After arriving at Pimlico Race Course on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s 144th Preakness, trainer Gustavo Delgado chalked up a 13th-place finish for Bodexpress in the Kentucky Derby to bad luck.
“The race was very, very crazy,” Delgado said about what transpired at Churchill Downs, when apparent winner Maximum Security became the first horse in Derby history to be disqualified, in this case for impeding several other horses.
Things got crazier for Bodexpress in Baltimore.
Starting in the No. 9 pole position, Bodexpress appeared to buck just as the gate was about to open, throwing Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the process. The 20-1 shot ran the entire race — and more — before eventually being corralled by an outrider.
“He wasn’t behaving well in the gate,” said Velazquez, who was riding Bodexpress for the first time. “He got me against the wall. Obviously when the doors opened … I lost my balance and went off. I’m disappointed.”
The sight of a riderless horse in any race is unnerving, but that it happened in the middle leg of this year’s Triple Crown series made it especially unusual. Bob Baffert, who trained Bodexpress’ sire, Bodemeister, said it was “rare” to see in a classic race.
Baffert, who was looking to to break the record of seven Preakness victories since tying R. Wyndham Walden with Justify’s win a year ago, said his horse — morning-line favorite Improbable — might have unnerved Bodexpress in the starting gate.
“Everything was good and my horse acted up,” Baffert said. “My horse caused all the problems.”
Baffert didn’t think Bodexpress impacted his horse, which finished a disappointing sixth, or any others in contention. In accordance with racing rules, Bodexpress was automatically disqualified after throwing his rider.
“The only thing that would have been affected was he was going to be on the pack. … Maybe it would have been a faster pace,” Baffert said. “Luckily he stayed out of the way. He affected probably the horses that were behind him. The first flight weren’t affected.
Brad Cox, whose first Triple Crown race as a trainer saw his two horses, Owendale and Warrior’s Charge, finish third and fourth, respectively, said he was a little unsettled as he watched Bodexpress continue to race without Velazquez.
“Maybe a little bit,” Cox said. “When he was turning up the backside, he was running with ’em. I thought, ‘Man, he might get in Owendale’s way or come down on him.’ They’re pack animals, so they like being around each other.”
Cox said he asked Owendale’s jockey, Florent Geroux, whether their horse was affected.
“He never did see the horse,” Cox said.
Even after the other 12 horses finished the 1 3/16-mile race and were eventually brought to a trot, Bodexpress kept running. At one point, Bodexpress was running back toward the finish line like a car speeding against the flow of traffic.
Outrider Kaymarie Kreidel had one thought in mind as she weaved her own horse through human and equine traffic on the track. Asked what she was thinking, the 47-year-old former Maryland-based jockey said, “He’s mine. That horse is mine.”
Bodexpress had other ideas.
“I thought I was gonna be able to get him while I was standing still before he turned around into the crowd of horses, and as soon as I started reaching for him, he saw me reaching, and he took off, and I was like, ‘Got no choice, I gotta make a bid,’ ” she said.
Kreidel, who raced professionally from ages 19 through 35, said she was hoping to prevent an accident with the potential of a tragic ending. Kreidel said when a racehorse is without its rider, “It’s kind of like a light switch turns off and they don’t think about anything but running free and wild.”
“Our job is when that happens, we’re out there to catch the horse because a loose horse can cause other loose horses and cause accidents,” she said. “So when I got him, I had to weave in between because that horse could’ve crashed into other horses or could’ve run somebody over.”
Kreidel said what happened Saturday brought back similar emotions to when she was riding.
“You kind of get a little excited when the lights first come on because you know what’s going on, but then once you get into it, it’s just like when I rode races: You’re focused,” she said. “Your job is that job, and that’s all you think about is that job, like a jock. Your job is to win the race. My job is to catch that horse.”
Velazquez said he was not injured.
As for Bodexpress, Kreidel said the horse seemed unscathed, too.
“He was playing games,” she said.