02/13/2012 4:09PM

Kentucky Derby 2012: Under the Radar - Bodemeister

Benoit & Associates
Bodemeister wins his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths on Saturday at Santa Anita.

We know the most unbreakable of all Kentucky Derby “rules.” Any aspirant that failed to race at 2 need not apply for a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without the benefit of at least one race as a juvenile was Apollo in 1882, 21 years before the very first World Series was played. For the last century, it is this juvenile foundation, or so it seems, that aids a Derby prospect through the winding road to Louisville.

Recently, however, Derby “rules” have crumbled like the Walls of Jericho. Remember the Clyde Van Dusen gelding law of 1927? That went out the window in 2003 when a plucky New York-bred (the only New York-bred Derby winner) named Funny Cide altered that rule for good. Six years later, Mine That Bird scored another one for the gelded set by upsetting the Derby at astronomical odds.

What about the Regret rule of 1915? You remember, she was the Derby winner with only three prior races on her form. It took 93 years, but Big Brown matched her accomplishment by winning the roses in 2008.

How about the dreaded juvenile champion jinx? After Spectacular Bid pulled off the 2-year-old champion-Kentucky Derby double, it seemed no horse could duplicate the feat. No horse until Street Sense, the only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner in history to take down the Derby, stormed under the Twin Spires to take the 2007 running.

Barbaro won the 2006 Derby following a five-week layoff, the first horse to accomplish the feat since Needles in 1956. Last year, Animal Kingdom’s Derby win came in the colt’s first ever start on dirt.

Yes, the time’s they are a-changin’ and who better to put the greatest of all Derby hexes to bed for good than Bob Baffert? It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since Baffert’s War Emblem became the third, and most recent, Derby winner for the Hall of Fame trainer. He’s had a close call in recent years as Zayat Stables’ Pioneerof the Nile, an Empire Maker colt, finished second in the 2009 renewal. It’s safe to say that if a 3-year-old has enough ability, then Baffert can get him to the Derby.

Bodemeister may have the requisite ability to overcome his inexperience. Zayat paid $260,000 for Bodemeister (pronounced BO-dee-my-ster), also a son of Empire Maker, at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling auction. Named for Baffert’s son, Bode, the flashy bay colt made his career debut Jan. 16 in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita going 5 1/2 furlongs. Wearing blinkers and a shadow roll and breaking from the outside post in the field of 10 sophomores, Bodemeister chased gate-to-wire winner American Act from the outside through quick fractions of 21.41 seconds and 44.17. He was a bit late to make his final lead change and attempted to drift in through the final furlong, but still finished second to the pacesetter, 5 1/2 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Our Lucky Son. The ninth-place runner from the race, Immaculate, a $450,000 son of Distorted Humor and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Folklore, returned to graduate next-out with a 76 Beyer Speed Figure.

Baffert stretched Bodemeister out around two turns for his most recent start, a one-mile maiden special weight at Santa Anita on Feb. 11. On paper, the race looked open. Baffert also entered Stirred Up, a $420,000 son of Lemon Drop Kid who also placed in his January sprint debut. Steve Asmussen’s Smart Strike ridgling, Welter Weight, a $1,000,000 yearling purchase, was second-best to runaway winner Consulado going 6 1/2 furlongs in his debut Jan. 7. Fleet Eagle finished just three-quarters of a length behind next-out Grade 3 Sham Stakes winner Out of Bounds in a seven-furlong maiden special weight over the Hollywood Cushion Track on Dec. 10.

Bodemeister was sent away the tepid third choice in the wagering at 2-1 and was “a bit washy at the gate,” according to the chart caller. He was hustled from the far outside post by jockey Rafael Bejarano, and the pair cleared to the lead and the rail following an opening quarter of 23.09. Bodemeister relaxed on a clear advantage through a half in 46.95 and then, BOOM, he was gone!

On the final turn, Bodemeister opened up to lead by four, then five. Under no urging from Bejarano, Bodemeister cantered home 9 1/4 lengths in front. He finished his final quarter in 23.73, completed the eight furlongs in 1:34.45, and received a 99 Beyer.

Empire Maker, a Juddmonte Farms homebred trained by the late Bobby Frankel, was a stout performer. He never sprinted in his career and earned his big victories in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Grade 1 Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles, and the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. Empire Maker finished second to Funny Cide in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and has produced such distance-loving runners as Royal Delta, the 2011 winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at nine furlongs and the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at 1 1/4 miles.

Bodemeister’s dam, Untouched Talent (by Storm Cat), showed ability throughout her short career. Racing four times as a juvenile filly of 2006, Untouched Talent won her career debut in the five-furlong Juan Gonzalez Memorial Stakes at Pleasanton and then took the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar. She finished second in her final two races, the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante at seven furlongs and the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes, her lone start over a synthetic track, at 1 1/16 miles.

Untouched Talent is a half-sister to King Gulch, winner of the $50,000 Clever Trevor Stakes going six furlongs at Remington Park.
Bodemeister’s second dam, the A.P. Indy mare Parade Queen, preferred turf routes. She won three graded events on the lawn, including the Grade 3 Suwannee River Handicap at nine furlongs. The fourth dam was a Grade 2-placed router and sister to French Group 2 winner Beaudelaire.

Not only is Bodemeister a late starter, but he also is somewhat of a late foal. He was dropped on April 28, 2009, in Virginia. He’ll have to ration his good early speed and may need to learn to pass horses at some point on the Derby trail.

It’s hard to knock this pedigree, with stamina on the top and class on the bottom, and Bodemeister is certainly in the right hands with Baffert calling the shots. Also, Bodemeister seemed more professional in his initial route outing.

If Bodemeister wins the Derby, he’ll set the Derby “rules” on their ear and force handicappers to reconsider how they analyze America’s most prestigious horse race. He seems to have enough talent to do it. Will Baffert have enough time?