04/14/2012 7:03PM

Arkansas Derby: Bodemeister romps; heads to Kentucky Derby as major player

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Coady Photography/Christopher Coady
Bodemeister pulls away in the stretch run of the Arkansas Derby.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Though he was the least-experienced horse in the race, the sheer, raw talent of Bodemeister was too much for his rivals on Saturday in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, as Bodemeister romped to a dazzling, 9 1/2-length victory, firmly placing himself among the elite contenders for the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

Secret Circle, like Bodemeister trained by Bob Baffert, held on for second, a neck in front of Sabercat, whose trainer, Steve Asmussen, and jockey, Corey Nakatani, combined for five wins earlier on the card.

Cozzetti was fourth and was followed, in order, by Atigun, Stat, Najjaar, Isn’t He Clever, Optimizer, Jake Mo, and Raconteur in the field of 11.

Bodemeister, under jockey Mike Smith, was timed in 1:48.71 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track.

Most importantly, the $600,000 first prize easily put Bodemeister among the top 20 for earnings for the Kentucky Derby. He had just $60,000 going into the race, and was in danger of not making the Derby field if he did not win.

“I just wanted to get this one out of the way,” Baffert said via telephone from California. “The main concern was to win the race.”

The Arkansas Derby was only the fourth career start for Bodemeister, and he had won just once previously. But his second-place finish in last month’s San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita against the highly regarded Creative Cause was illustrative of his ability, and he improved markedly off that effort in the Arkansas Derby. He was favored at 2-1, and paid $6.80.

“That was an exciting win. So impressive,” said Baffert, who trains Bodemeister for the Zayat Stables of Ahmed Zayat, who named Bodemeister for Baffert’s son, Bode, 7. “When he broke his maiden, he ran a race like that, and he had been working really well, too, at Santa Anita.”

Once again, Baffert dispatched his top assistant, Jim Barnes, to Oaklawn Park. Barnes had traveled here twice previously this meet for 3-year-old stakes, and had come away with victories by Secret Circle and Castaway in divisions of the Southwest Stakes, and Secret Circle in the Rebel.

Barnes, who has worked for Baffert for a dozen years, has been even more instrumental in recent weeks, overseeing training at Santa Anita while Baffert was in Dubai, where he suffered a heart attack.

“Jimmy Barnes does a great job,” Baffert said. “He knows the routine.”

Bodemeister will head straight to Churchill Downs from here on Monday, and he will do so trying to become the first horse to win the Derby without having started at 2 since Apollo in 1882. Bodemeister did not make his first start until Jan. 16.

“That’ll be our excuse if we get beat,” Baffert said. “He’s a legitimate contender. I was really impressed myself. We were hoping he’d do something like that.”

Who will ride him is a question. There was a report earlier in the week that Smith had committed to Daddy Nose Best, the Sunland Derby winner, for the Kentucky Derby, but he artfully dodged the subject after the race.

"I'm just going to enjoy it and we'll see," Smith said. "We all know how much things can change this time of year before the Derby."

“I’ll run out of money before I run out of jockeys for that horse,” Baffert said.

Although Bodemeister broke to the right from his outside post in the Arkansas Derby, he quickly was righted by Smith and sped to the lead. He set fractions of 23.05 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.55 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:11.36 for six furlongs. By that point, he was starting to pull away from the field.

Secret Circle gave futile chase, but bravely held off the late-running Sabercat for second.

The first three from the Arkansas Derby all have plenty of graded cash and are all expected to run in the Kentucky Derby.

Bodemeister is by Empire Maker, the son of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled who won the 2003 Belmont Stakes after finishing second in that year’s Derby to Funny Cide.

“He ran hard, he ran fast, and the distance won’t be a problem,” Baffert said of Bodemeister. “That was a mile and an eighth workout for him.”

RG More than 1 year ago
I think there is going to be a very big surprise in this Derby. I expect "Optimizer" to be in the winners circle at this years Derby. No, I am not a "LUCAS" fan by any reach of imagination. Good luck to all in this years Derby From Richard Gifford, Jr. - Producer of EQUIPIK COMPREHENSIVE HANDICAPPING COURSE. I am a "Lucas" fan this time around... Kentucky Derby 2012
kenneth More than 1 year ago
Take a close look at all the dirt races run on March 31st., Florida Derby day. The 6F splits, the relative position of runners in those races, and then look at the Florida Derby itself, and you will have your Kentucky Derby winner. That day, that track, that race, that horse. Union Rags will own the first Saturday in May.
S. Jamal More than 1 year ago
Okay Players, I picked the Derby last year and Hansen in the BC, I have tripped every prep race for this year and it will take more than a perfect trip to beat Hansen in the Derby. He will rate probably off Bodi if he runs and wait for the big three to come late, Union Rags, Creative Cause, and Dullahan. They will have to go early and will be to spent when the sprinting starts.... ITS HANSEN ,,, CHAMPION HANSEN.!!!!! Bodi is not quick enough to hurt Hansen, He will only make for a better shot at winning, look for a slow pace, the best sprinter WINS!!! Hasen
Cate Swan-Costanzo More than 1 year ago
Hansen to win ! Bodemeister beat a WEAK field and the people are jumping allover him. Good for us ...10-1 on Hansen !!
Bob McConnell More than 1 year ago
He's good, but take a look ah how Creative Cause ran him down in the San Felipe; that might put things in perspective.
Dave More than 1 year ago
Baffert said that the race was like a workout at 1 1/8 miles...The one to beat just from watching the races. Named after his son....lightly raced...Get on board!
Craig Trapp More than 1 year ago
wow, think we have potential triple crown winner. One worry is can he rate which think he might need to do in belmont.
st More than 1 year ago
Bellamy Road, Dunkirk, High Limit, Bodemesiter
jim More than 1 year ago
Bodes just learning how to run, watch what happens next, he'll bounce into the Churchill Downs winners circle with a 7 year old bode
Mike Painter More than 1 year ago
The one thing that you have to figure is there is so much speed in this years derby and the chances of any one up front winning just not likely. The winner will be a stalker sitting right behind the front 6 fighting for the lead
DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
You would think an Empire Maker pedigree would say he can stay the distance at 10f. The way he won this was impressive. The way things are these days, I have pretty much tossed out the old axioms. That said there is no Triple in this bunch. Bode may win the Derby, but I can't see him holding together for three races in six weeks after having only raced so lightly to date. Amazing and sad how the breed has become so fragile. What did Affirmed have as his pre TC prep, at least three, probably 4, races and two at 9F. If they did anything at all with the triple, make it for 4YOs. Give the horses time to be ready, keep them in the public eye a bit longer and maybe a fan base will start to form again.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Beyer, Beyer, Beyer, That's ALL you EVER hear. How in the WORLD did all of us OLDER Player's EVER Bet a HORSE race without the "BEYER NUMBERS" This is ONE of the BIGGEST JOKES in this industry....Bet the Horse with the HIGHEST BEYER and GO BROKE, that's SOME system, I think I'll sell it to the People at Daily Racing form.Give ANDY credit for SELLING the BROOKLYN BRIDGE.................