Trainer Bob Baffert told his friend Mike Pegram last November what any horse owner wants to hear.
"When he won the Hollywood Futurity, I knew he (Pegram) had a Derby horse," Baffert said.Now the pals are one step away from sweeping the Triple Crown with the colt, who needed surgery to straighten his legs before being sold as a yearling for $17,000.
His name is Real Quiet, but around the barn he's known as The Fish because of his narrow appearance when viewed head-on.
By any name, he's the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, and with a victory in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes next Saturday, he would be the 12th Triple Crown champion and the first since Affirmed 20 years ago.
Las Vegas bookmakers are giving odds of 9-to-5 that the Triple Crown drought will last at least one more year.
A victory in the Belmont would boost Real Quiet's earnings for the three races to more than $2 million and earn a $5 million bonus.
It also would invite comparisons with Triple Crown winners of the past. It already has invited comparison with stablemate Silver Charm, who missed winning the Triple Crown last year when he was beaten by three-quarters of a length by Touch Gold in the Belmont.
Critics note Real Quiet's record of only four wins in 14 career starts and suggest he has beaten a weaker group of 3-year-olds than the one faced by Silver Charm, especially in the wake of injuries to the likes of Lil's Lad, Halory Hunter and Coronado's Quest.
Baffert feels that Real Quiet's 1 1/2-length win in the Derby and his 2 1/4-length triumph in the Preakness give the impression his opposition has not been strong. Silver Charm, described by the trainer as a horse who does just enough to win, won both the Derby and Preakness by a head.
"Real Quiet is putting these horses away easily," Baffert said. "If it was Silver Charm, he'd probably be beating those horses by a head or a neck and make things more interesting."
Real Quiet lost his first six starts last year, all at a mile or less. The one-run colt simply ran out of ground.
"The riders would come back and tell me the same thing, `He's nothing until he runs long,"' said Baffert, who couldn't find longer races for the maiden.
On Oct. 18 at Santa Anita, Real Quiet won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race. His record in eight races longer than a mile is four wins, two seconds and a third. Three of the wins were in Grade I stakes - the 1 1/16-mile Hollywood Futurity, the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby and the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.
In the Belmont, Real Quiet will again face Victory Gallop, the Arkansas Derby winner and runner-up in the Derby and Preakness.
Other probables include Classic Cat, third in the Preakness; Hot Wells, fourth in the Preakness; Nationalore, ninth in the Derby; Yarrow Brae, Illinois Derby winner; Thomas Jo, winner of the Sir Barton at Pimlico on Preakness Day; Limit Out, third in the Withers; and Raffie's Majesty, second in the Flamingo and fourth in the Illinois Derby.
Nationalore, the world's richest maiden, has been gelded since the Derby.