Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister deepens Derby waters

Meticulously bred. Trained by media-savvy Bob Baffert. Was not raced as a two-year-old. Comes to this week’s Kentucky Derby after a successful splash in the waters of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Bodemeister is his name. And with Baffert as one of his cheerleaders his name will be bandied about over the television airwaves and in the media’s print right up until the bell is rung and the 20 Kentucky Derby qualifiers are loosed to run after the 2012 roses.
Bodemeister was in Hot Springs as Baffert and his bosses at Zayat Stables sought the graded stakes money being offered in the Arkansas Derby. The bay had run so few times that his earnings were too slender to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Baffert and company needed to get the lion’s share of the $1 million purse. And they needed to inject further seasoning into a horse still learning the fundamentals and nuances of what makes the two minutes of a thoroughbred race.
There was an 11-horse field in Hot Springs.
Dame fortune hadn’t brushed past Baffert. Bodemeister was way out on the outside in the 11 slot of the starting gate.
Jockey Mike Smith, the likable rider with the permanent smile ironed onto his face, was probably going to hustle to the front and set the pace if he could get his still-learning charge to agree with him.
Could Smith find the lead? Could he and Bodemeister still have any kick left for an expected stretch duel if he did get off cleanly and get over to the rail?
At the break, Bodemeister swerved abruptly to the outside, but Smith straightened his course in no time. The twosome moved quickly across the wide expanse between them and the rail. And going past the first turn, they had a clear lead. Better yet, they weren’t pressured by another horse.
Smith held his neophyte racer to a workable pace. The jockey’s judgment of the pace was perfect. Gliding along in his electric blue silks, Smith wasn’t exhausting his race-leader.
Coming into the head of the stretch, Bodemeister and Smith could hear several challengers trying to get into place for their possible attempts at shedding the others.
Was Bodemeister simply a front-running mirage who would fade back into the ruck? Or was he more? Could his crossover to the rail and pace-setting trip have sapped him of all his energy?
As he continued to fly over the fast track, Bodemeister suddenly was creating a gapping space between him and the now-faltering others.
His lead was five lengths. His lead was seven lengths. He coasted past the wire with a full nine lengths between him and the second-place finisher.
The good folks at The Spa in Hot Springs had just seen the likely pace-setter in the May 5 Kentucky Derby. And they had seen one of the trendy thoroughbreds (at least in the minds of the fashionable and self-appointed experts on Derby happenings) become a factor in pre-race conversations.
One of the questions sure to be dissected for answers will be: “Will both Bodemeister and Hansen vie for the lead? If they do, will they ramble along at such a boiling pace that neither will have anything left for the last quarter mile?”
Hansen is the white horse. Bodemeister is the still-inexperienced, quick-out-of-the-gate greenhorn who hasn’t seen everything there is to see.
Those two will be in conversations at the Barnstable twins party in Louisville. And then the qualities of Union Rags, Gemologist, and Creative Cause will be bundled with the other talk about Mediterranean cruises, grandchildren away at boarding schools, and the value of municipal bonds over stocks . . . and vice versa.
Since this is the only year Bodemeister has raced, his resume has only four entries. And in those four ventures, he has won twice to earn a middling $704,800. He was second in the San Felipe Stakes. His other non-winning race also brought a second place.
Those entertainment-industry ladies in pink hats and curve-hugging frocks at The Derby won’t bring to their conversations the diamond encrusted family tree of Bodemeister. He’s the son of Empire Maker. His grandfathers are Unbridled and Storm Cat. A look at his other relatives is the same as finding a trove of gold bullion and precious jewels on your doorstep.
Secretariat. Northern Dancer. Mr. Prospector. In Reality. Seattle Slew. Roberto. A.P. Indy. Storm Bird. Fappiano. Whoa! Impressive background of elders that produced young Bodemeister.
The reasons people place their emotions and a few bob on Derby favorites are many.
For the people in this Eastern Panhandle area and those whose homes spill over into Virginia they might base their allegiance on the fact that Bodemeister was foaled at Audley Farm in Berryville. Almost a local hero . . . from just across the state line in Clarke County.
Others cling to the words of the 59-year-old Baffert. The white mane of windblown hair. The ever-present sun glasses. The aw-shucks manners he shows the press. Bet on Baffert. Listen to Baffert.
Bodemeister is still learning. The 20-horse field in the often jumbled Kentucky Derby is not the perfect classroom for further education. Baffert has other horses in the field. He talks about them in words just as numerous.
If for no other reason than his connection to this part of the world, the new-to-the-scene Bodemeister should be at least considered by area residents.
From Berryville to Hot Springs.
From Hot Springs to Louisville.
Bodemeister will be carrying smilin’ Mike Smith. And he will be carrying the genes of past immortals including Secretariat and Northern Dancer.


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