Anita, Baffert knew exactly where his next Derby horse was coming from.

``He was just a big, skinny, gawking-looking kid,″ Baffert said, ``and all of a sudden his body changed. We put blinkers on him, gave him a longer race, and he was unbelievable.″

After winning for the first time in seven tries, Real Quiet had what Baffert called a ``horrible day,″ with a third-place finish under jockey Kent Desormeaux behind Cape Town and Limit Out in the Kentucky Jockey Cup at Churchill Downs. He ended his 2-year-old campaign, though, with a rousing victory in the Hollywood Futurity.

``Kent came back and said, `Man, this horse has a lot of energy,′ ″ Baffert said.

Baffert, his instincts confirmed, turned around and told owner Mike Pegram, ``There’s your Derby horse.″

Just like that, Real Quiet began getting into it, growing stronger with each race and obviously loving the longer distances.

Even though Baffert switched his allegiance to stablemate Indian Charlie by the time the Derby rolled around, he always considered Real Quiet ``his first string,″ well aware his bay colt could get the classic distances with ease.

On Saturday, Real Quiet needs a victory in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.

``He’s just a big, long-striding, puts-’em-away, makes-that-move, keeps-on-going, comes-back-great kind of horse,″ said Baffert, who along with Real Quiet arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday.

For a colt with just four wins in 14 career starts _ the Derby and Preakness gave him his first two-race win streak _ it’s tough to figure how he’s so close to a Triple Crown.

Baffert, who nearly won the Triple Crown last year with Silver Charm, had a tough time early with Real Quiet, too.

The trainer, with help from Florida-based buyers J.B. and Kevin McKathan, picked him out at the Keeneland yearling sale in September 1996, even though his front legs were crooked despite earlier surgery to correct the problem.

While the top 2-year-olds were going against each other at Saratoga and Del Mar last summer, Baffert took Real Quiet to tiny Santa Fe Downs in New Mexico. Real Quiet fared poorly, finishing third in a $10,000 allowance and third in the little-known, but big-paying ($500,000) Indian Nations Futurity.

Baffert brought Real Quiet to Del Mar, where he ran a mile for the first time and finished fourth, with a mild rally.

``This horse was crying for more distance,″ Baffert said.

Then came Oct. 18. With Desormeaux aboard for the first time, and with blinkers and the distance up to 1 1-16 miles, Real Quiet became a real serious race horse, finishing strongly for the convincing win.

``He’s one sharp horse,″ Baffert said. ``Look at what I put him through. Two races in New Mexico, and after that I got mad at him and ran him back 12 days later at Del Mar, and he ran fourth .... and then he ran in the Futurity and won that thing. This horse, he’s tough.″

In his 3-year-old debut, Real Quiet was a dull eighth in the Golden Gate Derby, but Baffert puts a line through that race. ``The track was awful. We went up there in the pouring rain and I was mad at myself for running him,″ the trainer said.

Real Quiet was a runner-up in his next two races, to Artax in the San Felipe and to stablemate Indian Charlie in the Santa Anita Derby.

On Derby Day, the bay colt went off at 8-1, the fifth choice in the 15-horse field, and when Real Quiet took the lead from Indian Charlie just above the quarter-pole, Baffert exclaimed: ``It’s The Fish! It’s The Fish!″

And after another sweeping move around the turn to take control of the Preakness, Baffert was even more impressed.

``Did you see that move? It was unbelievable!″ Baffert said. ``When he did that in the Derby, I thought, `Wow, what a horse!′ But this was a much better race. He’s getting better and better and stronger and stronger.″

How much better and how much stronger?

``We’ll find out Saturday,″ Pegram said.

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