No one has to tell Bob Baffert how lucky he is.
The Hall of Fame trainer has lived through enough years without a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender to know that, when you have two colts good enough to be favored, the racing gods have granted a rare gift.
In fact, Baffert's pair — 5-2 favorite American Pharoah and 3-1 second choice Dortmund — sent historians scrambling back to 1948 in search of a comparably gifted duo saddled by one trainer. That year, Ben Jones started eventual Triple Crown winner Citation and another Hall of Fame horse in Coaltown.
"Bob's come to the Derby with strong hands on multiple occasions, but this is his best," NBC analyst Randy Moss said. And the trainer hasn't tried to downplay that notion.
"I feel like I've got the No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft," Baffert said on the eve of the 141st Derby. "I've got Winston and Mariota in my barn here."
He didn't specify which was which. That's the wisdom of a guy who's been down this road before.
For many observers, Baffert will always be the young king of the Triple Crown scene, that California dandy with premature white hair and shades who racked up three Kentucky Derby wins between 1997 and 2002.
But the reality is he hasn't won the Derby since 2002 and has won only one Triple Crown race, the 2010 Preakness, in that 13-year span.
At age 62, he's faced his own mortality in the form of a heart attack and endured every sort of bad racing luck imaginable, from photo-finish losses to dreadful post positions to injuries that wiped out Derby contenders.
Baffert was happy to talk about all the ups and downs this week, sharing the wisdom he's accrued as he held court outside his traditional Barn 33 at Churchill Downs.
"I think I'm a better trainer than I was when I won my first Derby," he said. "You've soaked up all this information. It's like a Google map in your head."
He's a terrific storyteller. On Wednesday, he had listeners guffawing with his tale of how Point Given suffered a cut above his eye, came down with colic and slashed up his midsection when he busted through protective fencing in search of a late-night snack. The punch line? Baffert's colt won the Belmont Stakes by 12 lengths a few days later.
"These horses, they're just like kids," he said. "You've got to watch them."
He offered plenty of other light asides, noting he still doesn't get invited to the best parties and joking of ticket prices, "You have to run second just to break even on the week."
It's a testament to Baffert's remarkable career that this isn't the first time he's gone into the Derby with the top two favorites. In 2001, he went in with favored Point Given and the second choice Congaree.
Of course, he didn't win that year. The next year, he convinced Prince Ahmed bin Salman to buy the temperamental War Emblem just three weeks before the Derby and bang, he won. Such is the joy and madness of racing.
Baffert said there's an art to balancing the interests of two owners with top contenders in the same race. He equated it to a coach juggling superstar egos in another sport.
"The people that are in my barn, they want to play at the top, and they know," he said. "Only a certain type of owner can be in my barn. They know there's going to be other good horses."
American Pharoah and Dortmund represent the culminations of two immigrant success stories.
The favorite's owner, Egyptian-born Ahmed Zayat, is a cheerful former beer magnate and one of the most aggressive spenders in American racing. He's known the agony of finishing second in the Derby three times, the first with American Pharoah's sire, Pioneer of the Nile.
But Zayat comes to this race with a horse whose speed inspires romantic talk from the most skeptical of racetrack observers. Even the owners of supremely talented rivals concede American Pharoah should be the favorite.
"The brilliance he showed, the 2-year-old form he showed, I think those are things you have to look at when you get in a field like this," said Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, a co-owner of 8-1 third choice Carpe Diem.
Despite his obvious physical talent, American Pharoah's first race last August didn't exactly foreshadow greatness. He finished fifth and frankly, didn't handle himself well.
"He just acted extremely, just nuts," Baffert recalled. "He just spazzed out that day."
Baffert's Spanish-speaking assistant, Pascual Rivera, summed up the colt more succinctly, calling him "pendejo" or idiot.
By the next month, when Baffert put Victor Espinoza aboard American Pharoah for the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, the story had changed radically.
"We worked on him and worked on him," Baffert said. "There was something that irritated him. We changed a few things and just like that, like that, he was a sweet little horse."
Asked what exactly he tweaked, Baffert flashed a grin and said the information was too valuable to share.
American Pharoah hasn't lost since and ran away from his competition in two prep races this year. Espinoza knows great horses; he rode California Chrome to victories in the Derby and Preakness last year. But he speaks with a certain awe about American Pharoah, suggesting that if the horse has any limits, he's yet to find them.
But it's not hard to find seasoned analysts who prefer the undefeated chestnut Dortmund. The 3-1 second choice literally towers over his rivals, and he's been tested in harder races than American Pharoah.
"Nothing seems to phase him," Moss said.
Dortmund's owner, Kaleem Shah, grew up in India where his father, Majeed, was one of the nation's top horse trainers. He made his fortune as the founder of Calnet, a Virginia-based technology company that evolved into a major government contractor. He began buying horses in the 1990s but saw his results pick up after he formed a relationship with Baffert in 2009. Shah's colt, Bayern, won last year's $5-million Breeder's Cup Classic.
Note the pattern in the names. Shah is a soccer nut with a particular interest in German clubs. All week, he wore his black and yellow Borussia Dortmund jersey with his name and No. 1 on the back. He noted the club recently pulled a rare upset of Bayern Munich. An omen for his horse on Saturday?
His affection for the massive colt is obvious. "He's like a big baby out there, he really is," Shah said. "You can pet him and hug him. He won't hurt you."
So do you like the big baby who doesn't lose? Or the former "idiot" who has grizzled handicappers comparing him to Seattle Slew? Dortmund or American Pharoah?
Baffert just hopes that when he's consoling one disappointed owner at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, his other horse is the villain responsible.