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Baffert a rare miss on Derby Day, but he'll have 3 starters on Friday

Bob Baffert and his 3-1 favorite Justify aim to justify all the pre-race hype Saturday....
Bob Baffert and his 3-1 favorite Justify aim to justify all the pre-race hype Saturday. (Source: John P. Wise/WAVE3.com)(John P. Wise/WAVE3.com)
Updated: May. 2, 2017 at 3:28 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Two years after winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is back at Churchill Downs for Kentucky Derby week.

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But he doesn't have a Derby horse.

The 64-year-old Baffert has won the Derby four times and doesn't have a horse in the field for just the second time in 11 years, but he does have the co-third choice in the Kentucky Oaks with Abel Tasman.

"Back in September, I had a great hand (for the Derby)," Baffert said. "I had some horses that were coming around but some never developed or something happened to them and then Mastery injured himself.

"It's part of the game. We know it's there and it can happen but that's why you just have to feel so lucky those great horses I had here withstood the rigors of training and still were able to win the Derby."

Baffert said his stable is "very competitive and we want to be there every year," but he said he wasn't going to force anything to run in the Derby.  He didn't have a horse in the 2013 race and has only missed four Derby races since 1996.

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He's tied with Derby Dick Thompson and D. Wayne Lukas for second among all-time wins for trainers, two behind the leader Ben Jones.

"We want to be there with a horse who has a chance to win it and not just any horse," Baffert said. "It's not any fun that way."

Mastery was one of the Derby favorites earlier in the year before suffering a condylar fracture in his left front leg in March as he was training.

"That one really hurts," Baffert said. "He was starting to show that he was separating himself from the field. I was thinking American Pharoah. I was thinking Kentucky Derby and he was showing me that he was that kind of horse."

Baffert said with no Derby horse this year he's "here for the Oaks." He will run three horses on Friday and then travel back to California.

Abel Tasman won the Grade I Starlet Stakes in December at Los Alamitos and has been second in her two starts this year. She was transferred to Baffert's barn prior to her last start – a second in the Santa Anita Oaks.

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"I think she's going to run very well, but it's a tough Oaks," Baffert said. "A lot of things can happen, so we're hoping she'll be right there."

Baffert also will run American Freedom and American Cleopatra – the sister of American Pharoah – on Friday's card.

American Freedom will run in the Churchill Downs Stakes, while American Cleopatra will run in the 12th race – an allowance race.

"We have a lot of American going on," Baffert said.

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