I've been thinking a lot about the Kentucky Derby in the thirty or so hours since the race was run. It is always an exciting event for me, but this year I was a bit lucky to catch the race as I was attending friends' Cinco de Mayo party and almost missed it as I arrived right about post time. And so I did miss the opening of the starting gates, but the television was on in time for me to start watching while they were still in the first quarter of a mile.
As I said, I'm always excited about this race and when March comes around each year, I'm searching for information about prep races the horses have done to get an idea about what horses will truly be in contention for the victory. I knew about Hansen, the horse that had won last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and then went on to win the Eclipse Award as America's top two-year old colt. I knew about Gemologist, the undefeated colt that had won the Wood Memorial . And I had also heard about a few of the other horses such as Union Rags and Take Charge Indy. But about a week or so out from when the Derby was to be run, I learned about a new horse that I had heard nothing about to this point.
And that horse was of course Bodemeister. I was on ESPN's horse racing page and I saw a link to the story about the Arkansas Derby that had taken place on April 14, a Bodemeister win by 9-1/2 lengths. I was stunned to read about this since the Arkansas Derby is considered a fairly important Kentucky Derby prep race, with the winner having a pretty good shot of qualifying for the early May race. You just don't normally see horses winning this type of race by 9-1/2 lengths. I remember back in 2008 watching Big Brown race and win the Florida Derby, another important Kentucky Derby prep race, before going on to convincing victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. I was of course impressed by Big Brown in that Florida Derby, but I was far more impressed with Bodemeister's destruction of the field in the Arkansas Derby. Bodemeister just seemed to get the job done far more easily than Big Brown, and the former's margin of victory was double that of the latter. Of course a large part of this could be attributed to the competition each faced. I have not gone back to compare the fields that the two colts faced in their final prep races. But to get to the point, I was so extremely impressed with Bodemeister that I could not wait to see what he would do in the Kentucky Derby.
Bodemeister was installed as the morning line favorite for the race, as I thought that he should be because it was truly tough to find a performance by another colt in the field that rivaled that Arkansas Derby performance. The lines changed of course, but I have read somewhere that Bodemeister remained the post time favorite. As we joined the race shortly after the start, I saw the first quarter-mile fraction: 22.32 seconds, with Bodemeister in the lead. Wow, I thought. And then he continued through a half-mile of 45.39 seconds and three quarters of a mile in 1:09.80. I was absolutely stunned seeing these times. I don't think you generally see fractions this fast at the Breeders' Cup Classic when the best horses in the world are assembled. When Bodemeister hit the three quarters mark in sub-1:10, I thought that there was no way he'd be able to hold on over the last half mile.
But Bodemeister kept pushing on, hit the mile in 1:35.19, and seemed to open up his largest lead of the race as he hit the quarter poll and started the run for home. As Bodemeister ran down the stretch, you could see that the early fast fractions were catching up to him, as the other horses in the field started catching up to him. That is, some of the other horses that did not follow closely to his torrid pace. The horses that were close to him in through the middle of the race were not so as the race came to its conclusion. And in the end, only I'll Have Another was able to pass by Bodemeister in the final sixteenth of a mile to win (2:01.83), having stayed away from the fast early pace.
I have read a few people's commentaries on the race and there are a number of them that seem to share my sentiments in being more impressed with the runner-up than the winner. Yes, it is crazy to say this, but for me it is true. The Preakness Stakes is coming up on May 19 and I more excited than I was going into Big Brown's 2008 Preakness (provided Bodemeister does go on to run, that is). Generally I'm pulling for the Kentucky Derby winner to take the Preakness so that for once in my lifetime there will be a Triple Crown winner that I remember, since I was only a few months old in 1978 when Affirmed won the last Triple Crown. But this year I've decided the Triple Crown can wait one more year. I just want to see Bodemeister do something special in these last two races.