At Kentucky Derby, the odds are with -- and against -- Bodemeister
May 04, 2012 (Menafn - Los Angeles Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The talk of Churchill Downs this week is the accidentally named Bodemeister, a horse with little racing history but plenty of Kentucky Derby history going against him.
If the morning line favorite wins, Bodemeister will be the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. Saturday's Derby will be only his fifth race.
He started his career in January at Santa Anita with a second-place finish in a maiden special weight race, followed a month later with a big, effortless win in another maiden race. Then he finished second to Creative Cause in the San Felipe.
Finally, he vaulted to the top of the Derby favorites with a 9 1/2-length win in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.
Bodemeister is named for his trainer's 7-year-old son, Bode Baffert, who in turn is named for Olympic skier and bad boy Bode Miller.
"I happened to be at the barn in Del Mar with Bode and his friends and [owner Ahmed Zayat] told me he needed some papers and was going to change the name of that horse," Bob Baffert said earlier this week.
"I told him, 'I'll just call him Bodemeister until the name comes out.' I didn't think twice about it. A month and a half later, I saw the papers and my bookkeeper said, 'Look at this name, Bodemeister.'
"Usually, it's a jinx if you name one for your kid. I said, 'Well, forget that horse.'"
At the time, Baffert thought his best horse was Paynter, but a fourth place in the Santa Anita Derby derailed his Kentucky Derby plans.
Baffert's other Derby plans were almost derailed when he suffered a heart attack in Dubai on March 26. Doctors installed three stents in two arteries and Baffert, 59, says he's feeling much better. "I've never eaten so much fish in my life," he said. "Things are good."
Baffert was lucky that the heart attack happened in his hotel instead of while he was flying to Dubai, he says, or he might not have made it. Once he was taken to the hospital, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who rules the country, ordered that Baffert be given the best care possible. The sheik is an influential thoroughbred owner.
This year's Derby is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in years. There are at least half a dozen horses with legitimate shots, but they are all flawed in some way.
The race is likely to set up with Trinniberg and Hansen out front for at least three quarters of the race. Sitting off the pace, if things stay to form, will be Bodemeister, Union Rags, Gemologist and who knows who else. Then in the last eighth of a mile, the Kentucky Derby will be won by one and lost by the rest.
As is traditional, this will be the first time any of the horses have run 1 1/4 miles. The second race in the Triple Crown, in two weeks at Pimlico, is the Preakness, which is slightly shorter at 1 3/16 of a mile. The final race three weeks after that is the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles and is likely one of the few times any of those horses will run that distance over a dirt course.
The last horse to win all three races was Affirmed, 34 years ago.
The second favorite in the Derby is Union Rags, who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year and was considered the early pick until a troubled trip in the Florida Derby, where he finished third.
Union Rags' trainer Michael Matz had to change jockeys before his horse's 3-year-old campaign when Javier Castellano opted to ride Gemologist. Julien Leparoux has ridden him the last two races.
Gemologist has done nothing wrong, having won all five of his races, and a victory would make him the eighth horse to win the Derby undefeated. In his last race, the Wood Memorial, he held off a hard-charging Alpha and extended his lead past the finish line.
Creative Cause and I'll Have Another are considered the top horses who ran their last major prep on the West Coast. I'll Have Another beat Creative Cause by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby, but Creative Cause is still considered the stronger entry.
Also to be considered is Dullahan, who finished fourth in the BC Juvenile but moved up with a comfortable win over Hansen in the Bluegrass Stakes. And even Daddy Nose Best, winner of the Sunland Derby and El Camino Real Derby -- contested over second-tier tracks -- is given a shot by some to win.
If Bodemeister wins, the Triple Crown excitement will heighten as it always does when there isn't a major upset. And Baffert will have his fourth Kentucky Derby winner. The others, Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002), all went on to win the Preakness. But all lost in the Belmont.
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