05/02/2012 5:20PM

Kentucky Derby 2012: Baffert counting on his luck to hold

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Barbara D. Livingston
Bob Baffert sends out Bodemeister for owner Ahmed Zayat (right).

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Bob Baffert knows all about the luck of the draw. Had he still been in the air, instead of on the ground, when he suffered a heart attack in late March in Dubai, he doesn’t think he would be have been here at Churchill Downs for the post position draw on Wednesday, the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, nothing.

“He thought he was checking out,” said Baffert’s close friend, owner Bernie Schiappa.

Instead, Baffert is here, trying to complete a dramatic personal journey, from heart attack survivor to Derby winner, all in the space of five weeks. And Baffert, a three-time Derby winning trainer, is trying to pull off another remarkable feat. If Bodemeister, whom Baffert entered in this Derby along with Liaison, were to win the Derby, he would become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to capture the Derby without having made a start at age 2.

“All those records get broken,” Baffert said. “But that’s my out – 130 years.”

[KENTUCKY DERBY: Get PPs, watch analysis video, read latest updates]

Bodemeister, who comes off a runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby, on Wednesday landed post 6 when post positions were drawn for the 138th Derby on Saturday. He is the 4-1 favorite on the morning line of Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs.

Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, also has Bodemeister favored, but at a slightly higher price of 9-2.

Union Rags, a troubled third in the Florida Derby, drew post 4 and is Battaglia’s second choice at 9-2. Watchmaker has him at 5-1.

Next on Battaglia’s line are Gemologist at 6-1 and Dullahan at 8-1. Watchmaker’s third choice is Creative Cause, at 6-1, and followed by Gemologist, at 8-1.

The draw had a bit of drama. Two posts were left to be selected, 1 and 14, and one of the horses yet to have a post assigned was Hansen, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner here last fall. When the number 1 was announced for Daddy Long Legs, the connections of Hansen, most notably majority owner Dr. Kendall Hansen, reacted with delight that they avoided the rail and would start from post 14.

Liaison wound up in post 20, with I’ll Have Another just inside him.

Liaison and Went the Day Well both will add blinkers for the Derby.

[KENTUCKY DERBY WORKOUTS: Latest updates, Mike Welsch's video reports]

A total of 21 horses were entered on Wednesday morning in the Derby. The field is limited to 20 starters, with the criteria being earnings in graded stakes races. So, My Adonis, who has the least earnings of the 21, was placed on the also-eligible list, something being done at the Derby for the first time since 1983.

My Adonis can draw into the race only if any horse in the main body of the field is withdrawn by scratch time Friday morning. My Adonis arrived here on Wednesday after a van ride from Monmouth Park. Also arriving Wednesday were Daddy Long Legs, who traveled from Ireland, and Hansen, who took the short van ride from the nearby Churchill Downs Trackside training center.

The Derby is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. Post time for the Derby is listed as 6:24 p.m. The Derby will be televised live by NBC Sports, in a three-hour telecast beginning at 4 p.m. The forecast from Weather.com is for a high temperature of 86 degrees, and a 40-percent chance of scattered thunderstorms.

Of the 20 runners in the Derby, nine ran last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause were the first three across the finish, in that order. All spring, the BC Juvenile runners have admirably acquitted themselves, winning races like the Blue Grass, Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth, Gotham, San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby, Withers, and United Arab Emirates Derby.

Yet it is Bodemeister, owned by Ahmed Zayat, who has rocketed to stardom and taken the mantle of favorite in this deep, compelling Derby. He did not make his debut until Jan. 16 at Santa Anita, and finished second that day going 5 1/2 furlongs. But after stretching out around two turns, he won a maiden race, was second to Creative Cause in the San Felipe, then walloped his rivals in the Arkansas Derby, winning by 9 1/2 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 108, tops among anyone in this field.

“He’s a super-raw talent,” Baffert said.

But that undeniable talent is going up against a pretty stiff headwind. Since 1944, 56 horses have run in the Kentucky Derby without having made a start at 2. Only six finished in the money. Of the last 14 to try, only one finished in the money – Curlin, who was third to Street Sense in 2007 after winning the Arkansas Derby. Curlin went on to be a two-time Horse of the Year, but even he couldn’t end what, at the time, was a 125-year streak.

“You have to be good enough, and you have to get a chance,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, who sent out Curlin. “It’s who you’re in against, and what kind of trip you get. Street Sense had a great trip and the ability to take advantage of it. Liquidity, when he came off the rail, Street Sense got through, and he stopped Curlin. That’s going to happen to half the field this year.”

Baffert agreed.

“In a 20-horse field, it’s a rodeo,” he said. “So much of it is racing luck.”

Unlike most horses who did not race at 2, Bodemeister had a significant foundation before his debut. He had 26 workouts. Part of the reason is that Bodemeister is not a horse who will dazzle in his training, especially in his gallops. Baffert and his assistant at Hollywood Park, Mike Marlow, weren’t sure what they had until he raced.

“I didn’t take him to Del Mar last summer. I let him develop, gave him a little more time,” Baffert said. “I told Mike to take his time with him. He did.

“If you watch him gallop in the mornings, he’s quiet. He’s lazy. He’s not going to move like Union Rags. But when you start working him, whew, he’s a different animal.”

Baffert himself has undergone a change. He has lost more than 10 pounds since returning from Dubai, and has altered a diet that was not conducive to good health.

“I was a marshmallow,” he said. “I didn’t work out. I ate horribly. Look, I’m not on a P.O.W. diet. I eat chicken, fish. I don’t like fish, but I’m getting to like it.

“My pants are falling off. I might need suspenders. I’m trying on some old sports coats of mine that didn’t fit anymore.”

Baffert has begun every morning here by working out on an elliptical machine in his hotel alongside Schiappa.

“Bernie’s waiting for me in case I pass out,” Baffert, ever the jokester, said in front of several reporters earlier this week.

Later, in his barn office, Baffert was far more reflective.

“Bernie, he’s a good friend, I’m telling you,” Baffert said.

With the exception of Baffert’s wife, Jill, and son, Bode – for whom Bodemeister is named – Schiappa has been as close to Baffert as anyone through this ordeal. He was in Dubai because he is the co-owner of Game On Dude, who ran later that week in the Dubai World Cup.

“It’s kind of easy for him to laugh about it now, but it was scary,” Schiappa said. “He was scared.”

Baffert said what gave him the most terror was the thought he might not see his son, Bode, the youngest of his five children, and the only one from his second marriage, to Jill. Asked if Bode, 7, was fired up to see his namesake run, Baffert said, “Fired up is an understatement.”

“It’s a dream come true,” he said, “if we get lucky.”

Kentucky Derby (G1), Post Time: 6:24 ET

Purse: $2,000,000; 1 1/4 miles

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

Watchmaker Odds

ML Odds

1

Daddy Long Legs

A. O'Brien

C. O'Donoghue

30-1

30-1

1

Optimizer

D.W. Lukas

J. Court

50-1

50-1

1

Take Charge Indy

P. Byrne

C. Borel

15-1

15-1

1

Union Rags

M. Matz

J. Leparoux

5-1

9-2

1

Dullahan

D. Romans

K. Desormeaux

12-1

8-1

1

Bodemiester

B. Baffert

M. Smith

9-2

4-1

1

Rousing Sermon

J. Hollendorfer

J. Lezcano

50-1

50-1

1

Creative Cause

M. Harrington

J. Rosario

6-1

12-1

1

Trinniberg

B. Parboo

W. Martinez

50-1

50-1

1

Daddy Nose Best

S. Asmussen

G. Gomez

20-1

15-1

1

Alpha

K. McLaughlin

R. Maragh

15-1

15-1

1

Prospective

M. Casse

L. Contreras

50-1

30-1

1

Went The Day Well

H.G. Motion

J. Velazquez

30-1

20-1

1

Hansen

M. Maker

R. Dominguez

10-1

10-1

1

Gemologist

T. Pletcher

J. Castellano

8-1

6-1

1

El Padrino

T. Pletcher

R. Bejarano

20-1

20-1

1

Done Talking

H. Smith

S. Russell

50-1

50-1

1

Sabercat

S. Asmussen

C. Nakatani

30-1

30-1

1

I'll Have Another

D. O'Neill

M. Gutierrez

15-1

12-1

1

Liaison

B. Baffert

M. Garcia

50-1

50-1

1

My Adonis (AE)

K. Breen

E. Trujillo

50-1

50-1