It is not uncommon in the sport of Thoroughbred racing to hear about the "now" horse. That tends to refer to an equine who is getting good at the right time, particularly when entered in a stakes race.
That was one way to describe this bay colt in the spring of 2012.
A Virginia-bred son of 2003 Belmont Stakes champion Empire Maker, Bodemeister had the distinction of having part of his name come from the son of his trainer, Bob Baffert. He was bought by Zayat Stables at the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, and he debuted at Santa Anita in January of 2012, finishing second in a maiden special weight sprint. But, he was bred for distance, and he made good when he tried a mile the next time. He took the lead early, and widened his advantage in an impressive manner around the far turn, breaking through for the win nearly a month after his debut and doing so by daylight.
That set Bodemeister up for the Grade II San Felipe Stakes in March, one of Santa Anita's prep races for the Kentucky Derby. Anytime a three year old is trained by Bob Baffert, attention is required. Bodemeister battled with Creative Cause in the stretch of the San Felipe, but could not get the win. He was then sent to Oaklawn Park for the Grade I Arkansas Derby in April, less than a month from the Kentucky Derby. Just as he did when he broke his maiden, Bodemeister went to the lead and never gave it up after he had it. The race was quite similar to his maiden win, for no one could equal him in the stretch. He won by multiple lengths, and that put him squarely in the discussion of Kentucky Derby contenders.
Given how the Arkansas Derby was late in the prep season, Bodemeister's effort was still fresh in the minds of fans on Kentucky Derby day. He was the "now" horse, and the fact he was trained by Baffert (who had three Kentucky Derby wins at that time) did not hurt, either. The horse whose name derived from Bode Baffert was made the favorite by the public at more than 4-1, but he had history fighting against him.
Bodemeister never raced at the age of two, and the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby but not race as a juvenile was Apollo, who accomplished that way back in 1882. As talented as the son of Empire Maker was, he had a major opponent in the form of history facing him in Louisville.
As it turned out, he nearly broke the so called "Apollo Curse." After gaining the lead early, Bodemeister gave it his all, running at a high cruising speed around Churchill Downs. While the ten furlong distance did not seem to be a problem for him, going by the breeding, the pace for that distance was electrifying. The first six furlongs were completed in under 1:10, which is fast for a mile and one-quarter. But, Bodemeister was not letting that bother him.
When he ran down the stretch, it looked like no one could stop him. But then, I'll Have Another unleashed his drive. Bodemeister fought to the end, but I'll Have Another collared him, winning by about a length while the favorite came in second.
That set the stage for a rematch in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later. With the slight reduction in distance (a mile and three-sixteenths), the belief was that Bodemeister would benefit from it and perhaps avenge his Derby defeat.
The public saw it that way, making him the favorite at less than 2-1 (which was interesting since the Kentucky Derby winner tends to be the top choice). Once again, Bodemeister went to the front, and the pace was slower than the Derby. Bodemeister, with Mike Smith aboard, was biding his time, not moving with the speed he did two weeks earlier. Perhaps, if the time was slowed just enough, combined with the cutback in distance, that would be enough to get the win.
It almost was. Bodemeister led virtually the entire way, but the stretch run became a replay of what happened fourteen days earlier. Bodemeister was in front, I'll Have Another trying to run past him. The showdown grew more intense as the wire got closer, neither horse backing down from the other. The margin of victory was less than a length, but the finishing order was the same. Bodemeister was close again, but I'll Have Another found a way to get up in time to win.
Despite the narrow losses in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Bodemeister delivered fantastic efforts. But, the Preakness would prove to be his last race. After sustaining a shoulder injury in the summer of 2012, he was retired to WinStar Farm to begin his stud career. In 2017, the race that eluded him five years earlier finally came back to him. Bodemeister, who was now a sire, became a winner of the Kentucky Derby thanks to his son, Always Dreaming.
Now a champion of the famed event, Bodemeister is continuing his stud career. Among his most successful horses are Always Dreaming, American Anthem, Bode's Dream, and Yuvetsi. Like their sire, they can win, and they can finish in the minor awards when victory waits for another time.
Looking back at the career of Bodemeister, it featured terrific moments and brilliant victories, but also a sense of what might have been. In six starts, he was a two-time race winner and a runner up in his other four starts. He had obvious class, won from being on the lead, and earned more than $1 million in the span of just four months.
A truly elegant-looking horse thanks to his rich bay coat, Bodemeister was not afraid to be scrappy on the track when he needed to be. It was easy to respect him given the efforts he produced during races, for there are not a lot of horses who have a record that features top two finishes in every start.
Bodemeister was the "now" horse in the spring of 2012, but he is still deservedly remembered in the present day.