Chasing Apollo

Bodemeister Aims At Changing History

Bodemeister Drills 5F at Churchill Downs

Year after recent year Kentucky Derby trends are slowing fading but only one still withstands the test of time. Since Apollo in 1882 there has not been a Kentucky Derby winner that didn’t race at age 2. Talk about a few lifetimes ago, this trend dates back to a time where the Kentucky Derby wasn’t close to where it is today. Apollo is a horse so unidentifiable that it will only be a matter of time before the casket closes on this trend and he is known as a 19th Century Kentucky Derby winner. Until then however, he respectfully remains the owner of a feat that has been tested but never solved.

Dating back to the 1940’s there have been over 50 attempts at ending the Apollo Curse therefore it’s a trend that has had plenty of opportunities to fail. There is a lot of explanations that will combine the changes in the sport, the size of the field and the advantages of racing at age 2 but one day this trend will end. When is the question but is Bodemeister the answer? He could very well be and what’s interesting about this colt and his chances are some similarities with recent attempts.

The trend got a lot of attention in 2007 when an undefeated colt came into the Kentucky Derby a perfect 3 for 3. Oddly enough Curlin was red-hot after a 10 ½ length victory in the Arkansas Derby – Sound familiar? Curlin had the look of a champion, a look he would wear in the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year, but on Derby Day his bid at ending the trend unraveled when he finished 3rd.

The biggest challenge that fell just short was in 1994 when Strodes Creek and jockey Eddie Delahoussaye made a bid at Go For Gin but finished 2nd. Like Bodemeister Strodes Creek was a California horse that began his racing career at Santa Anita Park in January. At age 3 both horses got on the road to the Kentucky with MSW wins and by hitting the board in their very first graded stakes race at Santa Anita.

And then there’s Bode’s trainer and Bob Baffert is not new to this trend. In fact, he gave it run with Midnight Interlude in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Midnight Interlude was on the outside of the derby field looking in with $0 in graded stakes earnings until he punched his ticket to the big show with an upset win in the Santa Anita Derby. But that’s where the party ended. It was a shot worth taking but a 16th place finish makes him a horse that never had a chance at breaking the Apollo Curse.

Conversely, Midnight Interlude wasn’t the only horse trying to untangle a Kentucky Derby trend that was still alive and kicking. There are only so many horses that can break a certain trend but rarely is it that a horse can break multiple. When the dust settled last year Animal Kingdom was the winner and the one that broke the cycle on a pair of trends also waiting to be solved.

Which brings me to the likely hood that Bodemeister will pull off the so-called impossible. If all we’re looking at is a numbers game there isn’t a better time than right now because Kentucky Derby trends have been getting cleared off the shelf left and right. It’s to the point where some of the oldest and full proof fashions to bet have not only failed but repeated in the next two or three years. What’s fascinating about a more popular trend, known as Ending Trends, is that some of the recent accomplishments were Kentucky Derby firsts.

If that’s where we stand then is the number up on Apollo? 130 years is a very lengthy time, maybe long enough for Bodemeister to rewrite Kentucky Derby History. For some reason Bob Baffert just seems like the kind of guy or trainer that would end a trend for the ages. And then let’s not forget about Bode’s Owners Zayat Stables. Runners Up in 2 of the last 3 Kentucky Derby’s with Nehro in 2011 and PioneeroftheNile in ’09, Ahmed Zayat also had to endure taking a very legitimate Kentucky Derby contender in Eskendereya off the trail in 2010. For a team that has had a string of almost, Bode could be the horse that gets them over the hump.

None of this is to say that Bodemeister will but it is very interesting to think about. I’m not even convinced on which Kentucky Derby Contender I’m going with but I will bet that Bode is going to have a very big crowd in his corner next weekend. Sour trends and celebrated records are meant to be broken so good luck to Bode at putting Apollo to bed.

A look at some recent trends that ended –

5 and 6 Week Layoff: In 1956 Needles won the Kentucky Derby after a 6 week layoff. It wasn’t until 2006 that Barbaro became the next horse to win after a 5 week layoff, a feat that was repeated in 2008 by Big Brown. Then in 2011 Animal Kingdom closed the door on the six-week layoff.

No Dirt: Animal Kingdom also became the first ever horse to win after never racing on dirt.

The 20 Hole: In 2008 Big Brown became the first ever entry to win from Post Position #20.

The Improbable Double: In 2007 Street Sense became the first ever horse to win the Kentucky Derby after scoring the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The Favorite Never Wins: Another trend that crumbled. In 2000 Fusaichi Pegasus became the first Post Time favorite to win the Kentucky Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979. 2 in 22 years was rare but then it happened 3 times in 6 years – Smarty Jones’05, Street Sense ’07, Big Brown ’08.

Gelding’s Can’t Win: In 2003, Funny Cide became the first Gelding to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. The odd achievement would surface again with Mine That Bird in 2009.

Not Enough Starts: The so-called required 6 lifetime starts trend fell by the wayside big time. Dating back to 1955, it wasn’t until 1996 that this trend began to slow down. It only took these horses 5 starts to win the Kentucky Derby: Grindstone ’96, Fusaichi Pegasus ’00 and Barbaro ’06. Not to mention Big Brown in ’08 who won after only 3 previous starts.

The Dosage Index: What was once a certified calculation is now dead. In 1991, Strike the Gold became the first horse dating back to 1940 to win the Kentucky Derby with a dosage index greater than the infamous 4.0. But since then 4 others followed suit beginning with Real Quiet in ’98, followed by Charismatic in ’99, Giacomo ’05 and Mine That Bird ’09

Written by: Little Brink



  1. I utilize Dosage Index because it is a very solid tool. It has been misunderstood for years now given how the press ran with it as a “be all end all” parameter; something it was never meant to be. There are many points to touch on here, but the biggest are that horses have been bread more and more for speed (a majority of the entries have DI over 4), the race is quite random given its unique 20 starters in the field, and the last (more important) point that vindicates DI is that winners of the Derby with DI > 4.0 don’t have fast times, which ties all the points together.

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