Baffert's Bodemeister comes up just short in Derby

May 5, 2012 - 9:07 PM
Kentucky Derby Horse Racing

Bodemeister with jockey Mike Smith leads the field around the first turn in the 138th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 5, 2012, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Losing the Kentucky Derby was bad enough. Letting down his son was even worse for Bob Baffert.

Bodemeister, the bay colt named after the trainer's 7-year-old son, rocketed to the front Saturday and led by as many as three lengths. But he couldn't hold on in a furiously fast pace as was overtaken by I'll Have Another.

"He was there," Baffert said. "He just got tired."

Baffert broke down, too, when he thought about his son's disappointment, tearing up and walking away in the paddock.

"I was watching my little son, Bode, I feel so bad for him ..." said Baffert, who named his boy after his ski pal, Bode Miller.

The horse had become a Derby favorite when he won the Arkansas Derby by 9½ lengths.

Bodemeister and jockey Mike Smith appeared poised to pull off a wire-to-wire win in Kentucky after taking a lead early and extending it heading into the stretch.

But the fast fractions caught up to him and that pace proved to be his undoing as I'll Have Another ran him down.

"I wasn't going to take away anything that came easy and man, making the lead came awful easy to him," Smith said. "Otherwise, I probably would have chosen to step behind him, but he did it so easy.

"You know, his whole career, which has been short so far, he's been on the lead or right off of it. And now wasn't the time to see if I could take him back and see what happens."

Bodemeister didn't run as a 2-year-old, but proved his mettle with two victories and two second-place finishes. In this one, he set a blistering pace.

"I was really concerned about the fractions - :22, "45, 1:09 - and he was opening on them and nobody is coming," owner Ahmed Zayat said. "How much can you sustain that at a mile and a quarter?"

Not long enough.

It spoiled what was turning into a perfect script for the 59-year-old Baffert's return after he sustained a heart attack in Dubai in March with Bode telling him "goodbye daddy" during his health scare.

Baffert came back with a new outlook, more workouts and better eating habits. The three-time Derby winner said he stopped sweating the small stuff. He beamed about Bodemeister's run even though the horse fell just short.

"I'm just really proud of the way he ran," Baffert said. "I mean, he showed up today. I told Mike Smith, if he breaks well and he feels like running, you can win it. And he did. He just came up a little tired after those splits. But you know what? That's the way he wanted to run and I think it went well."

While Baffert wanted this victory for his son, who said became stressed out during the week, Zayat and Smith wanted a victory for the white-haired trainer who has helped them in the industry.

"This Derby, probably even finishing second meant more to Bob than probably some of the ones he won. He's been through a lot and I was glad that he had me on him," Smith said. "I'm glad that the horse performed extremely well and hopefully we'll go on and do some good.

Zayat insisted he has no regrets after coming so very close before. He has three second-place finishes in the last four years, including when Baffert took Pioneerof the Nile to the race in 2009. It's Baffert's health that remains important to him.

"I want a healthy trainer. He should live for 120 years. I'm very proud of him," Zayat said. "Bob went through a lot."