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Bodemeister, Union Rags may have grabbed the spotlight, but field is full of very talented colts

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Hot pace. Muggy day. One of the deepest, talented fields in years.

A delicious stew with all the ingredients for an unpredictable Kentucky Derby.

The 20-horse field for today’s race is so stacked that unbeaten Gemologist is no better than third choice on the morning line.

In other years, the colt would be the talk of the Derby. In this one, early favorites Bodemeister and Union Rags have grabbed the spotlight.

Still, some very talented colts could go off at big odds — I’ll Have Another at 12-1 or, at 15-1, Take Charge Indy, whose jockey Calvin Borel has brought home long-shot winners twice in five years.

“This is the best bunch I’ve seen in a long time,” four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “I was out there riding next to some of them, and let me tell you, this is a hell of a group.”

Lukas will saddle one of the longest shots, 50-1 Optimizer.

“History tells us that you can’t throw anyone out,” said Todd Pletcher, a former Lukas assistant who has two Derby starters including Gemologist. “There have been some winners the past few years that have been way down everybody’s depth charts.”

Some of the strongest contenders — Hansen, for example — have had the most success running at or near the pace. But their task is complicated by the presence of speedball Trinniberg, who could prove to be enough of a pest on the front end to compromise any horse willing to keep pace with him.

If the early fractions in the 1 1/4-mile race are fast enough, it could set up well for a deep closer like Dullahan, Daddy Nose Best or I’ll Have Another.

Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, who trains 4-1 favorite Bodemeister and long shot Liaison, called it “one of the toughest Derbys I’ve been in probably the last 10 years.”

Bodemeister, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, goes into the starting gate staring down 129 years of Derby history. The last horse to win without racing as a 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882.

Union Rags, the 9-2 second choice ridden by Julien Leparoux, is the best horse trainer Michael Matz has brought to the Derby since he won with undefeated Barbaro in 2006.

“I was lucky enough once,” he said. “It’s hard to believe you can get lucky twice.”

Gemologist, undefeated in five races, is trained by 2010 Derby winner Pletcher, yet he’s been overshadowed by the other entrants since arriving late in Louisville and getting most of his training in Florida.

“He’s done everything he could possibly do,” Pletcher said, “but part of it might be because the 2-year-old races he ran in weren’t the Breeders’ Cup races. He was a little late in developing.”

Hansen is a standout on looks alone. The colt is nearly white and his outspoken owner Kendall Hansen tried to doll him up by having his tail painted blue for the Blue Grass three weeks ago. The track stewards didn’t approve and neither did trainer Mike Maker.

“We’re going to win this race,” Hansen said. “We’re not worried about anybody. We’ve got the best horse.”

Like Baffert and Pletcher, Steve Asmussen has two horses in the Derby — Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat — who will try to help him end an 0-for-10 skid. He came close last year when Nehro finished second to Animal Kingdom.

“It is definitely on the bucket list,” Asmussen said.