LOUISVILLE — Barring anything unforeseen, a rematch between the top two finishers in the Kentucky Derby will take place Saturday.
The prospective field for the 137th Preakness Stakes came into clearer focus Monday when trainer Bob Baffert confirmed that Derby runner-up Bodemeister will ship to Pimlico Race Course this week for an expected start in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Meanwhile, several other contenders dropped in or out of the running, the most notable defection being juvenile champion Hansen.
Though reports said Bodemeister came back from his gutsy Derby effort in strong order, Baffert wanted to evaluate the son of Empire Maker with his own eyes before giving the green light. With majority owner Ahmed Zayat joining him in Louisville on Monday morning, Baffert watched Bodemeister take a cursory 11/2-mile gallop around Churchill Downs before cementing his plans.
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"He's been in, but I just wanted to see for myself," Baffert said. "He looks great; he looks healthy. We still have until Wednesday morning to change our minds, but what I've been hearing from Jimmy (assistant Barnes) and the exercise riders, it looks like he bounced out of the race pretty well."
While Bodemeister will move on to face Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another again, the connections of reigning 2-year-old champion Hansen said they'll pass on the Preakness and point for the Grade II, 7-furlong Woody Stephens at Belmont Park on June 9. Hansen finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, the first time he had been worse than second in seven career starts.
"I would love to go to Baltimore and enjoy all the Preakness festivities. However, it is not in the best interest of Hansen to run back on two weeks' rest or run over 9 furlongs at this time," co-owner Dr. Kendall Hansen said in a statement. "I want him to continue to enjoy racing and feel he will be happier running 7 to 9 furlongs. We owe this to Hansen himself."
Considering the taxing nature of his Kentucky Derby outing, Bodemeister's energy level shortly after the race reinforced to his connections that they were dealing with a special horse.
The bay colt put down fractions on the front end that would be considered borderline suicidal, covering the opening quarter-mile in :22.32 and the half in :45.39 under jockey Mike Smith. While those fractions did catch up to Bodemeister at the eighth pole as I'll Have Another reeled him in, the fact the lightly raced colt held on for as long as he did has earned him as much praise in the aftermath as the victor.
"After the race, I thought he'd be completely wiped out," Baffert said. "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. Right now I don't see any reason not to take him."
Bodemeister's stablemate Liaison, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, had also been under consideration for the Preakness, but Baffert later told the Maryland Jockey Club that the colt would skip the race. Potential next spots for Liaison include the Belmont Stakes on June 9 or a return to California for the $150,000 Californian at 11⁄8 miles at Hollywood Park on June 2.
The Kentucky Derby was the fifth career start for Bodemeister, who did not race as a 2-year-old. The bay colt could be in position to get a more favorable pace scenario in the Preakness as fellow front-runner Trinniberg — who prompted Bodemeister for the better part of the Derby — will join Hansen in not contesting the second leg of the Triple Crown. Still, with other new shooters in the mix, Zayat said he expects his colt to have the main target on him for the 13⁄16-mile test.
"They're going to push him, but he's in a class of his own," Zayat said. "Bob is not going to send a horse unless he is ready. And he's ready. And if he runs anything close to his race, God willing, we should have a positive result."
Derby Trial winner Hierro breezed 5 furlongs Monday in 1:01.20 under the watch of trainer Steve Asmussen at Churchill Downs, but owner Stonestreet Stable later announced on Twitter he will not contest the Preakness.
Although Hierro and stablemate Isn't He Clever were withdrawn from Preakness consideration Monday, Asmussen might still be represented by Sunland Derby winner Daddy Nose Best.
Daddy Nose Best, 10th in the Derby, was added to the list of Preakness candidates after working a half-mile in :53 at Churchill Downs on Monday. Co-owner Bob Zollars said he expects a decision to be made by Tuesday.
The Dale Romans-trained Cozzetti is among those expected to be Preakness bound, however, after working 5 furlongs at Churchill in a sparkling :58.80.
Optimizer, who ran 11th in the Derby, also completed his training for the Preakness by working a half-mile in :49.80 at Churchill Downs.