April 28, 2012 in Sports

Deep, talented field for 138th Kentucky Derby

Beth Harris Associated Press

(Full-size photo)

Bob Baffert is happy to be anywhere these days, considering a heart attack flattened him in Dubai last month.

“After it was over, it felt like, ‘Man, I just, I got a second chance here.’ … It was just a weird scare,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “I’ve got to redo, change my lifestyle for the best. I’ve got to take care of myself like I take care of my horses.”

Life is good right now.

He has the likely favorite in the Kentucky Derby with Bodemeister, a talented colt named after his son, Bode, who is named after Dad’s ski pal, Bode Miller.

Bodemeister stamped himself as a standout with his 9 1/2-length win in the Arkansas Derby, the most impressive performance in a season of prep races that have done little to clarify a muddled Derby picture. A full field of 20 horses is expected for the 1 1/4-mile race, and it will be one of the deepest and most talented when they break from the gate at Churchill Downs on May 5.

“All 20 horses are stronger than I can remember in years,” said Dr. Kendall Hansen, whose light gray colt, Hansen, carries the family name and will be bet heavily. “There’s no horse that’s setting the world on fire yet. It’s nice that you’re not running against a Northern Dancer or a Secretariat. There’s a lot of horses that have a chance going into the Derby.”

Injuries that derailed favorites I Want Revenge and Quality Road in 2009; Eskendereya in 2010; and Uncle Mo last year have not been a problem this time around.

Rather it’s been inconsistency among the top 3-year-olds that has opened the door for a handful of colts to wear the garland of red roses next in the winner’s circle.

Bodemeister may be the most talented 3-year-old this year, although he lacks seasoning, never having raced as a 2-year-old. Baffert had him playing catch-up, with the colt making four starts in the run-up to the Derby.

The only other Derby candidate to race that much is Prospective.

“I just took my time with him,” Baffert said. “He was just immature. I wasn’t in a big hurry with him, so I’m glad I did. It made him a better horse.”

Baffert spaced out Bodemeister’s races, giving the colt plenty of rest between starts. Now, he’ll be asked to win the Derby off a three-week turnaround from his dominant win in Arkansas. Baffert, who has won the Derby three times but not since 2002, also will saddle Liaison.

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