Baffert brings new attitude to Kentucky Derby

Tue May 1, 2012 1:33pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A brush with death has given Bob Baffert a new perspective on the Kentucky Derby.

For most of his working life, the Hall of Fame trainer has been consumed by trying to win the Run for the Roses. But now he just wants to stop and smell them.

Baffert is a three-time Kentucky Derby winner with a great shot at winning a fourth on Saturday with his two runners, the highly-fancied Bodemeister and long-shot Liaison.

But winning the race is no longer his obsession. Baffert's priorities were irreversibly changed seven weeks ago when he was in the United Arab Emirates for the Dubai World Cup.

Unaware that anything was wrong with him, the 59-year-old suffered a heart attack and was convinced he was going to die.

He was rushed to hospital and had three stents inserted in two arteries. It was touch and go and the experience instantly changed Baffert's outlook on life.

"Ever since it happened, I've changed," he told reporters in the lead up to this week's Kentucky Derby. "I don't get so worked up about something. Still, I get excited. Sometimes I'd get overstressed.

"Right now, I just realize that I've got this second chance. I could easily have died in Dubai. If it would have happened on the plane I would have been toast."

When Baffert was fit enough to travel, he returned to his home in California, but was told to take it easy.

He was unable to accompany Bodemeister to the Arkansas Derby which might have been just as well because the colt set Kentucky Derby pulses racing when he blew away his opposition to win by nine and a half lengths.

He was immediately installed as one of the favorites for Saturday's 138th edition of the Kentucky Derby and this time Baffert will be track side.

"I'm feeling much, much better," he said. "I've lost weight and I needed to lose weight anyway. Every day I get stronger and stronger. I've been exercising and eating well. I've never eaten so much fish in my life. Things are good."

Bodemeister, named after Baffert's youngest son Bode, was a late bloomer and did not make it to the track as a two year old.

It has been 130 years since a horse has won the Kentucky Derby after making his career debut as a three year old but the son of Empire Maker has been making up for lost time.

He has progressively got better with each run and even Baffert is having to contain his excitement. "So far, he looks good," he said.

(Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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