LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A full moon inside a hazy, golden aura rose above Churchill Downs' Twin Spires on Saturday night. It was an appropriate image for what happened a few hours earlier in the 138th Kentucky Derby. It was considered one of the deepest, most talented Derby fields in many years, yet only the first two finishers, 15-1 winner I'll Have Another and 4-1 favorite Bodemeister, did any running.
Union Rags, the 5-1 second choice, was squeezed back to 18th of 20 soon after the start and never had a chance. Although he passed eight tired horses in the stretch, he finished seventh.
"I feel bad for the horse and for the owner,'' trainer Michael Matz said Sunday morning. "We thought he'd be third or fourth going past the finish line the first time, not 18th.''
The undefeated Gemologist packed it in after 6 furlongs and backpedaled to 16th. The speedy Hansen never made the lead and ran ninth.
I'll Have Another got the roses for first-time Derby rider Mario Gutierrez, who worked out a trouble-free trip and ran by a tiring Bodemeister inside the sixteenth pole. Bodemeister went too fast for his own good, but it would be hard to imagine a horse running better and not winning.
"It was the only time I finished second in the Derby and wasn't upset,'' trainer Bob Baffert said. "I was so proud of him. He ran an amazing race.''
There have been quicker individual fractions by different horses, but Bodemeister's splits of 22.32 seconds for a quarter, 45.39 for a half-mile, 1:09.80 for 6 furlongs and 1:35.19 for a mile were the fastest by the same horse in Derby history.
"He didn't finish first, but he's still the winner,'' jockey Mike Smith said. "He's such a free-running horse that I couldn't take that away from him. At the top of the stretch, I thought we had it, but I knew we were in trouble when I saw coming.''
"I'll decide next week,'' he said. "If he's doing great next week, we'll take another shot at it.''
Matz said he was leaning toward skipping the Preakness to run Union Rags in the Belmont Stakes on June 9. "It's sort of a no-win situation,'' Matz said. "If you go to the Preakness and win, you'll say, 'I have to go to the Belmont.' If you go there and run bad, you'll say, 'It was too soon.' ''
Besides I'll Have Another, Pimlico executive Mike Gathagan named Derby runners Bodemeister, Went the Day Well (fourth), Creative Cause (fifth), Liaison, Hansen and Optimizer (11th) as Preakness probables. Gathagan said Brimstone Island, Cozzetti, Hierro, Paynter, Pretension, The Lumber Guy and Tiger Walk are possible new shooters.
Doug O'Neill, trainer of I'll Have Another, said he was on "the highest of highs." He said his colt came out of the race well and would be sent to Pimlico this morning. Asked about going for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, O'Neill said: "I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I think he is the kind of horse who can maintain his form and keep it going.''