The 138th Kentucky Derby on May 5th 2012 was destined to be a memorable race. The 20-strong field had extraordinary strength in depth. The crowd that showed up on the day to watch them had more strength in depth than ever before too with gate numbers surpassing 165,300 at Churchill Downs.
The best horse on the day, Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister, who was sent off the 4/1 favourite in the Kentucky Derby Betting, was beaten one and a half lengths by Doug O’Neill’s I’ll Have Another. Why? Because the Kentucky Derby veteran jockey Mike Smith on board Bodemeister rode him as if he had no racing brain or sense of pace, letting him gallop faster than an established sprinter in the early stages. In short, Smith set suicidal fractions.
It was probably one of the worst rides in the history of the race. Smith was comprehensively outridden by the 25-year-old Kentucky Derby debutant and relative rookie, Mario Gutierrez on I’ll Have Another. Unlike Smith, Gutierrez did not leave his judgement of pace and common sense at the start.
The winner and the other placed horses demonstrated the destructive effect of the excessive early pace. They all came from behind to surge out of the pack at the finish. Dale Romans’ Dullahan finished third by a neck under Kent Desormeaux. Desormeaux had maintained a midfield position until they reached the straight. Graham Motion’s Went The Day Well was three quarters of a length behind him in fourth under John Velazquez. Went The Day Well had also been held well off the pace towards the rear until a quarter of a mile out.
Winning jockey Gutierrez also had the sense to leave the leading group of six horses to cut their own throats up front. He kept them in his sights but waited until the later stages of the race to make his move. He made steady progress into fourth by the turn into the straight and asked his mount to quicken just over a furlong out. His timing was perfect. He challenged Bodemeister within the final 100 yards and took over the pole position from the tiring long term leader 50 yards from the line.
It was only Bodemeister’s immense natural ability that enabled him to finish second, rather than a furlong behind as any other horse would have in the circumstances. All the other horses that were up with the pace early on weakened into mid or late finishing positions except Aidan O’Brien’s Daddy Long Legs who did not finish at all. He was pulled up by Colm O’Donoghue. The jockey on Daddy Long Legs can not be blamed. The horse’s connections had already made the idiotic decision to try and force the pace from his inside draw. That was a decision that rendered their journey from Ireland wasted even before the stalls opened.
The leading group in the first half included some strongly fancied horses. Todd Pletcher’s third favourite, Gemologist under J J Castellano made the mistake of going with Bodemeister and his closest pursuer, Bisnath Parboo’s sprinter, Trinniberg. Gemologist weakened within the final two furlongs to finish sixteenth. Michael Maker’s striking grey colt, Hansen, a 13/1 chance, was prominent early on and weakened into ninth place under Dominguez. Calvin Borel and Patrick Byrne’s Take Charge Indy were also in the leading group. He started at 12/1 but felt the effects of the frenetic early pace and weakened rapidly, finishing fifteen lengths last having been eased by Borel when beaten in the final furlong.
The outsider who contributed to the early pace, Trinniberg, predictably weakened in the final furlongs to finish seventeenth. He was more used to running over seven furlongs.
At the start, Bodemeister broke really well and was soon in the lead. Alarm bells should have rung in veteran jockey, Mike Smith’s ears when he realised he was outpacing the ultimate speedster in the race, Trinniberg, a 45/1 outsider that was always going to be making the running. As it turned out, the trail-blazing Trinniberg could only track Bodemeister on the outside.
Unfortunately the temporarily brain dead Smith continued regardless at break neck speed and set utterly suicidal fractions in the first half of the race. He covered the first quarter mile in 22.3 seconds and the half mile in 45.4. Surely Smith should have known better?
It had been pointed out in the press that morning that there would be massive dangers associated with keeping pace with Trinniberg. Journalists had also mentioned that Trinniberg paced early fractions would ultimately suit the deep closers such as I’ll Have Another and Dullahan. Smith had obviously not had the time to read the papers that day and did not even attempt to take a pull on the free running Bodemeister. In no time at all the field were strung out like washing on a line.
Baffert had reportedly told Smith to let Bodemeister run if he broke well. They were the tactics successfully employed in his previous race, the Arkansas Derby, but there was nothing like the strength in depth in that field of eleven. There was no equivalent of Trinniberg to boost the early pace either.
Baffert had recently suffered a heart attack whilst in Dubai and was still in the process of recovery. He was extremely generous in his comments after the race and did not utter a word of criticism of the ride Smith had given Bodemeister voiced in earshot of the press. He merely commented that he did not mind getting beaten on this occasion as he felt Bodemeister had run his race.
Perhaps his outlook on life had been changed by his near death experience in Dubai. Or maybe he just wanted to wait until no one but Smith was listening before pointing out the blindingly obvious.
It was not the first time that the legendary Mike Smith had had a negative impact on a Kentucky Derby favourite’s chances. In 1994 he rode the 2/1 favourite, Holy Bull, when he was bumped badly as he left the starting gate. He finished a very disappointing twelfth.
Smith had also been responsible for somehow getting the mighty Zenyatta beaten at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2010. On that occasion he had employed the opposite tactics to the approach taken in the Kentucky Derby. On Zenyatta he had overdone the customary hold up riding style that suited the mare and left her with far too much to do at the end of the race. She lost her perfect record and was beaten a head by Albert M Stall Junior’s Blame. On that occasion Smith realised he had brought about her demise and was reportedly in tears after the race.
Kentucky Derby Betting 2012 and Breeding
On the Friday before the race Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister and Michael Matz’s Union Rags were joint favourites at 5/1 in the Kentucky Derby betting attracting strong support. They were closely followed by Todd Pletcher’s unbeaten Gemologist at 6/1 and Dale Romans’ Dullahan at 8/1.
On the day Bodemeister, named after Bode, Baffert’s seven year old son, started the 4/1 favourite. This son of Empire Maker out of a Storm Cat mare had been purchased for $260,000 by Zayat Stables as a yearling.
He was followed in the betting by Union Rags, a son of Dixie Union out of a Gone West mare who cost a relatively reasonable $145,000 at the same age at 5/1. Union Rags had no luck in running and could only finish in seventh under jockey J R Leparoux.
Gemologist, a son of Tiznow out of a Mr Prospector mare had cost connections $310,000. He drifted in the betting to around 8/1 by the off.
Dullahan, a son of Even The Score out of a Smart Strike mare was a $250,000 yearling. His price had increased to 12/1.
I’ll Have Another had also drifted from 12/1 to 15/1 in the 24 hours before the race. This son of Flower Alley out of an Arch mare will give hope to all those potential owners who do not have six figure budgets. He was bought for just $11,000 by Victor Davila at the Keeneland yearling sales for his rotund owner, Paul J Reddam. Reddam may not be short of cash as he has a money lending operation in Anaheim, California. I’ll Have Another’s name was actually the result of his owner’s fondness for cookies rather than alcohol.
The racing press were subdued in their reaction to Bodemeister’s fate, not daring to venture beyond mention of the scorching early pace. No one likes to be the first to go to print with criticism of a jockey who has an established position in the Hall of Fame. They were as windy as the jockey.
I’ll Have Another was a worthy victor and the win could be the making of the less well known Gutierrez. Favourite followers in the Kentucky Derby had a lot more to say about the ride Smith gave Bodemeister than his diplomatic trainer or the spineless press.
Kentucky Derby Result & Winner 2012:
- I’ll Have Another 15/1
- Bodemeister 4/1
- Dullahan 12/1
- Went The Day Well 31/1