April 15, 2012
HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, April 14, 2012) – The operative word at Oaklawn on Sunday was dominance, and Zayat Stables’ Bodemeister embodied the meaning as he powered to a near-record setting performance in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Completing a sweep by his trainer Bob Baffert of the major 3-year-old races this season, the son of Empire Maker rolled to a 9 ½-length victory over 10 other runners in the 1 1/8-mile test, punching his ticket to Louisville as a top-flight Kentucky Derby contender.
Ridden confidently by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith throughout the marquee event of the Oaklawn season, Bodemeister cruised from his outside post to the lead entering the first turn. The Empire Maker colt controlled easy early fractions of 23.02 and 46.55.
He then delivered a knockout blow when asked for run leaving the final turn. After running six furlongs in 1:11.36, he headed for the stretch with a clear advantage over the rest of the field and drew off to his highly impressive margin, under the wire in a final time of 1:48.71 – the fastest Arkansas Derby in seven years.
“I was out front by about a length or so and I set him down just in case anyone was coming,” said Smith. “I looked up on the board and I was like seven in front. That was ultra impressive.”
Baffert-trained Secret Circle, winner of the Southwest Stakes (G3) and Rebel Stakes (G2) over the past two months, weaved through the stretch but held second over Sabercat. All three are expected to advance to the Kentucky Derby as all have sufficient Graded stakes earnings to make the field.
For Baffert, it was the sixth win of the meet from nine starters off the plane from California. None of his horses finished worse than third and he has now won 16 of the 25 races he’s entered at Oaklawn.
“We took some really nice horses there. They all ran well and had been training well. I have a great staff and (assistant trainer) Jimmy Barnes does a great job.”
“We’ll see what this took out of them and then we’ll start talking (Kentucky) Derby,” added Baffert. “Oaklawn is a very kind surface and the horses have been coming back great. Bodemeister should be in great shape. He ran hard and fast. We know distance won’t be a problem.”
Disappointments in the race included Rebel Stakes runner-up Optimizer, who was steadied early and had to settle for ninth. Najjaar, with his popular three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel never mounted a rally and finished seventh.
Arkansas Derby day is the traditional closing act of the Oaklawn season. Mild weather contributed to four purse increases over the course of the 14-week run and Arkansas fans responded, with 63,804 flowing through the turnstiles Saturday.