Bodemeister, the 4-1 morning line favorite, seemed to run effortlessly around most of track at Churchill Downs on Saturday, opening a lead of four lengths coming out of the final turn.
He would have been trainer Bob Baffert's fourth Kentucky Derby winner. He would have invoked reverential talk of horses gone by. He would have been the next one with a true shot at ending a Triple Crown drought that has lasted since 1978.
But Bodemeister — whose name comes from a nickname for Baffert's son Bode — got tired. Baffert, who suffered a heart attack in Dubai in late March, appeared calm afterward.
"I have no complaints there," he said. "We got beat. You get beat. But he showed up and that's all a trainer can ask for is that his horse shows up on the big days, and he showed up."
Baffert shrugged off questions about Bodemeister's conditioning all week. The colt did not run last year as a 2-year old — and no horse in that situation has won the Derby in 130 years — but did cite lack of experience after the race.
Baffert had advised hall of fame jockey Mike Smith to let Bodemeister run if he wanted to, despite temperatures in the mid-80s and a fast field.
And run Bodemeister did.
"He was doing it easily," Baffert said. "He was within himself. He was being pressed, but he's a brilliant horse. That the way he wanted to run."
Smith tried to take solace in how unbelievable Bodemeister's race would be if you could just forget about that last part.
Went the Day Well found room and reserve to make a run at pace-setter Bodemeister, coming across the line fourth behind winner I'll Have Another, Bodemeister and Dulluhan.
That despite a rough ride for John Velazquez, who guided Animal Kingdom — also trained by Motion — to a Derby win last year.
"Johnny said he just had a tough trip," Motion said. "As good a trip as he got last year, he had a tough trip this year."
Done Talking, a closer, could not make his run
"When I asked him to go at the half-mile pole, I think he had gotten so much dirt, it's hard for a horse to pick up when you've gotten that much dirt, especially in a 20-horse field," 24-year-old and Derby rookie Sheldon Russell said. "I was right next to Went the Day Well when he picked it up and I just couldn't go with him."
Last year's Preakness winner won the seventh race on Kentucky Derby day, known as the Grade I Churchill Downs, for his first victory since holding off Animal Kingdom and winning at Pimlico Race Course by a half-length.
The chestnut colt trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Jesus Castanon covered seven furlongs in 1:21:06 and battled Amazombie to the end.
"He gave me a heck of a move right from the gate," Castanon said. "I sat right off them, and when I asked him to pick it up, he was game. The horse on the outside [Amazombie] came up on top of me and my horse fought back. You couldn't ask for better."
Shackleford led down the stretch in last year's Derby but could not hold off Animal Kingdom. His win in the Preakness was the first in a Triple Crown race for Louisville native Romans, who trains at Churchill Downs.
"This is special, I tell you," Romans said. "He's the big horse in our barn. … He deserves to be back in the winner's circle. It feels great. Every race, he tries so hard."
No early running
Despite heavy rains overnight, the dirt track at Churchill Downs was upgraded to "fast" after the early races.
But the sloppy conditions did force training to be canceled, meaning the Derby horses had no chance to see the track before the race. Trainers have different philosophies on this — as they do for pretty much everything — but Graham Motion, who won the race with Animal Kingdom last year, had hoped he'd have a chance to take Went the Day Well to the track.
"At this point in the week," he said early Friday, "everybody just has so much pent-up energy. There's so much anticipation. You're building until the race. I'd prefer to get the horse out there, let him run it out a bit."
A wild card
Daddy Long Legs didn't so much as put a hoof on the dirt track until Friday morning. The Irish colt didn't arrive from Europe until Wednesday and was quarantined for 48 hours.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien, one of the most successful in the world, did not accompany his horse. He was in England, where he was scheduled to saddle the favorite in the 2000 Guineas (last year that race was held on a different weekend and O'Brien was able to come to the Derby to saddle Master of Hounds).
But that didn't mean that Daddy Long Legs, who finished 12th out of 13 horses at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, lacked ability.
"We try to better it all the time," said T.J.Comerford, O'Brien's lead assistant. "A lot of hard work goes into putting the horse here today. He's been trained for this, and Aidan is a big fan of him. He's not here for the good of his health."
Daddy Long Legs won the UAE Derby in Dubai but started from the No. 1 post position Saturday, which hasn't produced a winner since Ferdinand in 1986.
"You don't need to be Einstein to know that it's not a good draw," Comerford said. "At the same time, if you weren't here, you'd probably be regretting it after what you've seen with him [Friday] morning."
As usual, many celebrities made their way to the Derby. A small sampling of those spotted included: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, the star of Kentucky's national championship team and likely No. 1 pick in the NBA draft Anthony Davis, and Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. … Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith reflected on how important the Derby is for jockeys, who work so closely together and then must compete. "It's really every man for himself," he said. "I'm surprised there haven't been more accidents in the Derby."