LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Trainer Bob Baffert said jokingly that he better hurry up and talk before he keeled over.
His heart attack was no laughing matter last month when he thought he was dying in Dubai. He’s changed his routine in the weeks since.
That means medication, a new workout regimen that included a walk on the treadmill at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning and slowing down just enough to enjoy the work he’s put into a Hall of Fame career.
“I’ve got to redo, change my lifestyle for the best,” Baffert said. “I’ve got to take care of myself like I take care of my horses.”
The 59-year-old Baffert watched Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister work five furlongs in just over a minute in preparation for the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and came away impressed.
“I feel relieved. Bode(meister) worked really well. He looked like he skipped right over the track and you never know until you work them over how they’re going to handle it but he seemed like he was really fluid the way he went around there,” Baffert said. “That’s him, when you let him pick it up, he really just floats over the ground.”
The horse named after Baffert’s 7-year-old son, Bode, clocked splits of 12.80, 25, 36.80 and 48.80 and finished at 1:00.80. It was the third fastest time of 23 horses on Tuesday.
Bodemeister did not race until this season, but his 3-year-old campaign has been building momentum.
“I just took my time with him,” Baffert said. “He was just immature. I wasn’t in a big hurry with him, so I’m glad I did. It made him a better horse.”
The bay colt bred by Audley Farm in Virginia and sired by Empire Maker has finished either first or second in all four of his races, none more impressive than his runaway 9½ lengths win at the Arkansas Derby on April 14.
Bodemeister’s win was the most definitive moment of a Derby season so far that’s been muddled with uneven performances and a group of highly touted horses that have done little to separate themselves. Baffert said Bodemeister has a “ways to go” but was encouraged with the performance coming off the dominating victory in Arkansas.
“He just went around there and just kept finding gears,” Baffert said. “You never know if they can run a mile and an eighth until they do it. The thing is, we’ve got to keep him healthy and we’ve got a ways to go, but what I saw today was very encouraging. He worked really well.”
It’s been an encouraging recovery for Baffert, too, after he was wheeled into a hospital in Dubai believing he was going to die before surgery to put three stents into two arteries. Baffert, who was headed to the World Cup, wasn’t feeling well on the long flight to the United Arab Emirates, and was tired after visiting the barn and arriving at the hotel.
He fell ill the next day, and his wife’s urged him to go to the hospital.
“When they were carting me in there, I thought, ‘I can’t believe everything I’ve done in my life, here, I’m having a heart attack and it’s all going to end in Dubai,’” Baffert said. “After it was over, I felt like man, I just, I got a second chance here. … It was just a weird scare.”
It was also a surreal scene while he spent a week in the hospital before the 16-hour trip home.
Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum was alerted and visited Baffert. The sheikh owns Darley Stud and Godolphin racing, one of world’s leading thoroughbred breeding and racing operations.
“That was pretty cool,” Baffert said of the ruler’s visit.
The affable Baffert has had to make one other major change — he’s been told to rest more leading up to horse racing’s peak season.
“I’m tired. They have me on a lot of medication, so it gets me a little tired. I’ll be talking then my voice goes down. That’s why I don’t like to do too much talking,” Baffert said.
Still, he’s grateful that he has another opportunity and said he’s lucky for the chance to work with Bodemeister.
“It’s good to be here with really nice horses. It’s not fun if you have a horse that’s a super longshot or something like that. This is what we do,” Baffert said. “Bodemeister, what he did in the Arkansas, if he can repeat that, it puts him right there into play.
“I’ll just take one step at a time, one day at a time.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.