Bob Baffert is happy to be anywhere these days, considering a heart attack flattened him in Dubai last month.
"After it was over, it felt like, 'Man, I just, I got a second chance here.' … It was just a weird scare," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "I've got to redo, change my lifestyle. I've got to take care of myself like I take care of my horses."
Life is good right now.
He's got the likely favorite in the Kentucky Derby with Bodemeister, a talented colt named after his son Bode, who is named after Dad's ski pal Bode Miller.
Bodemeister stamped himself as a standout with his 9½-length win in the Arkansas Derby, the most impressive performance in a season of prep races that have done little to clarify a muddled Derby picture. A full field of 20 horses is expected for the 1¼-mile race, and it will be one of the deepest and most talented for the Saturday race.
"All 20 horses are stronger than I can remember in years," said Dr. Kendall Hansen, whose light gray colt, Hansen, carries the family name and will be bet heavily. "There's no horse that's setting the world on fire yet. It's nice that you're not running against a Northern Dancer or a Secretariat."
Injuries that derailed favorites I Want Revenge and Quality Road in 2009; Eskendereya in 2010; and Uncle Mo last year have not been a problem this time. Rather it has been inconsistency among the top 3-year-olds that has opened the door for a handful of colts.
Bodemeister is arguably the most talented 3-year-old this year, although he lacks seasoning, never having raced as a 2-year-old. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without racing at age 2 Baffert had Bodemeister playing catch-up, with the colt making four starts in the run-up to the Derby. The only other Derby candidate to race that much is Prospective.
"I just took my time with him," Baffert said. "He was just immature."
Baffert demurs on Bodemeister as the likely favorite, suggesting Union Rags or Hansen could claim the top spot.
The past four Derby winners had just two prep races as 3-year-olds, including Super Saver in 2010. Among this year's top contenders, Union Rags was 3-1 as a 2-year-old, Creative Cause 3-2 and Gemologist 3-0, winning both of his starts this year.
"We'll continue to see winners of the Derby come from all different angles with various prep programs. It's all about everything going just right on that particular day," said Todd Pletcher, who won his first Derby with Super Saver and trains Gemologist.
This year's Derby promises speed in the form of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and Trinniberg, winner of the Swale and Bay Shore in his past two starts but who has never run farther than seven furlongs.
Hansen led all the way in beating Union Rags in last year's BC Juvenile. Each of the previous four Juvenile winners never made it to the Derby starting gate, but this year eight Juvenile starters are likely to run.
. fast facts
138th Kentucky Derby
5 p.m. Saturday (post time 6:24), Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky. TV: Ch. 8 Friday: Kentucky Oaks, 5 p.m. (post time 5:45) TV: NBC Sports Network