Bodemeister is the morning-line favorite for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, despite the fact he’s going against 130 years of history: No horse has won the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
But trainer Bob Baffert is not stressing, not since he survived a heart attack March 26 in Dubai, where he had two horses on the World Cup program. The 59-year-old silver-haired three-time Kentucky Derby winner underwent surgery and had stents inserted in two arteries.
“Ever since it happened, I’ve changed,” Baffert said after Bodeimeister turned in an impressive workout Sunday at Churchill Downs. “I don’t get so worked up about something. still, I get excited. Sometimes I’d get overstressed. right now, I just realize that I’ve got this second chance. I could easily have died in Dubai. if it would have happened on the plane, I would have been toast.”
When Baffert made his first appearance at his barn after returning from Dubai, he joked that he “felt like a hundred bucks.”
“I’m feeling much, much better,” he said Sunday. “I’ve lost weight, and I needed to lose weight anyway. every day I get stronger and stronger. I’ve been exercising and eating well. I’ve never eaten so much fish in my life.”
Although Bodemeister didn’t make his career debut until Jan. 16, when he finished second in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita, Baffert said the colt had recorded 26 workouts. that means he might be more seasoned than other horses that ran in the Derby without racing at age 2.
There have been 56 such horses since 1944 – most of them longshots – and only Coaltown in 1948 and Strodes Creek in 1994 managed to finish second.
Curlin went off as the 5-to-1 second choice in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and finished third, then went on to win the Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic for the first of his two Horse of the Year titles.
But Curlin didn’t make his debut until Feb. 3 of his age 3 season and had only three starts prior to the Kentucky Derby – one fewer than Bodemeister, who broke his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths going a mile Feb. 11, finished a close second in the 1 1/16 -mile San Felipe Stakes on March 10 and romped by 9 1/2 lengths in the 1 1/8 -mile Arkansas Derby on April 14.
Bodemeister’s three two-turn races resulted in triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, capped by his 108 in the Arkansas Derby. Only three of his 19 opponents Saturday have as many as one Beyer of at least 100.
He may just be a freak, able to overcome his relative inexperience and, with his front-running style, the presence of horses in post positions to his outside.
“My main concern is to get him relaxed, get him into a rhythm and go from there,” jockey Mike Smith said. “His natural speed is a high-cruising speed, and I’m certainly not going to take that away from him.”
Bodemeister, who was purchased for $260,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by owner Ahmed Zayat, is named after Baffert’s 7-year-old son, Bode.
“I happened to be at the barn at Del Mar (in 2011) with Bode and his friends, and (Zayat) told me he needed some papers and was going to change the name of that horse,” Baffert said. “I told him, ‘I’ll just call him Bodemeister until the name comes out.’ I didn’t think twice about it. a month and a half later, I saw the papers on the desk and my bookkeeper said, ‘Look at this name, Bodemeister.’ I said, ‘What did he do that for?’ usually it’s a jinx if you name one for your kid. I said, ‘Well, forget that horse.’
What: First leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown
Where: Churchill Downs
When: 3:24 PDT Saturday
TV: Channel: 11 Channel: 3 Channel: 8 2 to 4 p.m.
This article appeared on page B – 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle