05/10/2012 3:04PM

Hovdey: Kentucky Derby failure no success at all

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Barbara D. Livingston
Bodemeister went very fast by Kentucky Derby standards, setting the pace and winding up second.

There is plenty of evidence, both eyewitness and digital, attesting to the fact that the chestnut colt I’ll Have Another finished first in the 138th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs last weekend, finding himself clear of his 19 opponents at the end of the mile and a quarter and officially 1 1/2 lengths in front of the horse who finished second.

Yet to hear the reviews, a casual reader might be led to conclude that the runner-up deserves at least as much credit, if not more, than the winner of the race, typified by Andrew Beyer’s observation that, “To many serious racing fans, however, the most dramatic part of the Derby was the performance of the loser, Bodemeister.”

Welcome, then, to another gathering of the Cult of the Noble Loser, whose members worship a select group of valiant competitors known for gallant efforts in a lost cause (see the Confederacy, Minnesota Vikings, Susan Lucci, et al.). The patron saint of the horse racing wing of the cult is the version of Seattle Slew from the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup who battled Affirmed early and then Exceller late before losing by a dirty nose. Yes, Exceller won the race.

Admission to the Cult of the Noble Loser is not easy. A combination of qualifying factors must be in place. The candidate must have a loyal and vocal following, especially in the racing media. He must be among the betting favorites in a big-time event, if not the outright choice. And there must be extenuating circumstances, as many as possible, that he did everything in his power to overcome. A razor-thin margin also helps but is not absolutely required.

I was expecting a cult movement to arise around the marathon runner Eagle Poise last month after he was flat-out robbed of at least a dead heat at the end of the 14-furlong San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita. He seemed to have all the right things going against him – having never won on the grass, being owned in part by a racing writer – and his effort was too good to be called second-best. My only conclusion is that the Cult of the Noble Loser is still not convinced Eagle Poise lost.

Bodemeister earned cult status with a performance that was unique, and especially appealing to the testosterone-charged “all in” approach that pervades not only the culture of fun and games but the wider world as well, as in, “Yes, he’s an idiot, but at least he has the courage of his convictions.”

In the redboard wake of the Derby it was easy to second-guess Mike Smith and Bob Baffert for letting Bodemeister rock and roll on the lead, particularly since the colt had to run his first half-mile several lengths faster than he had in any of his three previous starts at a mile or more. Still, it was a liberating sight, conjuring images of past masters of the fast pace – Bayakoa, Native Diver, Gun Bow, Coaltown.

Halfway through the race a thought bubble appeared over this reporter’s head (besides “Umm, nachos.”). To these eyes, Bodemeister and Smith were doing the best imitation of Spend a Buck and Angel Cordero since their memorable Derby of 1985. Angel ran them ragged from the flag and never looked back, winning by more than five lengths. But then, Spend a Buck was a thoroughly seasoned warrior who knew exactly what to expect. He hit the three-quarters in 1:09.60 – compared with Bode’s 1:09.80 – and kept right on going.

Anyone who left the track that day thinking Spend a Buck beat a bunch of staggering bums eventually had to deal with the fact that Breeders’ Cup Classic winners Proud Truth and Skywalker finished fifth and sixth. Time will tell the tale for the Derby beaten this year as well, but only one of them, besides the winner, was quickly fitted with a pedestal.

Still, is it okay to be a little skeptical? Bodemeister went very fast by Kentucky Derby standards, although there is something to be said for the tactics of getting away from the tangle of 19 opponents as quickly as possible. He went very fast, then he got tired and he lost. He lost, by the way, to a horse who left the starting gate at the same time.

If Bodemeister gets to be part of the Cult of the Noble Loser because of his Derby, what about Rumbo, who ran the fastest final quarter in the history of the race and fell a length short of catching Genuine Risk in 1980? Or Cavonnier, who did everything right in 1996 except catch a glimpse of Grindstone out there past the middle of track and lost by the narrowest nose ever? Or Congaree, who was the only survivor of the maniacal pace in 2001, when Monarchos slingshot past them all.

Lay Congaree’s splits over Bodemeister’s and see what you get. The only difference is that Bodemeister busted loose on a pace no one was crazy enough to follow – other than the doomed Trinniberg – while Congaree was in close range of the pace, racing fifth early but hardly being rated. Bodemeister’s half was 45.39 seconds. Congaree was three lengths and a neck off a 44.86. Bodemeister was in front at the mile mark in 1:35.19. So was Congaree, in 1:35.00. At the finish Bodemeister was 1 1/2 lengths shy of I’ll Have Another’s 2:01.83, while Congaree finished third, 4 3/4 lengths behind the 1:59.97 of Monarchos, while the others on the pace crumbled.

The citing of such raw numbers drives the figure guys crazy, I know. And I will concede that such comparisons do not account for wind speed, track bias, surface condition, or signs of the common zodiac. Just saying, though, one man’s Noble Loser is another’s dead-tired runner-up who had everything his own way and couldn’t hang on. Here’s hoping that Bodemeister goes on to become this generation’s Gun Bow or better. Until then, cult or no cult, there’s another colt out there who beat him on the square.

mikey More than 1 year ago
SPEED FIGS TAKEN AT SHORTER DISTANCE than the classic 10 furlongs are TOTALLY WORTHLESS because the horses today are bred relative to fast milers.....and train also that way.... Just because Bode can get 108 or Rachel Alexandra can get 116 at 9 furlongs DOES NOT MEAN they can carry that BSF to 10 furlongs.... These horses we breed today are INFERIOR to the Grade 1 horses we bred before....yeah they are fast to mile but let them run 10 furlongs and they are like drunks trying to find the finish line....out of breath and can barely bend their knees.....
mikey More than 1 year ago
I have no idea whatever happened to the racing world....the constant fawning and hyping of these speed/sprinters has got me confused....back in the days when there were still great throughbreds, it was the ability of these great horses to win classic distance or longer that made them great, their ability to have that kick at the end of the race of a grueling race are the hallmark of a great thoroughbreds... now we have milers like Uncle Mo, Frankel and sprinters like Black Caviar getting all the hype and ink....Whatever happened to the real great horses like Phar Laps or Makybe Diva, the Foregos, John Henrys, Secretariat, Ribot, Sea The Stars, Zarkava, etc etc Just because Bodemeister has speed up to about 8.5 furlongs everybody is all going googaa over these speed horses.... Sad really.....
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
For each scorching furlong split that Bodemeister ran, he covered fewer feet than did IHA and most of the field. If IHA ran as few feet as Bode, he would have beaten him by a greater margin. Face it, Bode was the one who got the "perfect trip," ground saving-wise. Monster talent, misapplied. As for Preakness, if Bode runs and sets a sensible pace, why wouldn't IHA have an even easier time staying in contention - within striking range - than he did in the Derby? If Bode has something left in the final 3/16, why wouldn't IHA, after running softer fractions right behind him?
Anonymous 1 More than 1 year ago
Sententious twaddle. Boooooo
Tom Healy More than 1 year ago
The analysis of some races are a litmus test of whether one understands handicapping and backs that understanding up at the betting windows; or, one writes about races after the fact as a DRF columnist. This race was one of those. If you can't see That Bodemeister was the superior horse, then your best off being a columnist.
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
"The analysis of some races are a litmus test of whether one understands handicapping and backs that understanding up at the betting windows;" You have got that right. Wow that really makes it hard to back Bode for the win considering, unseasoned , runs on engine and going 1/14. Dont get me wrong , it was a valiant effort. However he was not the superior horse on 5/5. Maybe thats why handicappers suck at being columnists.
JeanK More than 1 year ago
Think the same fate awaits Bodemeister as Nehro's last year. The Preakness is the third race in five weeks. It might do the horse in for good. Give the animal a break before you break him.
AndrewD More than 1 year ago
Nine horses eclipsed the previous track record for their distance on the 2001 Derby undercard. Another horse ran 6 furlongs in 1:08 .35 and Monarchos ran a sub 2:00 mile and a quarter. Do you really want to compare Congaree's effort to Bodemeister's based on time?
MJP More than 1 year ago
Sure he does. Groupie Doll set a track record this year on Derby Day, running 7 furlongs in 1:20.4, and Congaree's final time was about 1.5 seconds faster than Bodemeister's. Congaree's was definitely a significantly better effort.
Irish More than 1 year ago
I guess it's either a feast or a famine with these folk,lol
Irish More than 1 year ago
Irish2 hours ago Re Post by David regarding Speed Figs for the Derby, David,you make a very valid point there about the "raw times". I have been questioning the BSFs for some time now and realise they are subjective and can (and sometimesdo be "upgraded" or "downgraded but the Bris figs which are Computer Generated and thus objectively (raw!) based had the winner at 108. Darn it ,I am already going back to the tradional Drf/Track varient figs.lol. As regards raw figs I always compare final times to the track or course record times and in the case of triple crown races to Secretariat's time ( 1.59 2/5 for Derby) That means IHA would have been beaten by 12 lengths which is actually not bad in the scheme of things! Maybe he has a shot at The Triple Crown after all, He certainly has a compelling Storeyline-----------Owner/Trainer/ Jockey/Jockey's Agent and that $11,000 yearling Blue Collar/Working Class Hero thing going for him! Reply 0
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
"In the beginning"... After Beyer created his Heaven on Earth he hired "a guy" at each racetrack to slide numbers in based on His scale. Lazy mans' horse-picking at best. His faithful read His book and obeyed. What the faithful get are "That Guys' "numbers that may or may not be samey-same as what He would have come up with. NOW when 'That Guy' has done a few of these he then gets lazy and sometimes tosses numbers in with hardly a glance. On a busy, busy day he may get the 'help' of someone else. Don't let that throw you off though as long as His name is on these numbers. So, Irish, what County are you from? Good Luck.
Irish More than 1 year ago
Re Post by Thomas M, Nobody but NOBODY else brought this out! (that IHA was only six lengths off the lead for the entire race,1 sec behind Bode) Re his prediction of possible triple crown------------have you seen Mark Rutherford's Post and Theory that, because of Steriods 5-6 years back, 101 Beyer today equals 109 five years ago. IMHO that Steroid use weakened the breeding ie . more muscle mass to hoof ratio and weaker stock, that and a greedy,short sighted Breeding Industry have carried limiting the # of performaces recently to 6 or less----------------they are not even making it to the Breeder's Cup recently for heaven's sake-------no more John Henry's with 39 wins (1978 thru 1984) It helped of course that he was a gelding and thus kept in racing but you get the point. I think it goes back at least to Secretariat being sent to stud at the end of his third year and the unprecedented money in breeding which ,thankfully, does not equal success. How many million dollar yearlings have won the triple crown? So,maybe the $11,000 horse has a shot! Please keep sharing,Thomas. Reply 1 reply+1 david But if the absence of steroids is supposedly responsible for "slower" horses, shouldnt we be seeing slower raw times? We really aren't. I understand that raw times may be influenced by track condition, and that the BSF is supposed to address that issue, but still, if horses were really all that slower, we should be seeing Derby times on dry tracks 1-2 seconds slower, or more. It seems that most people blindly accept the premise that lower BSFS "means" slower horses, and then they set about trying to explain why the horses are slower. But what if the premise is just flat wrong? What if horses are running times statsitically similar to what they always have, and it's really rh BSF that has undergone a downward trend, for reasons that only Beyer and his people could explain? IHA ran a fast Derby by the clock in raw terms. I suspect that the track is pretty much ALWAYS SOUPED UP on Derby Day. I think its just as likely the case that the BSF came back the way it did because they had to keep it in line with the depressed figs they gave all the Santa Anita races through the spring than that the horse is really that "slow"
Irish More than 1 year ago
Re Post by David regarding Speed Figs for the Derby, David,you make a very valid point there about the "raw times". I have been questioning the BSFs for some time now and realise they are subjective and can (and sometimesdo be "upgraded" or "downgraded but the Bris figs which are Computer Generated and thus objectively (raw!) based had the winner at 108. Darn it ,I am already going back to the tradional Drf/Track varient figs.lol. As regards raw figs I always compare final times to the track or course record times and in the case of triple crown races to Secretariat's time ( 1.59 2/5 for Derby) That means IHA would have been beaten by 12 lengths which is actually not bad in the scheme of things! Maybe he has a shot at The Triple Crown after all, He certainly has a compelling Storeyline-----------Owner/Trainer/ Jockey/Jockey's Agent and that $11,000 yearling/ Blue Collar/Working Class Hero thing going for him