Sport

Bob Baffert’s ex-apprentice has two Kentucky Derby contenders

ARCADIA, Calif. – Tim Yakteen has been to the Kentucky Derby with good horses before. Now the trainer is in charge at Churchill Downs for the first time with two top contenders formerly coached by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and previously with good horses in the Kentucky Derby. Now the coach is in charge at Churchill Downs for the first time with two top contenders formerly coached by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.

Yakteen had two separate stints earlier in his career as an apprentice to Baffert, who will miss Saturday’s derby while serving a 90-day suspension imposed by Kentucky race officials. The six-time Derby winner has also been banned from Churchill Downs Inc. for two years.

It may seem uncomfortable for most except yactuses.

“I wouldn’t say I think there’s any awkwardness,” he said. “I just feel really happy and fortunate.”

A surprised Yakten took calls from Messier and Taiba’s owners, asking him to train their rising stars.

Messier, coached by Tim Yakteen, trains at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
Messier, coached by Tim Yakteen, trains at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
AP

“I’m honored that they had the confidence that I could continue to carry the torch,” he said while perched on a log near Messier’s stable in his Santa Anita barn.

Baffert gave up the stallions to serve out the penalty imposed after last year’s Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for an anti-inflammatory drug that isn’t allowed on race day.

Baffert’s suspension Santa Anita bans him, and Yakteen said they haven’t had any talks since he took over Messier, an early 8-1 third in the derby, and Taiba, a 12-1 shot.

Taiba is owned by Amr Zedan, who fought for Medina Spirit before the colt died after training in Santa Anita in December.

Yakteen has about 30 horses with different skills in his stable. The addition of Messier and Taiba has provided a boost of positive energy, he said.

“I’ve never woken up and didn’t want to go to work,” he said. “I really enjoy it.”

Yakteen’s career highlights include four Grade 1 stakes wins, including Taiba in the recent Santa Anita Derby, and an Eclipse Award for Sprinter Champion Points Offthebench. He has over 250 career wins and over $12 million in purse history.

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Taiba in the Derby after successfully teaming with Yakteen in California.

“He’s one of those guys that makes you feel safe driving for him,” Smith said. “He’s been here long enough. I think he will be great.”

Taiba, coached by Tim Yakteen, trains at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
Taiba, coached by Tim Yakteen, trains at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
AP

Yakteen grew up in Germany, where his Lebanese father was stationed in the US Army after becoming an American citizen.

He moved to the United States in 1982 at the age of 18 and was joined by a sister who lived next to Los Alamitos Racetrack in Cypress, California. He took part in the races for the first time and was enthusiastic.

“That night was electrifying and has stayed with me ever since,” he said.

He got a day job at the track, working in public relations, group sales and marketing. At night he watched the races.

It wasn’t long before Yakteen made his way to the stables and offered to fill buckets of water and muck out stables for free. He took up life in a tack room.

“I enjoyed every aspect of it,” he said. “My goal was to be part of the industry.”

After starting harness horses, Yakteen was hired by a white-haired Quarter Horse trainer named Baffert, who had left Arizona to pursue his own dream. When Baffert switched to Thoroughbreds in 1988, Yakteen stayed with him.

A few years later, Yakteen was at the Santa Anita race office when he crossed paths with Hall of Fame coach Charlie Whittingham, who said hello.

“I was like, ‘Wow, the Pope spoke to me,'” Yakteen said. “The timing was perfect.”

He came to Whittingham’s stables as an assistant. By 1994, Yakteen was in his first Kentucky Derby, helping runner-up Strode’s Creek.

Two years later, he and Whittingham returned with a Derby runner. At the same time, Baffert finished second in his first derby with Cavonnier.

In 1997, Yakteen returned to Baffert’s barn and for the next seven years was part of the team working with back-to-back Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Real Quiet and 2001 Derby champion War Emblem.

After learning patience and the ability to read a horse’s subtle signs from Baffert and Whittingham, Yakteen opened his own stable in 2004.

By this time he had married Millie Ball, a trainer for Baffert. She is now a presenter and reporter for the digital horse racing network XBTV.

The couple’s two sons, 16-year-old Sam and 14-year-old Ben, will be “sulking” at home because they missed the derby because of school, Yakteen said

How things will continue after the derby is written in the stars.

Yakteen said there have been no discussions as to whether Messier and Taiba will remain in his barn. Baffert’s suspension runs through July 2, keeping him away from the Preakness on May 21 and the Belmont on June 11. “It’s like having a lottery ticket fall in your lap,” he said. “Now we’re trying to redeem it.”

“I have my fingers crossed that a successful campaign will be a realistic opportunity,” said Yakteen.

At 57, Yakteen knows the great rewards a trainer has when bringing a horse to the Kentucky Derby. And he has two.

— AP

https://nypost.com/2022/05/04/ex-bob-baffert-apprentice-has-two-kentucky-derby-contenders/ Bob Baffert’s ex-apprentice has two Kentucky Derby contenders

JOE HERNANDEZ

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