04/16/2012 12:50PM

Bodemeister: Start Of Something Special?

Email

There are two ways of looking at this season's major Kentucky Derby preps, which concluded Saturday with the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby.

The first is that it's a closely-matched group of sophomores emerging from different regions with no clear leader. Mike Battaglia, who will make the Derby morning line, seemed to embrace this view when he said at the end of the CNBC telecast Saturday that he thought any of four horses might be favored May 5, that no one would be shorter than 5-1 or 6-1, and that the mantle of favoritism would probably go to whoever trains best over the next three weeks.

The second is that Bodemeister's stunning 9 1/2-length victory in the Arkansas Derby was a breakthrough performance that puts him head and shoulders above his contemporaries.

I vote for the latter. I'm not saying Bodemeister's a cinch to win the roses, and I'm not going to quarrel with anyone who has doubts about his lack of experience, but I do think he is absolutely the horse to beat in the Derby.

Bodemeister earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 winning at Oaklawn Saturday, which is 10 to 14 points higher than the winning figures in this year's four other Grade 1 prep races for the classics: the Blue Grass (98), Wood Memorial (98), Florida Derby (95) and Santa Anita Derby (94). I don't think there's anything flukey about the figure. One race earlier, the G2 Oaklawn Handicap, which drew a G1-quality field of older horses including this year's Donn and Big 'Cap winners, was run in 1:49.94. Bodemeister ran the same distance in 1:48.71, which is 1.23 seconds faster.

Granted, the Oaklawn Handicap unfolded with a slow pace that worked against the closers and a faster final time: Alternation, who led all the way, ran his first six furlongs in 1:12.59 while Bodemeister was in front after 6f in 1:11.36. But it's not as if the older horses then finished up any faster: Bodemeister and Alternation came home in identical final three-eighths of 37.35, after Bodemeister ran the first six furlongs seven lengths faster.

At this point in his career, Bodemeister is reminiscent of another Arkansas Derby winner who did not make his racing debut until January: Curlin, who won the 2007 Arkansas Derby by 10 1/2 lengths with a 105 BSF in just his third career start. No, Curlin did not win the Derby, finishing third and keeping the Curse of Apollo alive -- no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. Curlin did, however, go on to win that year's Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Breeders' Cup Classic and Horse of the Year title.