Zayat Stables Bodemeister absolutely crushed his 10 3-year-old rivals in the G1 Arkansas Derby on the closing day program at Oaklawn Park Saturday, winning by 9 1/2 lengths in the nine-furlong prep for the Kentucky Derby. Under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, the Empire Maker colt broke well from the outside post, cruised up alongside Todd Pletcher-trained Stat before reaching the first turn, seized the advantage and set all the fractions thereafter, drawing off down the stretch with ease. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's second runner in the $1-million race, Secret Circle (winner of the Southwest Stakes and Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park earlier in the meeting), finished second, with Sabercat third. Time of the race on a fast track was 1:48.71.
Bodemeister set fast fractions of :23.02, :46.55, 1:11.36 and 1:36.74 en route to his final clocking.
Bodemeister, bred in Virginia by Audley Farm, was produced from the Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent. He was sold by the Seitz family's Brookdale Farm, agent for Audley Farm, at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale to Zayat for $260,000. The colt didn't debut until this Jan. 16 when finishing second in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita, then came back to air by 9 1/4 lengths going a mile at Santa Anita Feb. 11. He jumped from the maiden win to the G2 San Felipe Stakes on month later, dueling on the lead throughout before just getting beat in the final sixteenth of a mile by Creative Cause, who came back to get beat a nose by I'll Have Another in the G1 Santa Anita Derby.
Bodemeister needed a big race in the Arkansas Derby to qualify on the Graded Stakes earnings list that ranks the order of preference for Kentucky Derby starters. His only graded stakes earnings, $60,000 won in the San Felipe, had him far short of what he would need, but with his $600,000 paycheck in the Arkansas Derby is guaranteed a spot.
For owner Ahmed Zayat, Bodemeister could be his second horse to arrive at Churchill Downs as the Kentucky Derby favorite. Two years ago, his Giant's Causeway colt Eskendereya came to the Louisville track as the favorite off a powerful victory in the Wood Memorial for trainer Todd Pletcher. But one week before the Derby he was scratched with a soft tissue injury and never raced again. Zayat has twice run second in the Kentucky Derby. In 2011, Nehro was runner-up to Animal Kingdom after narrowly missing in the Arkansas Derby. In 2009, Pioneerof the Nile finished second for Zayat behind Mine That Bird.
Baffert, who was winning his first Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister, did not travel to Oaklawn Park while still recovering from a heart attack and surgery conducted in Dubai last month. He has been dominant at the Oaklawn meeting, with wins in both divisions of the Southwest Stakes (Castaway and Secret Circle), the Rebel (Secret Circle), the Fantasy (Mamma Kimbo, with Jemima's Pearl third), and the Apple Blossom (Plum Pretty). Bodemeister was named by Zayat after Baffert and wife Jill's young son, Bode. (He was originally named Braddlebarru after Brad Weisbord, who at the time was working for Zayat.)
Smith, in the aftermath of the Arkansas Derby win, was asked by Jay Privman on the CNBC telecast of the race whether it was true he had made a commitment for the Kentucky Derby to ride Sunland Derby winner Daddy Nose Best for Steve Asmussen. Smith didn't answer directly, but Gary Stevens on the same telecast said that this is the time of year when jockeys tend to get married and divorced from horses in short order. Asmussen trained Nehro last year for Zayat.
Rafael Bejarano, who rode Bodemeister in his three previous starts, was aboard Secret Circle (who he'd ridden in every one of his six previous starts) in the Arkansas Derby. Smith indicated he was filling in for Bejarano and might not have the opportunity to ride Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby.
Quotes from Oaklawn Park media office
Winning trainer Bob Baffert, Bodemeister:
“The key to this horse is keeping him quiet in the post parade. He got really hot in his last race. It's exciting to see a young horse develop like this. Secret Circle ran a great race too. He's shipped in there three times and ran hard each time. That's pretty impressive.”
“I told both riders that I didn't care what they did as long as they ran one-two. I let them each run their own race. Bodemeister really ran huge. It's a great feeling to run one-two in a million dollar race.”
“We'll see what this took out of them and then we'll start talking (Kentucky) Derby. Oaklawn is a very kind surface and the horses have been coming back great. Bodemeister should be in great shape. He ran hard and fast. We know distance won't be a problem.”
“We took some really nice horses there. They all ran well and had been training well. I have a great staff and (assistant trainer) Jimmy Barnes does a great job.”
Assistant Trainer Jimmy Barnes (Bodemeister 1st and Secret Circle 2nd )
Barnes on Bodemeister: “What a race. That was sweet. We knew he was good, didn't know quite how good but he moved up a lot after his last race. We are very happy.”
Barnes on second place finisher Secret Circle: “It was a one-two finish, it was awesome. We were not surprised of the finish, it was how we were supposed to run – one –two.”
Winning Jockey Mike Smith, Bodemeister
“IT was extremely impressive. You could see it as well as I could feel it. I had been watching him work, watching him run. I had seen his last two works and I was very impressed. He was ultra impressive. That was eighth was something. I was looking around about a length or so in front of the other horse and I set him down just in case someone was going to be coming, but then I looked up at the big TV board and I was like, whoa…I was like seven in front. I'm just going to enjoy this right now. I don't even know if I'm going to get to ride this horse back, because I was really just kind of filling in. I'm just going to enjoy it and we'll see. We all know how much things can change this time of year before the Derby.”\
Second-place Jockey Rafael Bejarano, Secret Circle
“He tried hard, he ran good, he broke beautiful, he tried so hard. The other horse was just much the best, you know? He's going to be good. He was relaxing, he made a good run. He got a little tired in the end.”
Trainer Steve Assmussen, third with Sabercat:
“I was very pleased with it. It was encouraging. It was the step in the right direction we were expecting and looking for – the move forward we needed. It looked like a very good experience for him. We needed to see improvement and at this time of year, that's the important thing in each start. The winner ran an incredible race. To think he ran so much faster than the Oaklawn Handicap went just 30 minutes earlier, that gives you an idea of what he did today.
Corey Nakatani (Sabercat 3rd) “Bodemeister is tough. He is a very, very nice horse he deserved to win today because he outran everybody. Saberacat put his heart out there and ran a big race and this is his second race after a little lay-off so he moved forward the way we wanted him to, except for not winning the race, but I think going forward to the next race, the Kentucky Derby he'll be spot on.”
“I just go out there and try to give every horse chance to win. Sometimes it doesn't pan out like the way the race shook for Nehro. They just crawled along out there and he never got comfortable. But in the big race, take nothing from Bodemeister, but my horse moved forward like we hoped and hopefully we can move forward a little more going to the next one. I think I definitely would have been second if it wasn't for Secret Circle weaving around. I had to dive inside him and that cost me a little bit of momentum, but hopefully he did enough to get third and hopefully Steve (Asmussen) was pleased with it.”
Jose Lezcano (Cozzetti, 4th) “My horse ran a good race. I thought we might close some ground and then we might become a threat late, but the winner kept on running.”
Jon Court (Optimizer, 9th) “A little rough leaving the gate, but my horse settled and got position. In the late going, I didn't have as much horse as I hoped and couldn't make up much ground.”
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