AP Sports Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bodemeister is headed to the Preakness to challenge I'll Have Another after their memorable finish in the Kentucky Derby.
Bodemeister set a blistering early pace in the Derby only to be caught in the final 100 yards by I'll Have Another and finish second, giving owner Ahmed Zayat his third runner-up finish in the race in the last four years. Zayat was on hand Monday to watch Bodemeister to make sure the horse was ready to travel to Baltimore for Saturday's race.
"He looks fantastic," Zayat said. "He couldn't look any better. In fact, he gained weight since Derby, which is amazing. ... My heart, he deserves a chance to come and redeem himself in an American classic, but you have to weigh that against the best interest of the horse. I wanted to come with my son Justin to see for myself that he is the same Bodemeister.
"He's actually doing better. He's happier."
Trainer Bob Baffert said Bodemeister came out of the Derby well. He's pleased with what he sees from the colt named after his 7-year-old son, Bode.
"After the race, I thought he'd be completely wiped out," Baffert said. "He cooled out pretty quick and was eating his hay in front of his stall. I was afraid he was going to go into hibernation for about three days in the corner of his stall with his ears pinned, sulking. But he never did.
"He's a pretty tough, amazing animal. His hair looks good. His weight looks good. Right now I don't see any reason not to take him."
Bodemeister with jockey Mike Smith aboard ran the opening quarter in :22.32 and a half in :45.39 at the Derby and had a three-lengths lead heading down the stretch before tiring as I'll Have Another caught him late.
The Kentucky Derby was Bodemeister's fifth career start, all this year. Still, he went from mostly unknown to the race favorite in a few short weeks after winning the Arkansas Derby by 9 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn Park on April 14.
"Think about this, Bob keeps reminding me, three weeks before that (race) we didn't have a horse in the Derby," Zayat said. "We go from a Grade 1 to favorite in the Derby. That's a huge accomplishment. So, we were feeling sad because he ran a winner's race and not to get it, you feel bad for the horse. He ran such a brilliant race."
Baffert, a five-time Preakness winner, is less certain with his plans for Liaison, his other Derby entry that finished sixth. Baffert said he wanted to talk to Liaison's owner, Arnold Zetcher, before making a decision.
"I want to see what the field is looking like," Baffert said. "It was a good race for him. I think the horse is turning the corner. I've just got to decide, Do I want to keep pushing him along? You know, he needs to win a race. If he's going to be competitive, we'll take him up there."
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