Photo: Coady Photography
In only his fourth career race, Bodemeister turned the million dollar Arkansas Derby into his own personal playpen, as the young horse toyed with his overmatched competition from gate to wire. Sent right to lead by jockey Mike Smith, from his outside post position, the talented son of Empire Maker cleared the field as they hit the first turn, and from there was on a tour-de-force that will propel him to Louisville where he will likely go off as one of the favorites in the 2012 Kentucky Derby. For his trainer, Bob Baffert, the stylish victory was just business as usual. Winning Oaklawn Park’s signature race had to be sweet for the 59-year-old conditioner who is just a few weeks removed from suffering a heart attack in Dubai. Feeling better every day, winning tends to do that, Baffert continued his remarkable meet-long success at the Hot Springs oval that saw him take home both divisions of the Southwest Stakes, the Rebel Stakes, and this week’s Fantasy, Apple Blossom, and Arkansas Derby. As usual, the silver-haired trainer took the victory in stride.
“I told both riders that I didn’t care what they did as long as they ran one-two. I let them each run their own race. Bodemeister really ran huge. It’s a great feeling to run one-two in a million dollar race.”
And one-two it was, as stablemate Secret Circle was the closest horse to the winner at the wire, with Sabercat finishing third. While finishing first and second in a million dollar race is certainly a big accomplishment for Baffert, this one was all about Bodemeister. The Zayat Stables runner finished off the field as he widened his advantage with every powerful stride. On the finish line he was alone, 9 ½ lengths in front of the Rebel winner. Bodemeister’s final time for the nine furlongs was an excellent 1:48.71 in his first career race without blinkers. The performance looks even more impressive when compared to the final time of the proceeding race. Alternation beat one of the top older male fields so far assembled in 2012 by 2 ½ lengths in the Oaklawn Handicap, but needed a full 1.23 seconds to complete the identical distance. The awesome victory for the lightly raced colt will undoubtedly make him one of the big stories leading up to the Derby. Named after Baffert’s youngest child, Bode, Bodemeister collected his second win by more than nine lengths following a huge maiden win back in February. In between, he ran a solid second to Creative Cause in his stakes debut in the San Felipe. The win was essential to getting the horse to Kentucky, as even a second place finish might not have given him the necessary earnings to qualify. If Bodemeister is to win the Derby he will need to overcome something that has not been accomplished since Apollo did it 130 years ago … winning the Derby while never having started as a juvenile. That drought aside, todays win was very reminiscent of another powerful Arkansas Derby winner from five years ago. Back in 2007 it was the lightly raced Curlin who also romped in the Arkansas Derby. He too, had not raced as a two-year-old. Curlin was unable to win the Derby, (finishing 3rd) but came right back to score in the Preakness in only his 5th career start.
As for his prospects in three weeks’ time, Baffert had this to say, “We’ll see what this took out of them and then we’ll start talking (Kentucky) Derby. Oaklawn is a very kind surface and the horses have been coming back great. Bodemeister should be in great shape. He ran hard and fast. We know distance won’t be a problem.”
It doesn’t look like distance will be a problem, but then again the Kentucky Derby is a completely different type of animal. The pace will be contested, if not grueling, and the late stages of the 1 ¼ mile race have taken their toll on many a talented speed horse. Clearly, things will only get tougher from here, but after today it would be hard to say that Bodemeister doesn’t stand a real chance to wear the roses on the first Saturday in May.