04/12/2012 1:24PM

Arkansas Derby: Baffert holds strong pair in Bodemeister, Secret Circle

Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography
Secret Circle, with Rafael Bejarano riding, wins the Rebel as a follow-up to his Southwest victory at Oaklawn.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Secret Circle has developed into one of the nation’s top Kentucky Derby prospects without a lot of fanfare. Even though he will be going for a sweep of Oaklawn Park’s series for 3-year-olds on Saturday in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, it is a stablemate of his, Bodemeister, who has been grabbing a good deal of attention after being made the morning-line favorite for the race.

Both horses are trained by Bob Baffert, who has been on an incredible stakes streak the last two months at Oaklawn. He has won four graded races from five local starters through Thursday, and in Secret Circle and Bodemeister has the favorites for the biggest race of the meet.

The Arkansas Derby closes out the Oaklawn season. And this year, it will also anchor the track’s richest day ever after officials moved the Grade 2, $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap – a showdown between recent Grade 1 winners Hymn Book and Ron the Greek – and the Grade 3, $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap – led by Apriority – to the season’s final card. Along with the $100,000 Northern Spur that drew Drill, the four stakes Saturday are worth a combined $1,750,000.

The Arkansas Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, drew 11 horses, including Isn’t He Clever, the runner-up in the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby who will remove blinkers; Sabercat, winner of last year’s Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot; Atigun, who will be first-time Lasix; and Optimizer and Najjaar, a pair of emerging runners based at Oaklawn.

[ARKANSAS DERBY: Get PPs and handicapping analysis on Saturday's Oaklawn card]

But most of the focus will be on Bodemeister and Secret Circle, whose running styles complement each other Saturday. Bodemeister will break from post 11 under Mike Smith, while Secret Circle will start from gate 5 under Rafael Bejarano.

“Bodemeister is probably the speed of the race, he’s a speed horse,” said Baffert. “Secret Circle, he’s proven he likes something to run at.”

Secret Circle’s ability to get a mile was in question back in February, when he first shipped in from Southern California for a division of the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes. But he passed the two-turn test by putting up one of the division’s best Beyer Speed Figures, a 102. Secret Circle then returned to Oaklawn for the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel on March 17 and conquered 1 1/16 miles, while giving seven pounds to runner-up Optimizer. With an Arkansas Derby win, Secret Circle would join Lawyer Ron in 2006, Smarty Jones (2004), Demons Begone (1987), Bold Ego (1981), and Promised City (1975), as horses who have swept Oaklawn’s 3-year-old series.

“Rarely would you ship a horse three times like that,” said Baffert. “Usually a horse has trouble handling it. But that Secret Circle – he’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him. He’s a pretty remarkable horse.”

Secret Circle, a winner of 5 of 6 starts, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, has tactical speed and could get a stalking trip behind Bodemeister, Stat, and perhaps Isn’t He Clever.

Bodemeister, who will remove blinkers for the race, finished second to leading Kentucky Derby candidate Creative Cause in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita in his last start March 10. For the effort, Bodemeister earned his second straight Beyer Figure of 101, which is the best last-race number in the field. Saturday’s race will be Bodemeister’s fourth career start, and his first outside of California.

“It’s all new to him,” said Baffert. “He’s shipping and running, so you never know how they’re going to react to that. We’re going to find out a lot about him. But he’s been training well. He looks great. I expect him to run a big race.”

Bodemeister, who only has $60,000 in graded earnings, will need to finish second or better in the Arkansas Derby to have a chance to get into the Kentucky Derby field if the race overfills.

If the pace is strong, the Arkansas Derby could setup for any number of late-runners, including Raconteur, a winner of 3 of his last 4 starts for trainer Todd Pletcher. In his most recent outing, the horse won for the $76,000 Private Terms at Laurel. Before that race, he was seventh in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct.

“He’s the kind of horse that would benefit from a hot pace in front of him,” Pletcher said. “In his last start, he settled well and really got to rolling down the lane. He just got up in the final strides. In the [Gotham], he was bounced around quite a bit. The race was not a true indication of his ability.

“He always tries, and he’s a well-bred horse suited for the distance.”

Cozzetti rallied from next to last to finish third in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in his last start March 10.

“We tried to let him settle and make one run, and it worked out,” said trainer Dale Romans. “We’ll probably let him do the same thing, depending on the pace scenario.”

Optimizer put in a big kick when beaten just three-quarters of a length in the Rebel.

“He was flying, and we saw enough to give us hope for this one,” said trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

The Arkansas Derby will go as the 11th race on a 12-race card, with a post of 5:45 p.m. Central. It is to be shown on CNBC as part of a broadcast that will include the Blue Grass from Keeneland.

Oaklawn will open its infield Saturday in anticipation of a crowd that should exceed 50,000.

Arkansas Derby (G1), Post Time: 5:45 CT Saturday

Purse: $1,000,000; 1 1/8 miles





ML Odds



D. Romans

J. Lezcano




T. Pletcher

J. Velasquez




D. Peitz

C. Borel



Jake Mo

A. Milligan

M. Berry



Secret Circle

B. Baffert

R. Bejarano



Isn't He Clever

H. Dominguez

R. Albarado




D. Lukas

J. Court




K. McPeek

T. Thompson




S. Asmussen

C. Nakatani




T. Pletcher

C. DeCarlo




B. Baffert

M. Smith



David Bonna More than 1 year ago
mike smith should stick with bear he road sat. in derby looked like he could run all day.oaklawn & churchill surface very similiar.
Joe Rotell More than 1 year ago
optimizer should go off at about 8-1 and at 1 1/8 distance he should have plenty of time to gobble up the ground to catch secret circle & bodemeister.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Take a hard look at whoever Calvin Borel rides. His agent puts him on live mounts.
Rodney Dangerfield More than 1 year ago
Well, I don't think Calvin did to well when he tried Gulfstream this year.
st More than 1 year ago
DUI, fighting Calvin is just lucky he didnt fall completely off the radar. Calvin no longer has his choice of horses in big races and usually picks up the scraps.
mace More than 1 year ago
Baffert removing blinkers and stating that Bodemeister is the speed is a curious duplex.I think Smith is on him to try to ration his speed or even rate him especially now that all the other speed is inside of him.He lost to Creative Cause coming out of a maiden he could be the best colt of this group, and if he wins impressively will help bettors of exotics by clouding the ranking order.
daniel More than 1 year ago
I do not envision any elevens.......AT THE WIRE today.
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
If Secret Circle really does go off at 5-2, that's a heck of a price for a colt with such credentials. Four for 5 with a close second to a horse that at the time was a top Derby contender (Out of Bounds--injury took him off the trail). Did someone say that Secret Circle was entered to set the pace for his stablemate? Huh?!?! If there were such a plan, it would be the reverse. Optimizer ran the race of his career last out, and he will be overbet due to his big rally at the slightly shorter distance. SC is the class of this field. The only question is whether three straight all-out efforts this year will knock him off form.
daniel More than 1 year ago
Right on Nicolas.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I think Isnt He Clever has alot of upside. He kind of got bored on the lead last out but could put it all together here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He looked good, but he loves Sunland. I think he's 3 for 3 there. Can he do it away from Sunland?
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Trainer must think so. Im gonna use him different ways. I never play favorites. I always look for price. Creative Cause the best in there but even last was getting tired at wire. Looking for a fresh face at Oak.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Im really interested in Daddy's Knows Best. I think Leporaux has a tough decision there. Now I here Mike. Smith going to ride. Just seems to fire all the time for Asmussen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Plus having Robby Albarado is a significant upgrade, I like Ins't He Clever as well.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Optimizer was an optical illusion in last. They were slowing down up front.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
yep. He looked like he was running a lot faster than he was. They may be slowing down up front even worse Saturady though.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
New Optimizer was a sham. People didnt look at the pace. Seen a horse running when everyone else stopping. Cant believe how many didnt see that and loved Optimizer.
D More than 1 year ago
What a nice race to handicap... #11 hole and knowing Mike Smith has already said yes to Daddy Nose Best tells me to play against this horse, even though he looks like he could be a real monster down the road if he stays healthy. I must be crazy but I can't stop looking at Stat as well as Isn't He Clever this horse ran 2 weeks ago and has already posted a 59 work... with already 4 starts as a 3 year old he is a Iron horse compared to most on the Derby Trail and what can you say bad about Secret Circle this horse just Wins! I mean the way he showed he could rate last time while chasing lone speed only made me respect him even more... Oaklawn = Speed and I will be using those 4 horses in an all speed EX and TRI Box and ending a pick 3 with those 4 horses. Drill and Master Rick are the only two horse in the Northern Spur and If you think they are going to beat Alternation your crazy, take a huge Alternation/Nerho Exacta.
st More than 1 year ago
Naajar-Bodemeister-Optimizer are going to be overbet and out of the money. Am i missing something,, Secret Circle always runs well and gets no respect.
OwenJ More than 1 year ago
Secret Circle is in the Arkansas Derby to set pace. Baffert apparently wants a strong pace for his main horse Bodemeister who should win this comfortably from probably Optimizer. If I were betting, my Exacta would be $500 Bodemeister/Optimizer straight and get a good return on my investment.
akhiym james More than 1 year ago
Boy you know nothing about horse racing or betting for one secret circle is not in the to set the pace for bodemeister and two if that exacta came in u might get ur money back because it won't pay anything with favorites
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
When I was attending the Santa Anita Derby last week , I went to the Baffert stable . Honestly , there really was not much Hype Talk about the Derby there from the barn . It was more about the health of Bob and the story that took place over in Dubai and the Arkansas Derby this coming Saturday in Bodemeister . There was so much talk about Bodemeister during the Derby week-end from the Baffert stable . Some What Surprising ! The word is : B O D E ! This race really doesnt trigger me much due to the fact a very lightly raced Colt in Bodemeister making a Stand in this big of a Stage G1 Arkansas Derby . I would like to see Bodemeister for Bob and Son Bode . But from what I have seen happening A L L Y E A R , OPTIMIEZER from coming out of last years Juvenile Breeders Cup is about the only Colt that has yet to make noise in making the Graded Earnings . So it would not surprise me one bit to see OPTIMIZER show up in a big way and find himself into the Derby picture . This race just doesnt appeal to me other than those two .
stevejPS More than 1 year ago
Doug Optimizer has been slowly accumulating GSE and is already at #26 on the $ list for the Derby.You know there'll be at least 7-8 defections between now and the Derby so he can run OK and still get a place.