Bodemeister very well may be the best 3-year-old around, but that doesn't mean he's going to win the Kentucky Derby. This is the one race where it's about more than talent. Preparation and foundation are major factors, and in those two areas Bodemeister has shortcomings he may not be able to overcome.
Over the years, one "Derby Rule" after another has fallen. It used to be that a horse had to have a prep within four weeks of the race. No more. It used to be that a horse had to have at least four prior starts to win. Big Brown took care of that one. Then there was the Dosage Index, a theory that looked into a horse's pedigree and eliminated horses based on a numerical formula. It's not something anyone even talks about any more.
It used to be that a horse had to have at least four prior starts to win. Big Brown took care of that one.
The only "Derby Rule" that has withstood the test of time is the one about 2-year-old starts. The last time a horse won the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 was way back in 1882.
It's hard to imagine that's a coincidence. The Derby is unlike any other American horse race in that it is something where only the strong survive. To get to be that tough a horse needs to be battle tested. It appears that when they don't race at two there is an intangible that is missing that puts them at a disadvantage come Derby Day.
Bodemeister didn't make his career debut until January 16 when he finished second in a 5 ½ furlong maiden race. He's done little wrong since. He broke his maiden by 9 ½ lengths, finished second in the San Felipe and then ran a remarkable race when winning the Arkansas Derby by 9 ½ lengths over stablemate Secret Circle. In a year where there have been a bunch of impressive wins in Derby preps, his Arkansas Derby stood out as the performance of the year.
Actually, we've seen Bodemeister before, and his name was Curlin.
Curlin did not begin his career until Feb. 3 of his 3-year-old year. Two starts later, he won the 2007 Arkansas Derby by 10 ½ lengths, leaving no doubt that he was an exceptional horse. Curlin would go on to become one of the best horses of the modern era, but he wasn't ready for the Derby. He finished third, beaten eight lengths. It took him one more start to hit his peak. He won the Preakness on his way to the Horse-of-the-Year title.
Can Bodemiester win? Sure. But he'll be one of many talented horses in what could be the deepest Kentucky Derby in years. With Union Rags, Gemologist, Creative Cause, Dullahan and others having 2-year-old experience to go with talent, Bodemeister's next day to shine doesn't figure to come on May 5.
More Derby Thoughts: How bad is the No. 1 post in the Derby? It's well known that no Derby winner has broken from post one since Ferdinand in 1986, but here's a more telling stat: Since Risen Star finished third from the one hole in 1988, not a single No. 1 has managed to finish in the top three in the Derby. That's a 22-year run and a 0 for 66 record.
The biggest disappointment of the weekend was Hansen.
Union Rags will be the Derby favorite, albeit at 5-1 or so. Bettors will shy away from Bodemeister for the reasons stated above and no one seems to be jumping off the Union Rags bandwagon after his troubled-trip loss in the Florida Derby.
The 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile keeps looking better and better. With Dullahan's win in the Blue Grass, 10 of the 13 starters have come back at 3 to win a stakes race. The first five Juvenile finishers have combined to win the Gotham, Fountain of Youth, San Felipe, Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. Sixth-place finisher Crusade, who is based in Europe, is the lone Juvenile starter yet to race this year.
The biggest disappointment of the weekend was Hansen. After his impressive win in the Gotham, he was swallowed up by Dullahan in the stretch run of the Blue Grass after getting an unchallenged lead through fractions that were reasonable. He's a good horse but it's hard to imagine he can handle the level of competition he's about to face in the Derby at ten furlongs. My guess is that Ramon Dominguez bails on this guy for Wood Memorial runner-up Alpha
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.