LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Into the two-way radio Bob Baffert said urgently, "Easy, girl, easy."
He was speaking to his radio-equipped exercise rider, Dana Barnes, aboard Real Quiet on the Churchill Downs' backstretch. Yesterday, on the verge of Triple Crown history, Real Quiet had just begun his final workout -- a five-eighths-mile breeze -- for the $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park.
But he was beginning too quickly. Baffert's stopwatch recorded the first eighth-mile in 11 4/5 seconds.
Later, Baffert would say: "That's what I was afraid of, his going too fast. A slower work you can make up for. A fast work this close to the race, there's no way you make up for that."
Leaning forward in his chair in the empty Churchill Downs grandstand, Baffert watched as Real Quiet covered the next eighth mile.
"Twelve, that's better," the trainer said to his rider, meaning 12 seconds. "Keep going. Keep going."
Real Quiet moved down the homestretch in long, fluid strides that looked even stronger than those that carried him to victory one month ago in the Kentucky Derby. Now, after his Preakness win May 16 at Pimlico, the bargain-basement colt is poised to try to accomplish what only 11 horses have done: sweep the Triple Crown with a triumph Saturday in the Belmont Stakes.
His workout yesterday seemed to say he is ready. His time for five furlongs was 1 minute, 1 second. That was the third-fastest clocking for 35 horses working that distance at Churchill Downs.
"He was just galloping, cruising," Baffert said. "He really wanted to go today. But I wanted to keep the juice in the tank.
"I'm amazed at how he's come around. He's almost like a fresh horse. He's actually put weight on since the Preakness. It's unbelievable."
After Real Quiet became the 27th horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness -- 16 have failed to win the Belmont -- he left Pimlico two days after the race and returned to Churchill Downs.
"He was knocked out," Baffert said. "It wasn't so much he was tired. I think he was dehydrated more than anything from the heat."
The heat on Preakness Day was stifling -- especially after the power failure killed Pimlico's air conditioning. Record temperatures in the 90s drained the horses.
The first four mornings after the Preakness, Baffert had his workers walk Real Quiet under the shedrow. That was unusual. Baffert's horses usually return to the track four days after a race.
On the fifth day, Baffert sent Real Quiet onto the track at Churchill Downs for a routine gallop. It was Thursday, May 21, hot and muggy in Louisville.
"He went around there OK, but not the way I'd like to see him," Baffert said. "He was drawn up, really sucked up. His energy wasn't there."
So Baffert instructed a veterinarian to administer Real Quiet a "jug," a commonly used mixture of minerals and vitamins to counter dehydration and fatigue. And he told his workers to back off the horse. For the next three days, Real Quiet didn't leave the barn.
"But by Sunday, he was really wild," Baffert said.
Real Quiet returned to the track the next day, Monday, May 25, seemingly rejuvenated. He has trained superbly since.
"He's back to his old self," Baffert said, "except that he gets stronger and stronger as he goes along. He's a sound, fit horse that feels good. That makes him very dangerous."
So now it's on to New York.
At 8 a.m. today, a plane carrying Baffert, Real Quiet, owner Mike Pegram and jockey Kent Desormeaux is to leave Louisville for Long Island. About 10: 30 a.m., behind a police escort, Team Real Quiet is to arrive at Belmont Park.
Awaiting them will be the connections of 10 or 11 horses hoping to derail Real Quiet's historic run.
Several of those horses also worked yesterday in preparation for the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont. At Belmont Park, Classic Cat breezed five furlongs in 1: 01 2/5, Raffie's Majesty breezed a half-mile in 49 3/5 seconds, and Thomas Jo breezed seven furlongs in 1: 28 1/5. At Churchill Downs, Hot Wells breezed a half-mile in 48 3/5 seconds under the jockey Calvin Borel, who has regained the mount from Edgar Prado.
Tom Amoss, trainer of Hot Wells, was ecstatic. He said Hot Wells usually works a half-mile before a race in 50 or 51 seconds.
Pub Date: 6/03/98