04/16/2012 3:08PM

Kentucky Derby: Bodemeister jumps into spotlight

Christopher Coady/Coady Phoitography
Bodemeister (right) runs away from his Arkansas Derby rivals.

Bodemeister has come a long ways in his short career, from an unstarted maiden a little more than three months ago to the possible favorite for the Kentucky Derby following his overpowering victory in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday.

Bodemeister needed a big payday on Saturday, and he got it, banking $600,000 to take away any worry about him making the field because of insufficient earnings. He had just $60,000 going into the race.

On Monday, he along with stablemate Secret Circle and Sabercat, the second- and third-place finishers in the Arkansas Derby, made their way to Louisville, where the countdown has begun in earnest for the May 5 Derby.

Awaiting the Arkansas travelers are Dullahan and Hansen, who ran one-two on Saturday at Keeneland in the Blue Grass.

Bodemeister received a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 for the Arkansas Derby, 10 points higher than the Beyer given to Dullahan on the synthetic surface at Keeneland.

Bodemeister was ridden for the first time by Mike Smith, who will retain the mount for the Derby, according to trainer Bob Baffert. Smith also had been in line to ride Daddy Nose Best, the Sunland Derby winner, in the Kentucky Derby. That mount goes to Garrett Gomez.

The formful results of those stakes races were good news to those in danger of missing the cut for the Derby based on graded earnings. A maximum of 20 horses can run in the race, and if more than 20 are entered, the field is determined by earnings in graded stakes races. Bodemeister was the only horse to leapfrog into the top 20; Secret Circle, Sabercat, Dullahan, and Hansen already were well up the chart.

Also Monday, Richard Henry for Coolmore Stud – whose principals, John Magnier and Michael Tabor, own Wrote – confirmed that Wrote is no longer under consideration for the Derby. He was sixth on the earnings list with $756,630.

Daddy Long Legs, who beat stablemate Wrote in the United Arab Emirates Derby, is still planning on running in the Derby for trainer Aidan O’Brien, according to Henry.

Louisiana Derby winner Hero of Order, who ran last of 13 in the Blue Grass, is 11th on the earnings list, but he needs to be supplemented to the Derby, and supplemental entries cannot knock out horses originally nominated to the Derby. That’s more good news for bubble horses.

But wait, there’s more. The connections of Trinniberg, currently 17th on the earnings list, have said they are leaning against running in the Derby.

So, with Wrote out and Hero of Order basically a non-factor in terms of earnings, Rousing Sermon and Mark Valeski are safely in the field. If Trinniberg defects, that brings in El Padrino.

The horse who would then be on the bubble is Reveron, the Florida Derby runner-up. He had been under consideration for the Lexington Stakes this Saturday at Keeneland, but with his chances of making the Derby field improving, his connections on Monday said they would bypass the Lexington and await the Derby, believing that gives Reveron his best chance to perform well in the Derby. He currently has $220,000 in earnings.

For weeks, it appeared the most likely Derby favorite would be Union Rags, but his troubled third-place finish in the Florida Derby, combined with rapid ascension of Bodemeister, has thrown that into doubt. Regardless, the Derby favorite probably will be in the 9-2 or 5-1 range, owing to the quality and depth of this 3-year-old crop, whose leading members also include such accomplished runners as Alpha, Creative Cause, Dullahan, Gemologist, Hansen, I’ll Have Another, and Take Charge Indy. This Derby is shaping up as one of the best in years.

Bodemeister has proven to be the fastest of his generation this spring, with Beyer Speed Figures of 101 or more in three straight races, and is the new No. 1 in the 3-year-old division of Mike Watchmaker's weekly rankings published by Daily Racing Form. He showed far more maturity in the Arkansas Derby, his fourth lifetime start, than in the San Felipe Stakes, his previous start.

Bodemeister was on edge in the paddock for the San Felipe, yet still ran a strong race, finishing second to the highly regarded Creative Cause despite being keen the early part of the race. On Saturday, Bodemeister was much calmer before the race, and, competing without blinkers for the first time, he was relaxed while on the lead.

But Bodemeister will be bucking 130 years of history. He will be attempting to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having made a start at age 2.

“He got behind in his training, which is the way it can be with young horses,” said Baffert assistant Jim Barnes, who saddled Bodemeister for the Arkansas Derby. “But he came around. The good ones do that. He had shins, nothing major. You can’t push them. You have to take your time and let them develop and come around.”

Baffert has had a tremendous run of luck at Oaklawn, winning 13 of the last 18 races in which he has had a runner there. Included in that streak this year was a sweep of the major stakes for 3-year-olds. He won divisions of the Southwest Stakes with Secret Circle and Castaway, and won the Rebel with Secret Circle, before the one-two finish by Bodemeister and Secret Circle in the Arkansas Derby.

“I like Oaklawn Park,” Baffert said. “The surface is kind. My horses come out of there in really good shape.”

– additional reporting by Marty McGee and Mike Welsch