PR Special: Bode Miller goes for gold in racing, too

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Olympic champion Bode Miller Olympic champion Bode Miller

The following feature was originally published in the Paulick Report Special, our print edition distributed at major Thoroughbred auctions


Bob Baffert and wife Jill had never met gold medal Olympic skier Bode Miller when they had a son and decided to give him the unusual name of Bode.

The Hall of Fame trainer, who likes to ski whenever the opportunity presents itself, said he came to admire the “all-out” style the two-time World Cup champion employed while becoming the most successful American male alpine ski racer of all time.

Bode Baffert’s name and his father’s high-profile position in the Thoroughbred racing world eventually brought the Olympic skier and Hall of Fame trainer together, meeting for the first time at the 2005 Kentucky Derby, and they became fast friends. When the winter Olympics were at Vancouver, Canada, in 2010, the Baffert family headed north to cheer on Miller, who won three medals: a gold in the super-combined, silver in the super-G, and bronze in the downhill. Miller’s five lifetime Olympic medals put him in a tie for second on the all-time men’s list, behind Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway, with eight.

It wasn’t that surprising that Miller and Baffert met at the Kentucky Derby. By his own count, Miller has been to the Derby 10 times, having learned about horseracing from his grandfather. Baffert has hardly missed a Derby since his first starter in the race, Cavonnier, finished second, beaten a nose in 1996. He’s won the Run for the Roses three times, and had two seconds and two thirds going into the 2012 running.

Baffert’s big 2012 hope rested on the muscular shoulders of Bodemeister, an Empire Maker colt owner Ahmed Zayat named after Baffert’s son. Indirectly, then, the big colt was named after the skier.

Bodemeister, according to Miller ran “balls out,” just like he skied, and he placed a healthy wager on the colt at the windows. Bodemeister led until the final few strides of the mile and a quarter classic, losing to I’ll Have Another, who went on to win the Preakness with the exact same tactics.  

Miller and his girlfriend (they’ve since married) joined the Bafferts at the Preakness, but didn’t let Bodemeister’s second defeat at the hands of I’ll Have Another get him down.

He asked Baffert if he could tag along with him to look at some of the 2-year-olds in training at nearby Timonium that would be sold by Fasig-Tipton following the Preakness. Miller indicated he might want to buy a horse, or at least get into a partnership.

“He got the DVD for the workouts, looked at every one of them, and called me with some ideas about the ones he liked,” Baffert said.

Miller ended up going partners with Jill Baffert on a colt by Any Given Saturday consigned by pinhooker Eddie Woods. The hammer price was $55,000 on Miller’s first Thoroughbred acquisition.

Baffert didn’t want Miller’s hopes running too high, so he warned him that the colt, subsequently named Carving, would probably race for a claiming tag when he debuted. That came in an $80,000 maiden claiming race at Del Mar on Aug. 23. Carving won by 1 3/4 lengths and Miller starting dreaming of his own Derby.

Less than three weeks later, Carving jumped into a minor stakes race at Fairplex Park, the C.B. Afflerbaugh, and Miller thought this one would be just as easy as his debut. Again, Baffert, tried to temper his enthusiasm. “Those were his friends he raced against last time,” Baffert said, a reference that all of the horses in his debut were entered to be claimed. “This could be a little tougher.”

But Carving won again, this time by 3 1/2 lengths, giving Baffert enough encouragement to try him in graded stakes competition next time out. In that race, Carving held his own, finishing fourth behind stablemate Power Broker in the Grade 1 Frontrunner at Santa Anita. He didn’t enter the Breeders’ Cup but is training forwardly for his next “all out” run.

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  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    “BALLS OUT” BABY!!!…Gotta Love It!!!…

  • Ida Lee

    I prefer the horse “Bode” to the human Bode.  The horse never went out partying before a major competition and always showed up and did his best. By the way, does anyone know if Miller has grown up to be an adult yet.  Just asking…

  • Rothgar

    Probably showing my age, but does anyone else remember when NY Jets QB Broadway Joe Namath “Guaranteed” a win the night before the AFL Jets took on the unbeaten Baltimore Colts ,[with Johnny Unitas], in the Super Bowl….. with a bottle of Scotch and a beautiful girl in each hand? The Jets won, 16-7.
    Great athletes, especially those who go “balls out”, rarely go to bed early (and sometimes not alone :-)

  • Ida Lee

    Showing my age too, I remember Joe Namath very well as I lived in NYC at the time.  Everyone loved Joe, great athlete, handsome as hell, and drop-dead gorgeous eyes, though bloodshot most of the time.  That was a most exciting time in NY what with the Jets and, of course, the Miracle Mets. Having said that, even as a teenager, I knew that he was not much of a role model. And for the record, as we all know, Joe has not aged well and has had a rough life with alcoholism and other issues.  And I do not believe for one second that great athletes spend their time before a competition partying. There may be some but I do not believe that is the norm.  

  • Drsmoke

    Say what you want about Miller, fact remains he is the greatest skier this country ever produced and pure genius on snow. He changed how skiers race. He has won major races in every skiing discipline on all sorts courses. Yes, he has many flaws but his talent is undeniable. Could he have done even more with that talent, probably but then you don’t know. Part of his success was his his willingness to be unconventional whether by design or nature. If he doesn’t have that side of him, maybe he doesn’t accomplish what he did.

  • nu-fan

    Ida Lee:  Yes, Broadway Joe was (and, still is) great.  The fans loved him.  Saw him, recently, on some television show.  His body (knees and other joints) took a real beating in his playing years and it is all too evident now by the way he walks and carries himself.  But, those of us who remember him will always have that special spot that few of the current players will have, regardless of their talent.  Joe Namath was always larger than life!  By the way, the couple of pro athletes that I have known did not party before a game but after the game…. 

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