Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert was in such a hurry to get to New York for tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes that he forgot the hanging bag with his race-day attire.
No worries though, his wife Jill and their son Bode were taking the red-eye later in the week. Jockey Mike Smith is trying to lead Justify to a Triple Crown win. With more than 2,800 career wins, Bob Baffert has helped to seize thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown, thanks to American Pharaoh in 2015. That win ended a 37-year drought for Triple Crown hopefuls.
But the sport of kings always has outside forces so the Bafferts aren’t about to take anything for granted. Before monumental races, Jill Baffert said when buying a new dress, she will wait until the last minute to be sure they are going and everything is A-OK. Unlike many well-coiffed fans, hats are never a consideration for her — “ever,” she said. “I know my parameters.” That’s a plus, considering her husband’s one superstition is that putting a hat on a bed augurs bad luck.
A friend who works in Chanel’s Rodeo Drive store suggested to Jill Baffert a white Chanel dress with a gold belt for the Belmont Stakes. Having only bought the frock seven days ago, Baffert said, “It’s superstitious, as my grandmother would have said, ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.’ I want to make sure, ‘OK, we’re definitely going and the horse is…’ before I do that. I don’t want to tempt fate. I know it’s silly.”
Even with 90,000 people expected at this year’s 150th running of the Belmont Stakes in New York on Saturday, Bob Baffert is identifiable with his mop of white hair and signature sunglasses. His good-luck charm is a new yellow or red tie. The couple’s seventh-grade son has his own secret weapon — three-year-old navy J. Crew socks with green shamrocks. “Bode is wearing the same socks that he wore for American Pharaoh. The heel of the sock now goes to the middle of his foot because he’s outgrown them,” Jill Baffert said. “But we thought, ‘We can stretch these out for a bit more.’ They are kind of like ankle socks.”
One other trick is to not make dinner reservations in advance. “We don’t want to say we’ll be celebrating so we just have people on standby. Bob will say, ‘If we win I’m going to come in with 18 people.’ Usually, they’ll accommodate us,” she said.
But after American Pharaoh’s postrace press conference and a trip “back to the barn to see the horse and love on him,” Team Baffert didn’t sit down to dinner until after 12:30 a.m. “Last time, by the time dinner came, people were literally asleep on the table,” Jill Baffert said. “This time there will be about 40 of us. We’re going across the street for pizza at Umberto’s. They’re really nice. It’s kind of a racetrack kind of thing. Hopefully, it will be low-key.”
For those who have only tuned into horse races and have never attended one, she said, “You miss the pageantry of the day. There are people, even men, who plan their outfits months in advance. You miss the beauty of the horses and the racetrack. It’s really festive and there is a lot of energy at the racetrack.”
Baffert, who once named a horse Maybelline, had to dress down for this year’s rain-drenched Preakness. Planning accordingly, she wore Acne Studios pants, a Saint Laurent blouse, J. Crew sleeveless sweater and a Burberry raincoat. Her Jimmy Choo flats were so saturated with mud that she had to toss them afterward.
For last month’s Kentucky Derby, Jill Baffert scratched her original plan to wear an Oscar de la Renta tulle and silk dress and went with a green Oscar de la Renta dress and Gianvito Rossi heels instead. After the race, Bob told the press that he cringed inside, when I walked out in the green dress. Unbeknownst to me, one of his friends told him years ago that green was bad luck,” she said.
Although jockey Smith wore white and green silks at the Derby and the Preakness, he switches things up every fourth race and he and Justify will suit up in red and yellow silks.
As for whether the 52-year-old Smith is good to go, she said, “I think Mike is ready to go. I think everybody is ready to get it on — win, lose or draw let’s get it over with.”