Triple Crown seasons come and go, but motherhood is a season that never ends.
Jill Baffert is no stranger to the spotlight. The former broadcaster and wife of Bob Baffert, mother of Bode and stepmother of Taylor, Canyon, Forest, and Savannah, is accustomed to living her life in the public eye.
Jill’s face should be familiar to all who follow Thoroughbred horse racing, especially through the Triple Crown season. From May to June, Jill can be found on many a Saturday afternoon on national television standing alongside Bob, surrounded by family and friends, passionately cheering home the horses her husband has been entrusted with to win the industry’s most coveted races.
As my husband, Jon, and I sat at Ramsey’s Diner discussing an upcoming trip to California to interview Bob following Justify’s Triple Crown, I mentioned to Jon that I wish we could interview Jill. I would like to know what the Triple Crown journey is like from a mother’s perspective. I feel like I can relate to her on many levels; being a mother and the wife of a man in the Thoroughbred industry who travels often for his work.
It didn’t take long for the idea to resonate with Jon. He was more than receptive. At that moment, the panic set in. What if she says yes? What would I even ask her? I’m just a small-town girl somewhat fearful of flying who loves the horse industry. I don’t know if I can pull this off. We sent a group text to arrange a call with Jill. She said yes.
Occasionally, we receive brief soundbites from Jill in between interviews with Bob, but I wanted to learn more about her, more about who she is away from the races and how she handles her role as the wife of the most recognizable trainer in the world. I was curious what it’s like to be the mother of a son, Bode (named after skier Bode Miller), who much of the racing world has watched grow up through his yearly appearances on national television, his on-camera demeanor rising or sinking in step with the fate of the horses his father saddles.
Little did I know when we made the arrangements for the interview, but our visit with the Bafferts would prove to be profound and timely beyond anything I could have drawn up in my head.
The day before our flight from Lexington, Ky., to Southern California to interview Jill, Jon and I were giving serious thought to our purpose as partners, parents, horse owners, and business owners. We were in a season of change in almost all these areas. Our children are just a few years away from being out of the house and on their own. Our off-the-track Thoroughbreds have not been to any horse shows lately, and our business is currently going through an overhaul.
For the first time ever, we left the kids in charge of the farm. Our 21-acre farm—Highbrook—is home to five retired Thoroughbreds (and a donkey) that we love. Leaving the responsibility to the kids brought about its own set of unnerving challenges for us (but they did great). We organized the life insurance paperwork (because you know…flying) and tasked our daughter with handling that chore should anything happen.
Jon and I went over questions to send Jill ahead of the interview so that she would have a good feel for how we envisioned the segment. My hope was that it would be a warm, casual environment, just two women having a visit about life, its challenges, and its blessings.
The more I read about Jill the more nervous I grew. She has a professional background in broadcasting. My background doesn’t include broadcasting, but I felt strongly that hearing from Jill’s heart as a wife and mother in the Thoroughbred industry is a perspective not often shared in our business. It’s the reason I wanted us to fly across the country. I wanted to give her the platform to share and communicate her experience in her own words.
Wednesday morning of our trip started early, as most of our mornings do. Since we would be in the air for most of the working office hours, we did everything we could to set up our team at PM Advertising before we took off. We tied up loose ends and responded to e-mails. In the terminal at Blue Grass Airport, we sat quietly, yet focused, awaiting the boarding announcement. Preparing to board, we both texted our kids and let them know we love them. California, here we come.
Descending into Los Angeles, I thought, “this is really happening.” Jon and I haven’t traveled together, just the two of us, in 15 years. Immediately upon landing, we texted the kids and let them know we made it safely and that we love them.
Waking up at the hotel Thursday morning, a strange sense of calm came over me. I felt proud to have the opportunity to highlight Jill. My goal was to make this more about connection and not just another question-and-answer interview. I picked out my clothes, bypassing my PM polo shirt, and opted for something more feminine. I went soft and casual, with metallic rose gold flats that Jill would make mention of several times later in the day.
When scouting locations for the interview, we assumed they would want to shoot at Santa Anita, where Bob’s Southern California string is based and home to Triple Crown winner Justify. But that wasn’t the case. Jill suggested that we shoot the interview at their house.
We’ve known the Bafferts for a long time but going to someone’s house for the first time can be intimidating. As we pulled the rental car into the driveway, butterflies kicked in. I didn’t know what to expect. We rang the doorbell and Jill greeted us with the biggest smile on her face. I found myself instantly at ease. We felt welcome before we even walked through the door. She embraced me and invited us both inside. She said she needed to finish up her hair and that we were to make ourselves at home. “Feel free to walk around, enjoy Bob’s trophy room, and waters are in the fridge,” she shared.
We took some time to view the extensive trophy collection, noticing all the gifts they have recently received as a result of Bob’s second Triple Crown in the last three years, but I gravitated to the beautiful family photos displayed from one end of the house to the other. I felt so comfortable…like these are my people.
When Jill was ready, she mentioned Bob was on his way home from the track and he was bringing Starbucks and asked us what we wanted. Yes…these are my people.
For the shoot, we selected a spot in the foyer that had ideal natural lighting. The soft background combined with a collection of family photos displayed next to Jill, who was wearing black, made for a beautiful setting.
The interview went smoothly. I asked questions and listened intently. Jill likely wasn’t aware of the fact, but she was speaking directly to me. There were things she said that I needed to hear, almost as if the interview was just for me. My intentions were always to highlight her, after all this was about her, but I came away from our time together enriched beyond words. The biggest takeaway for me was Jill’s point to make sure to always strive for balance. Life is a combination of highs and lows. “Don’t get too high in the highs or too low in the lows,” she said.
Those simple words of wisdom are filled with experience and insight. They provided me with an empowering perspective. I came away with a great amount of respect for the love that Jill exudes for her family, and her house is definitely a home.
The next morning, we visited Santa Anita Racetrack. My excitement was palpable. I had never been before but had always heard how amazing the track is, set against the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains. It was a tad chilly for summer with a slight breeze and everyone was wearing vests and long sleeve shirts. We went to Bob’s barn, jumped in a golf cart, which sported a JUSTIFY license plate, and headed to the grandstand. This place was gorgeous. I was speechless and a bit overwhelmed. The track was busy with activity.
With horses on the track in front of us, Bob looked over, raised his arms up as if to suggest look around, and said, “People always ask me why I don’t travel east. Why would I? I have everything I need right here.” Who can argue with that?
We watched Justify gallop that morning. He looked fantastic, as always. He was strong, beautiful and enjoyed his job. After Justify’s morning exercise, we ventured back to the barn. As Justify was cooling out after his bath, Bob said, “Here, want to hold him and get your picture taken?” Wait, what? I went and stood next to Bob and had my picture taken with Justify. Then, he said, “here, you take him.” So, I did. What a unique, surreal experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to have held this incredible, history-making athlete.
We concluded our trip to the West Coast with a picture-perfect day at the beach on Saturday. It gave us a chance to reflect on everything that had transpired during the eventful week. One thing is certain: We will carry these precious memories with us for the rest of our lives.
Among the missions of Thoroughbred Week is to share engaging stories that have the chance of creating a lasting impact. Much of life is about being our best authentic self and about the meaningful connections that we make along the way. But most of all, life is about understanding and balance.
Thank you, Jill.