- Last Updated: 8:46 AM, April 30, 2012
- Posted: 12:15 AM, April 30, 2012
LOUISVILLE — The 138th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, thought generally to be a fiercely tight 20-horse contest, could turn out to be a one-horse spectacular, the showcase for a budding superstar.
The horse is Bodemeister, a big regally-bred colt who demolished the Arkansas Derby by nearly 10 lengths two weeks ago in a dazzling performance that outshone every other prep race leading up to the Derby.
Six months ago, no one had even heard of Bodemeister, but this week he’s going to be the talk of the country because if speed is the name of the racing game, he towers over everything in the race.
He is likely to start favorite at 5-1 or more.
But if he is so good, how come he is at such a long price?
Because he has to beat the biggest jinx in all of horse racing. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since 1882.
Bodemeister, a slow developer with shin problems, never raced as a 2-year-old. He didn’t have his first race until Jan. 16 this year. In the past 130 years, 47 horses have tried to beat the hex. All have failed, including the great Curlin, who went on to be crowned Horse of the Year.
So Bodemeister has a difficult job ahead of him. He has had only four races and is thought to lack the seasoning required to run a mile and a quarter at breakneck pace against 19 rivals.
But if you believe in speed figures, there isn’t another horse in the Derby to compare with him. He ran up a mighty 108 Beyer speed figure in the Arkansas Derby. Nearest to him is Daddy Nose Best, with a humble 100 scored in the Sunland Derby. The rest are nowhere.
Yesterday, Bodemeister, named after trainer Bob Baffert’s 7-year-old son Bode, whipped off his final Derby work, a five-furlong burst over the muddy surface at Churchill Downs. As usual, he was something to behold.
He gave stablemate Jemima’s Pearl, a leading Oaks contender, a two-length start then dusted her off at the finish, blazing the five furlongs in 59.40 seconds, galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.1 under jockey Martin Garcia.
Baffert liked what he saw.
“The track was perfect, he got hold of it, he sat behind the other horse without being rank, he looked really good,” the trainer said.
He described this Derby in one word: “Crapshoot.”
“With 20 horses in there, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’ve come here with some good horses over the years only to see everything fall apart, so I don’t get too worked up these days.”
Understandably. Baffert was stricken with a heart attack in Dubai last month.
“I could have died there,” he said. “If it had happened on the plane going over, I would have been toast. I feel I’ve been given a second chance.”
He even has a second chance in the Derby. He plans to saddle a second horse, Liaison, who won two stakes last year but has flopped badly in three starts this year, all at Santa Anita.
“He hated the hard surface at Santa Anita,” Baffert said. “But he really likes it here. He’ll come running late.”
Liaison will have his final work this morning, which will probably decide whether he takes his place in the Derby field.
Baffert had one strong tip: “I think Creative Cause [the likely third favorite] is a really good horse. He’s legit.”
And why not? Creative Cause beat Bodemeister in the San Felipe at Santa Anita last month. Trainers are always scared of horses that have beaten theirs in earlier encounters.Follow @NYPostsports