LOUISVILLE — He still has the white hair, the dark sunglasses, the sharp wit and the stable full of runners, but a lot has changed for Bob Baffert since his first Kentucky Derby nearly 20 years ago.
"I think I've changed," the trainer said this week.
He enters Kentucky Derby 141 with not just the favorite in Arkansas Derby winner American Pharoah but also the morning-line second choice in Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund.
"I feel like I've got No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft," Baffert said. "Like I've got (Jameis) Winston and (Marcus) Mariota in my barn."
The 62-year-old Californian has been here, done that, winning three Derbys, but when someone prefaced a question with that declaration this week, Baffert was quick to interject, "It's been so long since I've won."
It's true. After capturing the Derby in 1997 with Silver Charm and in 1998 with Real Quiet, Baffert hasn't won the roses since 2002 with War Emblem, a horse the late Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corporation purchased and placed in Baffert's barn two weeks before the race.
Of the 12 Derby horses Baffert has trained since War Emblem, only two have hit the board. Pioneerof the Nile finished second in 2009 to Mine That Bird. Bodemei ster finished second in 2012 to I'll Have Another.
Here's a surprising stat: Since War Emblem won the 2002 Preakness, Baffert has won one of the last 37 Triple Crown races.
That's right: Lookin At Lucky's Preakness win in 2010 is Baffert's lone Triple Crown win in the last dozen years.
Remember, this is the same trainer who exploded on the Derby scene in 1996 when Cavonnier lost by a nose to Grindstone. In his first three Derbys, Baffert was both fun-loving and dominant with two wins, a second and a third. In the four-year span from 1997 to 2000, Baffert won six Triple Crown races.
Since then, the Arizona native has been through a divorce and remarried. He added a son to the four children from his first marriage. He suffered a heart attack in March 2012 while training in Dubai, then lost his father, Bill Sr., six months later.
"I probably appreciate it more," Baffert said Thursday after the huge crowd around Barn 33, a popular visiting spot all week, finally began to disperse. "When I first came in here I was younger and I thought this was fun, this was easy or whatever."
Now he knows better. Baffert said after watching Jordan Spieth react to winning the Masters last month he thought to himself the 21-year-old doesn't understand the difficulty of what he has done.
"One day he'll win it 10 years from now and he'll be crying and stuff," Baffert said.
That's the way Baffert is now. He becomes emotional talking about how the Kentucky Derby is part of history, about the relationships he's had with Derby connections over the years, about his parents.
He took 10-year-old Bode to see Silver Charm this week at Old Friends retirement farm in Georgetown and teared up seeing his first Derby winner.
"I've become a big baby," Baffert said. "I told Jill, 'What's happening to me?' I think when they put those stents in me they put something else in there."
Jill is his foundation, his rock. Baffert married the former Louisville television reporter in 2002 and if Bob Baffert understands horses, Jill Baffert understands Bob.
"I couldn't do this without Jill," Baffert said. "I'll come home and she'll say, 'What's wrong?' And I'll tell her everything is good. And she'll say, 'No, what's wrong?' I'll be like, 'I think this horse may have a fracture or something.' Right away she knows. She can read me and everything else."
If you've read or heard anything at all this week about the Kentucky Derby, you know the experts believe this is the strongest Kentucky Derby field in years.
It's the familiar trainer with the white hair and the dark sunglasses, however, who once again holds the strongest hand.
"I'd love to see them 1-2 turning for home," Bob Baffert said. "And then we'll see what they're made of."