Bob Baffert disagreed. So he acquired War Emblem on April 11, won the Derby with him 23 days later, and now has the speedy black colt in position to win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.
"It's all about timing," Baffert said. "We got him when he was doing well, and now he's blossoming, filling out, relaxing. He's getting better and better. He's just turning the corner."
If he handles the turns quickly enough in the 1 3-16th-mile Preakness, War Emblem would move on to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks with a chance to become thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
War Emblem, a four-length, wire-to-wire winner in the Derby, is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, with Medaglia d'Oro the 5-2 favorite in the field of 13 3-year-olds. Proud Citizen, the Derby runner-up trained by D. Wayne Lukas, is at 6-1, behind Harlan's Holiday, at 9-2.
The Preakness plot thickens as soon as the gates spring open: Can speedsters like Booklet and Table Limit press War Emblem and prevent him from a Derby rerun?
"This race might be won and lost at the first turn," Booklet's trainer John Ward said.
That Baffert is in Triple Crown territory again isn't surprising _ he's trained the winners of seven of the last 16 Triple Crown races.
It's the way he did it that's intriguing: Baffert quickly transformed a horse deemed unworthy of the Derby. "He's black, he's fast, he's dangerous," Baffert says.
Baffert knew he was getting a hard-to-handle colt with bone chips in both ankles, but said his other Derby winners, Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in '98, had similar ailments.
"Real Quiet had a little chip in his ankle, Silver Charm had a little chip," he said, "but there is a way to treat it _ we ice it, and there are drugs you can give them to help repair joints."
In discussing the colt's habits with former trainer Bobby Springer, Baffert was told to expect an ambitious but ornery colt who loves to run. After Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Salman paid $900,000 for 90 percent of War Emblem, the colt moved to Baffert's barn.
Then the horse's "Baffertizing" began.
The trainer adjusted War Emblem's equipment, including bits, to make it easier for his exercise riders to control him. He changed the feed, treated the ankles, stood him in the starting gate and led him through the paddock.
Baffert even asked his fiancee, Jill Moss, to help. "You've got to turn this guy into a sweetheart," he told her. She fed him carrots and mints and finally won him over.
"But you still can't turn your back on him," Baffert said.
He admits the changes are "so little," but adds: "The thing about this dude is how he's feeling. We want to keep him happy, and keep his energy level up."
Ward was among those who passed on a chance to buy War Emblem. He says Baffert's role has been more like an "equipment manager," because the colt was already trained and "you just look at little areas where you think you can make improvement."
Ward figures Baffert first knew he had something special when he asked exercise rider Dana Barnes for her thoughts after she galloped the colt for the first time.
"After not having ever seen or been on the horse, she told him 'This is as good as any horse we brought over here,' and that had to be the biggest Christmas present Bob Baffert ever had," Ward said. "That girl was dealing with what Bob didn't know and couldn't know _ how much talent that horse had. Those riders get the feel. They know the good ones from the bad ones."
War Emblem gave Baffert his third Derby win in six years. Silver Charm and Real Quiet both went on to win the Preakness but fell short of becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner in the Belmont.
Baffert likes his chances of winning his second straight Preakness and fourth overall.
"We're not going to change our tactics," said Baffert, who won last year with Point Given. "He's probably going to have to run faster and take a lot of pressure. We'll see what he's made of."
And what about all the chatter of a unified effort to prevent War Emblem from winning?
"I got the roses," Baffert said. "They're a little late ganging up on me now."