Bodemeister smelling roses

April, 16, 2012
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Sunday morning on the backside, and Bodemeister was standing in the same stall we found him in Saturday at the same time -- but now he's the Arkansas Derby winner, which elevates him greatly in our estimation.

The dark bay colt with the sideways blaze was bright-eyed and cold-legged and curiously greeted a few straggling well-wishers. For the moment, as far as media attention was concerned, he might as well be just another horse in just another barn on just another backside on a quiet morning. To go from maiden winner to champ of a key Grade 1 prep for the Kentucky Derby changes things, sure, but it takes a while for horses to notice that. They may be born with greatness in their veins, but picture posing and the strut of a champion and the buzz of celebrity takes a little time to build.

Bodemeister is off to a great start in that direction after his impressive 9 -length victory for Zayat Stables on Saturday, and once the Bob Baffert trainee rolls off the plane in Louisville Monday, the hype will begin.

It starts slowly, week before the week before the first Saturday in May, as photographers ship into town and video crews begin filming. By April 27, the Friday before the Oaks, out-of-town reporters will be arriving on the grounds and anticipation will be mounting and the spotlight will shine on the ones we expect to run well, horses whose prior performances indicate they're something special. This one made the grade. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

Earlier this week at Oaklawn, a television crew set up near the barn in which Baffert's runners were stabled. With right-hand man Jimmy Barnes leading up the invasion (the boss stayed at home), eventual Apple Blossom Handicap winner Plum Pretty was headed to the track. A nearby horseman complained about the camera lights, but the 2011 Kentucky Oaks victress didn't seem bothered by the attention -- in fact, she rather relished it, striding up to the oval past cameras with the poise of a supermodel. "Don't worry," Barnes told members of the media. "Our horses are TV-camera-broken."

For Bodemeister, who had been known to get a little wound up heading over to the starting gate before a race, a decision by Baffert to remove his blinkers and give the big colt a chance to settle seems to have done wonders in the afternoons. Although the way he'll handle the crowds and drama of the big day in Louisville remains to be seen, all but the highest-strung runners are able to adapt and handle the backside buzz leading up to Derby. Because the excitement builds gradually, the horses have time to acclimate, to adjust to their new roles.

In spite of all the unknowns around Derby time, one thing's for sure. If Bodemeister runs anything like he ran here when he breaks in that field of 20 runners at Churchill, the other horses will have some tough competition to beat. Lightly-raced -- the Arkansas Derby was only his fourth start -- the big bay could be peaking at just the right time.

"This is a special horse," Baffert told members of the media Saturday.

In three weeks, we'll find out just how special he really is.



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