Success: a horse racing story

J. Carson Black @

In my last post I talked about failure, and how it can be an engine to drive success. That is certainly true.

But success also builds on success.

Well, duh!

I can’t think of a clearer example than racehorse trainer Bob Baffert’s climb to the pinnacle of horse racing—the day he won the Triple Crown races—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes—with Ahmed Zayat’s American Pharoah.

American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza at the Preakness Stakes

American Pharoah and Victor Espinosa at the Preakness Stakes.

The white-haired trainer had a once-in-a-lifetime horse. That’s a given.

But Baffert had been in the same situation before, back in the 1990s and early 2000s. He would win the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown three times. First, with Silver Charm, who came up short in the Belmont Stakes. Second, with Real Quiet, who lost by a nostril in the Belmont. And third, with a horse named War Emblem. War Emblem’s jockey? Victor Espinosa, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown with last year’s favorite, California Chrome.

Three times, Bob Baffert won the first two Triple Crown races, the Derby and the Preakness, only to come up short in the Belmont.

Two times, Victor Espinosa rode a horse that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

So what does this mean, if it means anything at all?

I always thought that if someone—anyone on earth—could win the Triple Crown, it would be Bob Baffert. Because, like a Sherpa, he had climbed the mountain before. Three times, in fact. He had breathed that thin air more than most trainers could even dream of.

He knew the way up the mountain. He had a jockey who knew the way up the mountain. And most of all, he had the horse.

He had a superhorse in American Pharoah (Even here, success breeds success. He also had the right owners).

I am convinced that failures, near-misses, and—yes—successes helped Bob Baffert and Victor Espinosa. They make their own luck.