Standing outside his barn at Churchill Downs the day after the Kentucky Derby, Bob Baffert was coy when discussing his horse Bodemeister.
The question came time and again, phrased a bit differently in hopes that Baffert would let the truth tumble from his mouth.
Baffert, his eyes hidden behind his signature sunglasses, repeatedly said he wouldn't guess as to whether Bodemeister would challenge Derby winner I'll Have Another in Baltimore.
Really, he didn't need to. Baffert does not do coy well. His demeanor said it all.
On Monday, Baffert made it official and pointed Bodemeister, the Derby runner-up who set some of the fastest fractions in race history, toward Saturday's Preakness.
"He looks good, his coat is good and he is eating well," Baffert told reporters in Louisville. "I see no reason not to take him."
Baffert had returned to his California base last week, saying he would have no decision on Bodemeister until early this week. He was joined by Ahmed Zayat, owner of Zayat Stables, at Churchill Downs for Bodemeister's 1 1/2 mile gallop around a muddy track. Both were pleased with how the colt was recovered from his attention-grabbing run a little more than a week ago.
"He ran an amazing race," Baffert said. "At the eighth pole, when [jockey] Mike [Smith] went to the left-handed stick, the yellow caution light came on. He tried to fight back and he hung on for a second. He was glorious in defeat."
Now, the colt named for Baffert's 7-year-old son Bode will get another chance to win a Triple Crown race. There will be significant discussion from jockeys and other trainers at Pimlico about how Bodemeister might run this time around.
Graham Motion, who trained 2011 Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Animal Kingdom, said he thought it would be difficult for Bodemeister to bounce from such a fast pace. Baffert, who has a reputation for having an old-school approach toward pushing his horses, has opted only to gallop Bodemeister as he prepares for this weekend.
“He cooled out quickly and started to eat right after the race,” Baffert said. “I was worried that he might be wiped out and just staying the back of his stall for three days and sulk, but he never did.”
In Kentucky, Bodemeister went out to a lead and never slowed until he tired near the 16th marker. His splits — 45.39 seconds for the opening half mile (fifth-fastest in history), six furlongs in 1:09-4/5 (fourth-fastest) and a mile in 1:35.19 (fourth-fastest), according to Churchill — were dubbed, by commentators and fans watching the race unfold, too fast. Smith admitted the early pace hurt Bodemeister — it didn’t help that the colt was pushed by Trinniberg, a pure sprinter — but he still held up better than expected. None of the four horses with faster half-mile splits finished better than 13th. Only two went on to run the Preakness, with Top Avenger finishing last in 1981 and Groovy finishing sixth of seven horses in 1986.
So history, once again, weighs heavily on Bodemeister. He was trying to become the first colt to not race as a 2-year-old but go on to win the Derby since 1882.
Baffert has done well in the Preakness, winning in 1997 (Silver Charm), 1998 (Real Quiet), 2001 (Point Given), 2002 (War Emblem) and 2010 (Lookin At Lucky.) Zayat, who said he’s been awakened by dreams of the Derby, has had his horses finish second in three of the past four runnings of the Derby (Nehro in 2011, Pioneerof the Nile 2009.)
He tweeted his latest colt’s catchphrase — Go Bode Go — on Monday upon deciding to send him east. Baffert said he expects to arrive on Wednesday, the same day entries for the Preakness are due and officials will draw the race. There may only be 11 or 12 horses in the race — 14 is the maximum — and Bodemeister figures to be the morning-line favorite.
“He deserves [a shot at the Preakness,]” Baffert said. “He won the Arkansas Derby and then came back in three weeks and ran a great race. He looks good and I don’t see why he can’t run another one.”
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