There is no true standout in the 2012 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), at least on paper. Many of the top contenders took turns beating each other on the Triple Crown trail, and it wasn't until Bodemeister romped in the April 7 Arkansas Derby (gr. I) that a favorite—lukewarm at that—was born.
But despite Derby 138 being a wide-open affair, that shouldn't be mistaken for inconsistency. A record nine Derby starters return from last year's Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last November, including the top five finishers.
For the most part, this is not an erratic group of 20, but rather a well-matched field that has carried its form from 2011 to 2012. Of course, it also makes it a challenging race to handicap, which has most people searching for answers in the days leading up to the Run for the Roses.
The first leg of the Triple Crown will go to post at 6:24 p.m. EDT May 5. The $2,219,600 event will be run at 1 1/4 miles on the Churchill Downs main track, with the winning owner taking home a $1,459,600 share along with horse racing glory. NBC will offer three hours of Derby coverage beginning at 4 p.m.
Zayat Stables' Bodemeister, the 4-1 morning-line favorite, was not one of those that ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The son of Empire Maker was a late-bloomer, going unraced as a juvenile before breaking his maiden in his second start in February at Santa Anita Park for trainer Bob Baffert.
Named for Baffert's son, Bode, the bay colt will be trying to become the first unraced juvenile to win the Kentucky Derby since Apollo did it in 1882.
Bodemeister's 9 1/2-length romp in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park was perhaps the most impressive Derby prep of the season. Whether or not he can return in four weeks with the same type of performance is a major question. Mike Smith will ride and they will break from post 6.
"I think that if he gets away well, like I've been saying all along, if he's given the opportunity, he's going to run extremely well," Smith said.
Last week, Ahmed Zayat, owner of Zayat Stables, sold a one-third interest of Bodemeister to Southern Equine Stable.
Baffert will be seeking his fourth Derby victory. He will also saddle 50-1 longshot Liaison , who was a grade I winner as a juvenile but seeks his first victory of the year in four starts.
The second choice on the morning-line at 9-2 is Union Rags , who had been the Derby favorite for most of the year before finishing third as the odds-on favorite in the March 31 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park. A homebred for Phyllis Wyeth's Chadds Ford Stable, Union Rags had a less than ideal trip in the Florida Derby, which was his second start with new rider Julien Leparoux.
Other than the Florida Derby disappointment, when he was beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Take Charge Indy, the son of Dixie Union has done little wrong in his six-start career. He was a two-time graded stakes winner as a 2-year-old, and missed by just a head to Hansen in BC Juvenile. The bay colt is trained by Michael Matz, who sent out Barbaro to win the 2006 Kentucky Derby.
"It's a great feeling to be back here after six years (since Barbaro's victory), especially with a horse who has a good chance," Matz said. "It doesn't happen too often. I was lucky enough once, and it's hard to believe you can get lucky twice."
Union Rags has had two sharp works leading up to the Derby, one at Keeneland and the other April 28 at Churchill. He will break from post 4 under Leparoux, who is a perennial leading rider at Churchill but seeks his first Derby triumph.
Barbaro entered the 2006 Derby undefeated, just as 6-1 third choice Gemologist will do. The son of Tiznow won three times as a juvenile, including the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill, and twice this year. In his last start he outdueled Alpha by a neck to take the April 7 Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
Gemologist is owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Todd Pletcher, the same connections that sent out Super Saver to win the 2010 Derby. Javier Castellano, the leading rider in the nation by wins and earnings this year, has the mount as he seeks his first Derby triumph. They will break from post 15.
Gemologist made his final preparations for the Derby at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida. He shipped to Churchill May 1.
"I wouldn't trade places with anyone in the race," said WinStar president and chief executive officer Elliott Walden.
Pletcher will also send out Let's Go Stable's El Padrino (20-1), the winner of the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots two starts ago. He was fourth in the Florida Derby last out.
The only other horse at less than double-digit morning-line odds is Donegal Racing's Dullahan, who defeated Hansen with a powerful late run in the April 14 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. The only two-time grade I winner in the field, Dullahan also won the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) in Lexington as a juvenile. Both of those wins were on Polytrack.
Dale Romans trains Dullahan, who is 2-2-2 from eight starts. He is winless in three starts at Churchill, including a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Kent Desormeaux, a three-time Derby winner, will have the mount.
"He gives me the best chance I have had of winning so far," said Romans, who has sent out four Derby starters with his best finish coming in 2010 with third-place Paddy O'Prado. Romans won the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) last year with Shackleford .
Ever since he defeated Union Rags in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November and was named 2-year-old champion male, Hansen has been one of the top Derby contenders. Bred and co-owned by Dr. Kendall Hansen, the gray/roan son of Tapit has run two good races this year—winning the Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack and finishing second in the Blue Grass.
Hansen (10-1) has electric speed, and along with Trinniberg and Bodemeister, is expected to be one of the pacesetters. He will break from post 14 under Ramon Dominguez, another leading rider who seeks his first Derby win.
Majority owner Dr. Kendall Hansen left no doubt about how he thinks his horse will fare Saturday.
"We're going to win this race. We're not worried about anyone," he said.
Along with Bodemeister, two of the other top contenders are shipping in from California: I'll Have Another and Creative Cause . J. Paul Reddam's I'll Have Another gamely held off Heinz Steinmann's Creative Cause by a nose in the April 7 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) for his second win in as many starts this year. His start prior to that, the Feb. 4 Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) on the same track, may have been even more impressive, as he drew off after tracking quick fractions to win by 2 3/4 lengths at odds of 43-1.
Doug O'Neill trains I'll Have Another (12-1), a son Flower Alley. He will keep regular rider Mario Gutierrez, who will have his first Derby mount. They will have to break from post 19.
"It's not ideal, but it's better than being inside," O'Neill said of the outside post. "We will get to load late, so that is a plus. We'll be outside all the speed so we'll probably have a good chance to get good position."
Though he was narrowly beaten by I'll Have Another, Creative Cause (12-1) has been the more consistent and battled-tested horse. A two-time graded stakes winner at 2, he was also third, beaten just a length, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has hit the board in all eight of his career starts, including a victory in the March 10 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) two starts back.
Creative Cause is trained by 71-year-old California native Mike Harrington. Joel Rosario will have the call.
"This horse is a stalker," Harrington said. "He hasn't got a deep close. When he moves, he moves about three-eighths of a mile and that's it. He's not going to move five-eighths of a mile, so hopefully he can wait until the quarter pole, and at the quarter pole he can move."
Animal Kingdom won last year's Derby, and the same connections of that colt—owner Team Valor International, trainer Graham Motion, and jockey John Velazquez—are back again with Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) winner Went the Day Well. Animal Kingdom also used the Spiral as a springboard to his Derby triumph.
A son of Proud Citizen, Went the Day Well (20-1) began his career racing in England, but has done his best racing since shipping to the United States this year.
Daddy Nose Best is the only horse in the field with two wins at 1 1/8 miles, those coming in his last two starts when he scored in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields and the Sunland Park Derby (gr. III). The son of Scat Daddy has a field-most 10 starts in his career, with four wins.
The colt is winless in two starts on the Churchill main track, but has trained here since the beginning of April. Garrett Gomez picked up the mount and will be riding Daddy Nose Best for the first time.
Winchell Thoroughbreds' Sabercat earned his way into the race by winning the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) in December. The Bluegrass Cat colt, a dead closer, was well-beaten in both starts in 2012.
Godolphin Racing's Alpha (15-1) was a disappointing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but has been impressive in his three starts this year. He won the Count Fleet Stakes and Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct before just missing to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial. A minor leg infection after the Wood forced trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to keep the Bernardini colt in New York for his final pre-Derby work.
The remaining starters include Take Charge Indy (15-1), the Florida Derby upsetter who will be ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel, and six longshots.
Daddy Long Legs (30-1) ships in from Europe for renowned trainer Aidan O'Brien off a victory in the UAE Derby (UAE-II) in Dubai; Optimizer (50-1) is trained by 76-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, who holds four Derby wins and 13 Triple Crown triumphs; Rousing Sermon (50-1), who figures to do his best running late while seeking his first win of the year; Trinniberg (50-1), the likely pacesetter while trying two turns for the first time; Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) winner Prospective (30-1); and Illinois Derby (gr. III) victor Done Talking (50-1).
$2,219,600 Kentucky Derby (gr. I, Race 11, 6:24 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/4 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Daddy Long Legs (KY), C O'Donoghue, 126, A P O'Brien, 30/1
2. Optimizer (KY), J K Court, 126, D W Lukas, 50/1
3. Take Charge Indy (KY), C H Borel, 126, P B Byrne, 15/1
4. Union Rags (KY), J R Leparoux, 126, M R Matz, 9/2
5. Dullahan (KY), K J Desormeaux, 126, D L Romans, 8/1
6. Bodemeister (VA), M E Smith, 126, B Baffert, 4/1
7. Rousing Sermon (CA), J Lezcano, 126, J Hollendorfer, 50/1
8. Creative Cause (KY), J Rosario, 126, M Harrington, 12/1
9. Trinniberg (KY), W Martinez, 126, B Parboo, 50/1
10. Daddy Nose Best (KY), G K Gomez, 126, S M Asmussen, 15/1
11. Alpha (KY), R Maragh, 126, K P McLaughlin, 15/1
12. Prospective (KY), L Contreras, 126, M E Casse, 30/1
13. Went the Day Well (NY), J R Velazquez, 126, H G Motion, 20/1
14. Hansen (KY), R A Dominguez, 126, M J Maker, 10/1
15. Gemologist (KY), J Castellano, 126, T A Pletcher, 6/1
16. El Padrino (KY), R Bejarano, 126, T A Pletcher, 20/1
17. Done Talking (KY), S Russell, 126, H A Smith, 50/1
18. Sabercat (KY), C S Nakatani, 126, S M Asmussen, 30/1
19. I'll Have Another (KY), M Gutierrez, 126, D F O'Neill, 12/1
20. Liaison (KY), M Garcia, 126 , B Baffert, 50/1
My Adonis (KY), E Trujillo, 126, K J Breen, 50/1