As usual, last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby had numerous attention-grabbing storylines, but the most interesting to me was the manner in which the contingent of West Coast-based horses took Churchill Downs and the Run for Roses by storm on the first Saturday in May.
Starting with the winner, I’ll Take Another, then moving on to runner-up Bodemeister – who ran an incredible race in defeat -- and finishing up with fifth-place finisher Creative Cause, the “California Crashers” totally dominated the 138th edition of the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”
And, that was the main reason I was so successful in predicting the outcome of this year’s first jewel in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. I latched onto the latent abilities of these three stalwart steeds early on and followed them closely as they made their final preparations for the biggest test of their young lives in Louisville.
If you got to my web site – www.tomthebombpicks.com – and check out “The Bomb’s Blog” page, you’ll see that I wrote my very first blog on the ultra-talented Bodemeister, way back on Feb. 27, after he caught my eye with a scintillating performance while breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in his first try around two turns.
In that blog, I wrote, “He may not have beaten much that day, but the almost effortless way he did it -- while earning a 99 Beyer figure -- was the thing that made me think he just might be something special.”
He certainly showed later – in the Arkansas Derby and last Saturday in Louisville – that he is, indeed, “something special.”
The rest was easy. In the San Felipe, Bodemeister’s first stakes engagement, he again used his uncanny speed to get good early position right behind the pacesetter, American Act, then took over as the field turned for home. But, a powerful gray running machine named Creative Cause came ranging up on his outside and ran him down with a determined charge in the final yards. That opened my eyes to the abilities of Creative Cause.
Then, when trainer Bob Baffert sent Bodemeister to Oaklawn Park for a softer spot in the Arkansas Derby because the son of Empire Maker needed graded stakes earnings to be eligible for the Kentucky Derby, I watched the Santa Anita Derby with heightened interest as Creative Cause attempted to cement his claim to West Coast superiority.
But, an upstart chestnut colt from Doug O’Neill’s barn named I’ll Have Another would have none of that and in one of the most thrilling finishes I’ve seen in recent years, I’ll Have Another outgamed Creative Cause by a desperate nose to win the Left Coast’s most important Derby prep.
Additionally, they did it while running down a loose-on-the-lead speedster named Blueskiesandrainbows, so that caused me to have added respect for these two talented runners.
So, there it was all laid out for me. I loved Bodemeister. Creative Cause beat Bodemeister in the San Felipe. Then, Creative Cause got beat in a photo finish by I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby while Bodemeister came East and absolutely decimated the Arkansas Derby. All the pieces fit.
In my mind, this trio made up the top 3-year-olds of 2012 and would be very difficult to beat in Kentucky. They made me look good last Saturday when I’ll Have Another (15-1) ran down the gallant Bodemeister (4-1) in the shadow of the wire to win the Derby and Creative Cause (11-1) came charging late to finish fifth. 1-2-5! Not bad for three West Coast horses, who, except for Bodemeister, were basically overlooked in the betting.
The other thing that struck me Saturday was just how important the post position draw is in this race. As I wrote in my story about the draw, the inside posts, 1 through 5, can be killers because of the size of the field and I pointed out that Union Rags could be in a lot of trouble leaving from post 4.
Well, that came to pass as the second choice (5-1) got pinched off at the start then had a crush of horses come over on him and box him in against the rail as he encountered a nightmare trip. It was pretty remarkable that he managed to rally for 7th after being at the very back of the pack most of the way. Others, like deep closer Dullahan, who finished third, had very wide trips as they attempted to maneuver around and through the bulky 20-horse field.
Things don’t ever change in the Kentucky Derby. You need to find a horse that has tactical speed so he can get good early position and work out a favorable stalking trip. Then, he needs to have the athletic ability to allow him to accelerate when needed and finish strong.
Last Saturday, that horse was a West Coast warrior named I’ll Have Another.