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Berryville's Bodemeister can't hide as Derby favorite

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Saturday’s Kentucky Derby is a big day for Virginia thoroughbred breeders. For the first time since 1996, a Virginia-bred will not only start in the Run for the Roses, the favorite will be Bodemeister, bred by Berryville’s Audley Farm, located in the northwestern corner of Virginia. Keswick Stables’ Semoran was the last Virginia-bred to start in the first leg of the Triple Crown. If the race goes to form and Bodemeister wins, he would be the first native-bred to win since Sea Hero in 1993. Bodemeister hopes to fill the void left by Quality Road, who would have been the consensus 2009 Derby favorite if not for a worsening quarter crack that forced his Derby-week withdrawal. Bodemeister can’t hide as the favorite in what trainer Bob Baffert has assessed as the toughest Derby in 10 years. His colt’s 9½-length romp in the Arkansas Derby in April not only produced the Derby’s highest Beyers speed rating (108) for a three-year old this year, it was easily the most impressive win of the Derby prep races. Aptly named, Bodemeister combines the name of the son of his west coast trainer, Bode, and the German heritage of the owners and operators of Audley Farm. It was at Audley where Bodemeister spent the first 15 months or so of his life before being sold in 2010 to Zayat Stables. Baffert didn’t race the son of Empire Maker out of the Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent as a 2-year old, something every Derby winner has done since 1882 (Apollo). Baffert felt the April colt was a bit immature. “I took my time with him. That’s why it took so long to get him to the races,” Baffert said. “He’s really matured physically in the last 60 days or so.” Baffert is recovering from a heart attack in March while in Dubai. Stabling the favorite in the world’s most-watched horse race may not be the rest and relaxation his doctor had advised, but having nerves goes with training top horses. Fortunately, Bodemeister is as laid back as his trainer. “I’ve brought others (favorites) here and lost,” Baffert said. “We are still on pins and needles to keep the horse healthy up until the race. We hold our breath every day.” Bodemeister has won twice in only four starts and has never been worse than second since his first race. If he is too patient in the 20-horse Derby field, he may be in unfamiliar territory where dirt flies in his face and he is seeking racing room in a race where spacing is precious. If Bodemeister is too far forwardlearly in the race, the numerous stalkers in this year’s field will look to take advantage of his pace. Jockey Mike Smith, who delivered the Arkansas Derby win, returns to the mount. “I’m not sure what he might be like in traffic,” said Dr. Jens von Lepel, Audley Farm’s general manager. “He’s never been in it.” When the sun sets on Saturday, he hopes to be in the same traffic as those other quality Virginia-bred Kentucky Derby winners.

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