The year was 1882, and the Kentucky Derby was only eight years old. That year a horse by the name of Apollo won the Kentucky Derby. At the time, he was the only horse to win the Derby without racing at the age of two. Now, 130 years later, Apollo is still the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing at the age of two. If you are like me, it’s hard to imagine that being possible. We’ve had several horses come to the Louisville with a chance to break this streak, but none of them could get it done. So the question is…will this year be any different? Can Bodemeister finally break this 130 year old curse?
Bodemeister enters this years Derby off a breath-taking win in the Arkansas Derby where he made short work of an average field. He’s the only horse coming into this year’s Derby that has three triple digit beyer numbers; and his breeding suggests the distance of a mile and one-quarter won’t be a problem. He’s got great early natural speed, and if he breaks well he shouldn’t have much problem getting clear of the majority of the field and staying out of traffic trouble. That factor is huge when trying to maneuver through a twenty horse field. Still, the doubt is still there. 130 years of history is working against him.
I can’t help but think back to 2007 when I look at Bodemeister. In April of that year a horse by the name of Curlin rolled to a double-digit length win in the Arkansas Derby and stamped himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite. Curlin did not race at age two, but I had no doubt this was the horse to break the curse. He had looked unbeatable in his three starts prior to the Derby. While Curlin went on to win horse of the year in 2007 and 2008, and retired as the all time leading money winner, he was a well beaten third in the Kentucky Derby. Curlin drew post two, broke bad, was shuffled back, ran greenly, and had nowhere to run until late in the race. Whether it was lack of experience or bad trip that beat him will always be unknown. What is not unknown is the fact that he was the best three-year old that year and he didn’t win the Derby.
It would be insane to call Bodemeister better than Curlin at this point, but I do believe he holds a few advantages over Curlin. Bodemeister’s early speed is something Curlin didn’t really have at the time of the Derby. It’s expected that Bodemeister will be on or near the lead from the start, where Curlin was more of a middle to back of the pack type of runner, so as stated earlier traffic may not be a problem. Another advantage is experience. Even though Bodemeister has only had one more start than Curlin had at the time, he has faced a little more adversity. Bodemeister has already faced a legit Derby contender in Creative Cause, and he had to win the Arkansas Derby from the far outside post of eleven. Curlin had three extremely easy races heading into the Derby, and really was never challenged. While nothing can prepare a horse for the Kentucky Derby, you have to think Bodemeister is at least battle tested, where Curlin was not.
Another advantage Bodemeister has over Curlin are his connections. That is not meant as a slam on Steve Asmussen or Robby Albarado, but they weren’t the most experienced duo at the time as far at the Kentucky Derby is concerned. Bodemeister’s trainer, Bob Baffert, is a seasoned veteran on the triple crown trail. Mike Smith, Bodemeister’s jockey, also is no stranger to the big time races. The Baffert – Smith pair on Bodemeister’s side is something you have to like if you are a fan of him.
One major road block Bodemeister will face is the strength of this year’s field. The past three years have been weak Derby fields, however this year’s field looks very talented, just like the field was in 2007 when Curlin tried to break the curse. Union Rags, Creative Cause, I’ll Have Another, Gemologist, Take Charge Indy and Alpha have all had shining moments this year. Bodemeister will have to turn in a peak performance to knock off this field.