ARCADIA, Calif. -- As if fielding six of the most promising Kentucky Derby contenders weren't enough, the Santa Anita Derby provided a trainer dispute yesterday, as well.
Jenine Sahadi, trainer of The Deputy, one of the favorites in the race, stalked out of the post-position draw after a flippant comment by rival trainer Bob Baffert. Trainer of the first- and second-place finishers of the past two Santa Anita Derbies, Baffert will saddle Captain Steve for tomorrow's renewal at Santa Anita Park.
As Baffert, Sahadi and The Deputy's jockey, Chris McCarron, sat at a table discussing their horses, Baffert asked McCarron whether he or Sahadi trained The Deputy. A few minutes later, Sahadi responded.
"Thank God, my horse has a lot of class, because there're a lot of people who don't," she said.
She placed the hand-held microphone on the table, stood up, spun on her heels and walked quickly away. Her abrupt departure stunned the audience of several hundred, including representatives of the six horses, racing fans and reporters.
The post-draw discussion took place on an outside terrace at Santa Anita known as Clocker's Corner.
Barry Irwin, part owner of The Deputy, explained afterward that Sahadi's response stemmed from years of struggling to succeed in a profession dominated by men. When she dated California trainer Julio Canani, people wondered aloud whether she or Canani trained her horses, Irwin said. Canani and the wise-cracking Baffert are good friends.
"She's a very sensitive woman, understandably so," Irwin said. "Being a woman in a guy's world is tough. Baffert is a needler and took a shot at her. They don't like each other."
Sahadi, who has saddled the winner of two Breeders' Cup races, wasn't the first Baffert target to respond in anger. During the 1998 campaigns of Silver Charm and Skip Away, Baffert, who trained Silver Charm, and the late Sonny Hine, who trained Skip Away, engaged in verbal warfare.
Baffert said Hine talked and looked like Elmer Fudd. At the time, Hine suffered from an affliction that caused one side of his face to droop. Hine said publicly that he didn't like Baffert, and Hine's wife, Carolyn, fumed privately over Baffert's comment.
Yesterday, after Sahadi's exit, Baffert said he was kidding, trying to liven up a typically dull event. He did not apologize. Sahadi said Baffert had ruined a perfectly good day.
Sahadi may get her revenge tomorrow when The Deputy, the 2-1 second choice in the morning line, takes on five other 3-year-olds in the race that produced the past three winners of the Kentucky Derby. An Irish-bred brought up on English turf, The Deputy has adapted to American dirt.
On Jan. 30, he won his dirt debut, the Santa Catalina Stakes. Then, on March 19, he finished a close second in the San Felipe Stakes to Fusaichi Pegasus, considered by many the top 3-year-old in the country.
Fusaichi Pegasus will run next Saturday in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. But his stable mate, undefeated War Chant, will contest the Santa Anita Derby as the 9-5 early favorite.
The Grade I race with a $1 million purse also features Baffert's Captain Steve, filly Surfside in her first race against males, and Anees, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Eclipse Award as outstanding 2-year-old male.
Said Alex Hassinger Jr., trainer of Anees: "This is the most definitive prep to date on the way to the Kentucky Derby."
Santa Anita Derby
Where: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, Calif.
When: Tomorrow, post time: 5: 40 p.m.
TV: Fox, 5 p.m.
Distance: 1 1/8 miles.
Purse: $1 million.
PP, Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Last race, Odds
1 Surfside, D. Wayne Lukas, Pat Day, 1st, Santa Anita Oaks, 6-1
3 Anees, Alex Hassinger Jr., Corey Nakatani, 3rd, San Felipe Stakes, 4-1
4 War Chant, Neil Drysdale, Jerry Bailey, Kent Desormeaux, 9-5
5 The Deputy, Jenine Sahadi, Chris McCarron, 2nd, San Felipe Stakes, 2-1
6 Cocky, Bobby Frankel, Alex Solis, 3rd, San Rafael Stakes, 8-1