Is Bodemeister up to Preakness challenge?

Posted: May 19, 2012

BALTIMORE — Bodemeister ran the first quarter mile of the Kentucky Derby in a preposterous 22.32 seconds. He ran the final quarter mile over the exact same piece of Churchill Downs real estate in 27 seconds.

The dazzling winner of the Arkansas Derby ran like a quarter horse the first time through the stretch, a Clydesdale the second time. He outsprinted two really fast horses, Trinniberg and Hansen, for the early lead and really looked like a winner when he got away from the field at the top of the stretch.

That "burst" was deceiving, however. The horses that had been chasing Bodemeister were fading away so Bodemeister really looked like he was getting away. In reality, his stride was starting to fall apart from the effort that got him to the quarter pole.

Eventual Derby winner I'll Have Another, relaxed some 6 or 7 lengths off the pace that continued through a half mile in 45.39 and 6 furlongs in 1:09.80, just kept coming at about the same speed. What may have seemed like I'll Have Another flying late was actually Bodemeister slowing down, an optical illusion. The pair met up with 100 yards to go as the winner eased to the front.

Bodemeister finished second, but it was a heroic second. The horses chasing him early finished 17th, ninth, 20th and 16th.

Trainer Bob Baffert watched the race on the large video screen in the paddock with his wife Jill and their son Bode.

"That's the only time I've run second where I've been happy because he ran his race," Baffert said then.

The trainer wanted to wait a week before deciding to send the colt to Baltimore for the Preakness. First, it was announced that Trinniberg would not be going. Then, they passed with Hansen. So, Baffert after seeing the horse in the flesh on Monday at Churchill Downs and mindful that all other Derby speed was on the sideline, made the decision to enter Bodemeister in the Preakness.

"He ran an amazing race," Baffert said. "At the eighth pole, when [jockey] Mike [Smith] went to the lefthanded stick, the yellow caution light came on. He tried to fight back and he hung on for second. He was glorious in defeat."

Those Derby fractions were killers. When Baffert, recovering from a recent heart attack, saw them, he "got my nitroglycerin bottle out and started squirting."

Now, with a pace that should not be nearly as fast, another clear lead and a race that is 110 yards shorter than the Derby, Bodemeister's speed will be very dangerous. And Doug O'Neill, trainer of the Derby winner, knows it.

"I respect Bodemeister and his connections big-time, what he did in Arkansas was just wowing," O'Neill said. "And then to come back and do what he did in the Kentucky Derby was incredible . . . I think we have a colt that's good enough and versatile enough to sit closer if we have to, or just kind of play it by ear, and not let Bodemeister have everything his own way."

The big question for Bodemeister is this: Do all these races catch up to him? Remember that the colt did not make his debut until Jan. 16 and this will be his sixth race in 16 weeks, a grueling schedule by today's standards. Of course, Bodemeister could turn out to be this year's Curlin, a horse that also did not start as a 2-year-old, ran well in the Derby, won the Preakness and went to be Horse of the Year in 2007.

Baffert has won the Preakness five times. Unlike some of his brethren, he rarely shows up unless he believes he is very live.

"I've won the Preakness because I've gone over there with a horse that I knew was really doing well and was a good horse," Baffert said. "I always use the Derby as a prep for the Preakness."

And he called Pimlico "my favorite stop on the Triple Crown trail."

Baffert was concerned after the Derby because his colt ran so fast and so hard. "I was worried that he might be wiped out and just stay in the back of his stall for 3 days and sulk, but he never did," Baffert said.

Bodemeister is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. He was the 4-1 favorite in the Derby when a flood of late money appeared. I'll Have Another was 15-1 in Kentucky. The margin was 1 1/2 lengths then. Could be even closer. Will definitely be closer in the odds, but Bode has run fast more often and really does figure to be favored.

"I can see that," O'Neill said. "Bodemeister did run a huge race and coming here, the distance is going to be shorter. I could see where the handicappers would give him an edge. The great thing about our colt is that he's got enough natural speed; Bodemeister won't get an easy lead. If he's the only speed in there, I'll Have Another just won't be that far behind him. [Jockey] Mario [Gutierrez] knows this colt great and we'll just have to have a little bit different tactics."

Bode's tactics will be no secret. He is going as fast as he can as far as he can.

Jockey booted

Kent Desormeaux lost the Preakness mount on Tiger Walk because he failed a Breathalyzer test. Ramon Dominguez picked up the ride on Tiger Walk.

Send email to jerardid@phillynews.com

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