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Originally published May 4, 2012 at 9:05 PM | Page modified May 5, 2012 at 9:10 PM

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Bodemeister heads Kentucky Derby field | Horse racing analysis

To anyone who is a speed handicapper, there should be no doubt about the identity of the best colt in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. When Bodemeister won his final prep race, the Arkansas Derby, he appeared to be in a class by himself.

Special to The Washington Post

Hanson's horses

The picks of Seattle Times handicapper Scott Hanson:

Bodemeister: Was awesome in winning the Arkansas Derby.

Creative Cause: Has the right style to win, and runs well every race.

Alpha: Keeps improving and has the talent to take a step forward.

Union Rags: Needs to improve after a disappointing third in Florida Derby.

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To anyone who is a speed handicapper, there should be no doubt about the identity of the best colt in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. When Bodemeister won his final prep race, the Arkansas Derby, he appeared to be in a class by himself.

Bodemeister did not merely demolish his rivals by 9 ½ lengths. He ran 1-1/8 miles in 1 minute, 48.71 seconds, shortly after a solid field of older horses in the Oaklawn Park Handicap had covered the same distance in 1:49.94. It is unusual — and a convincing mark of excellence — for a young horse to run so much faster than high-class elders.

No member of this 3-year-old crop has given a performance nearly as good.

Some of them have records that are superficially impressive. Hansen and Union Rags ran 1-2 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall and have continued to display good form this spring. The Todd Pletcher-trained Gemologist is undefeated in five career starts. But they have been slow — painfully slow.

The average winning Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby is 108, and top contenders are expected to approach that number in their prep races.

Hansen and Union Rags have never run better than 96. Gemologist's modest 98 in the Wood Memorial was the best in any Grade I event for 3-year-olds — until Bodemeister unleashed a 108 April 14 at Oaklawn Park.

This was no fluke; he had run back-to-back numbers of 101 at Santa Anita. He has as many triple-digit speed figures as the rest of the field combined.

Despite his superior talent, Bodemeister faces two potential pitfalls at Churchill Downs. He is short of experience, with four career starts, and such lightly raced horses have a poor record in the Derby, though Bob Baffert's training should help him overcome this disadvantage. The more serious problem Bodemeister will face is the expected fast pace of the Derby.

Sprinter Trinniberg is as quick as any horse of his generation, and he will be flying through the early furlongs until he runs out of gas. Bodemeister has set or pressed the pace in each of his races, and several other members of the field are speedy types, too.

Jockeys will hope to restrain their mounts so they are not harmed by Trinniberg's fast early fractions, but this is easier said than done. When the leader in the Derby runs the first half-mile in 46 seconds or faster (which Trinniberg could do in his sleep), all of the horses near the lead are apt to collapse. Three times since 2000 the Derby has been run with a sub-:46 pace, and the winners rallied from 15th, 13th and 18th place, respectively.

I hope Bodemeister has such talent he can withstand a hot pace, but the other quick horses aren't good enough to do so, and in betting trifectas and superfectas I'll throw out all of them. Hansen won't be on any of my tickets, nor will Gemologist, I'll Have Another or Take Charge Indy — each a winner of a Grade I race.

Of the stretch-running threats in the 138th Derby, the most credible might be Daddy Nose Best. When he got the chance to run beyond a mile on dirt, he rallied to win the Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico with a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, the best last-race number in the field except for Bodemeister.

I will play trifectas and superfectas using both Bodemeister and Daddy Nose Best in the top spot, with a mix of stretch-running types underneath them.

But my key Derby play is a cold exacta: Bodemeister-Daddy Nose Best.

138th Kentucky Derby
Post time: 3:24 p.m. Saturday. TV: Ch. 5. Weights: 126 pounds. Distance: 1 ¼ miles. Purse: $2,219,600 if 20 start.
PP Horse Jockey Odds
1. Daddy Long Legs C.O'Donoghue 30-1
2. Optimizer J.Court 50-1
3. Take Charge Indy C.Borel 15-1
4. Union Rags J.Leparoux 9-2
5. Dullahan K.Desormeaux 8-1
6. Bodemeister M.Smith 4-1
7. Rousing Sermon J.Lezcano 50-1
8. Creative Cause J.Rosario 12-1
9. Trinniberg W.Martinez 50-1
10. Daddy Nose Best G.Gomez 15-1
11. Alpha R.Maragh 15-1
12. Prospective L.Contreras 30-1
13. Went the Day Well J.Velazquez 20-1
14. Hansen R.Dominguez 10-1
15. Gemologist J.Castellano 6-1
16. El Padrino R.Bejarano 20-1
17. Done Talking S.Russell 50-1
18. Sabercat C.Nakatani 30-1
19. I'll Have Another M.Gutierrez 12-1
20. Liaison M.Garcia 50-1
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