If Baffert didn’t know what the colt needed, he never would have drilled him so strongly, twice, between the enervating Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. Bodemeister’s Derby effort underscored both his trainer’s confidence and knowledge of the horse.
Looking at the 20 three-year-olds as they were led into the paddock following the long, cherished “walkover” from the Churchill barn area last Saturday, no horse looked better than Bode, not even the grand specimen Union Rags.
Bodemeister was the complete monster; a bundle of controlled energy, live and in high definition. Just fantastic looking.
Better yet, he ran to his looks and then some. But it’s the “and then some” which might leave him short of the kind of energy Baffert wants to see on his return to Kentucky before committing to the crown’s middle jewel.
While it might make trainer Doug O’Neill happy, who said on Thursday’s NTRA national conference call that he would like as easy a race as possible for Derby-winning I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister’s defection would be a tremendous blow to Preakness 137.
But if anyone has a right not to run, it would be a horse that collectively set the fastest fractions in Derby history and lived to tell the tale. The five horses that chased him through the first half-mile finished, respectively, 17th, 9th, 20th, 16th and 19th.
The Preakness already has suffered two huge losses. Earlier this week, the team surrounding Union Rags, their Triple Crown hopes dashed, decided that if they couldn’t make history they will run next for carnations, not black-eyed susans.
Not only is this too bad, but we believe it to be a mistake. Since Barbaro, it’s no secret that Michael Matz, like other successful horsemen on the “good horse circuit,” prefer ample time between starts, five to six weeks considered optimum. Matz referred to the five-week time frame even before Union Rags completely cooled out Derby night.
Union Rags is ready to run his best race right now, mostly because he was brought to a fine edge by Matz leading up to the Derby but never had a chance to show what he could do from the moment the starting gate opened.
Add the Florida Derby to that mix and he ran all-out for about five furlongs of the last 19 he was asked to travel. Unless something untoward developed physically following the Derby, he’s fresh and deserves a chance to get that big frame into stride.
Perhaps Matz could not find a suitable replacement for Julien Leparoux in Baltimore, if indeed he wanted to make a change, as was hinted recently. Union Rags needs a rider that will allow him to get into a comfortable, cruising rhythm right from the get-go.
Jerry Crawford, managing partner of Donegal Racing, announced Friday that Dullahan, winner of two career Grade 1s and a strong-rally third in the Derby will also start next in the June 9 Belmont Stakes. The press statement read:
“Dale Romans loves the way Dullahan came out of the Kentucky Derby and believes we could win the Preakness…but we believe we have a three-year-old ‘Horse of the Year’ candidate and that his future is best served by not asking him to race for the third time in just five weeks in the Preakness.”
“We also love the fact,” Crawford continued, “that the Belmont Stakes has been a stallion producer with A.P. Indy, Lemon Drop Kid, Empire Maker and Birdstone being great examples.”
So let’s see, Dullahan came out of the Derby great, Crawford’s trainer believes he could win the Preakness but, as a Horse of the Year candidate, the third jewel in the crown is more viable than the second?
Of Dullahan’s two Grade 1s, only one came this year, the Blue Grass, so if he is to become a legitimate Horse of the Year candidate, he’ll need to win at least one more Grade 1 this spring/summer, preferably, but not necessarily, another this summer/fall, and must defeat older horses at some point.
But if Dullahan can win the Preakness, why not run in a race that tactically is better suited to late runners than the Belmont? Could it be this team somehow knows that Bodemeister will be in the Pimlico starting gate and would rather not face him?
Given his recently compressed training schedule to get ready for the Derby, should Bodemeister enter and win the Preakness, don’t expect to see him run on Long Island.
Baffert has had a propensity to skip the Belmont and point toward the Haskell most of the time. He’d rather not turn horses back to nine furlongs from 12 so that the Preakness becomes the more practical tack for Bob and Bode if the colt’s sufficiently recovered from the Derby.
Sometimes, a no-race strategy is preferable to the carefully considered pre-race plan.