On Bodemeister and Why Baffert Owns Oaklawn Park

Baffert’s last 3 years at OP: 17 starts, 13 wins, 2 places. That is not a misprint. Holy cow. Yet, Saturday was his first Arkansas Derby win going 1-2 with Bodemeister and Secret Circle. And other elite level competition was there also as Asmussen, Pletcher, McPeek, Lukas, and Dale Romans all had entries. Is this all purely due to chance, or are other factors at work?

As mentioned before, west coast based trainers condition their horses significantly further than do east coast based conditioners:


And I believe those longer works are the key reason why Baffert outperforms Pletcher, Mott, and others who send their charges distances of 4-5F. Again, both approaches win big races, but Baffert’s earnings per start and Classic performances trump all comers – including those who are also fortunate to train large numbers of regally-bred stock:


Secret Circle: Several 6F works and also a 7F effort.

Bodemeister: Breezed 6F THREE TIMES before ever making his first start at just 5.5F. Again breezed 6F in 1:10 at SA just before shipping to Arkansas, then after getting off the plane a few days later blew out a 5F effort.

Plum Pretty: This older filly has worked 7F three times in the last 6 weeks, and 3 three other times at 6F, prior to winning the Apple Blossom in her first start of 2012 on Friday.

The TOTAL number of 6F works by the 14 non-Baffert entries in the Apple Blossom and Arkansas Derby in the past 6 weeks of training: just 3, and only Steve Asmussen from our earlier list of ‘name’ trainers did so.

So, Oaklawn set up as a major meeting point for west coast vs east coast training methodologies, although California is only represented by Mr. Baffert. It’s safe to pronounce the West Coast as the knockout winner on Monday morning.

The next round takes place in Kentucky, where Baffert gets some help in representing California as Creative Cause for Mike Harrington and Doug O’Neill’s I’ll Have Another enter the fray – two more colts that routinely breeze 6-7F while east coasters go 4-5F.

$10k claimers from coast to coast breeze 4F weekly, does it really make sense for a 3yo trying to finish 10F in 2:02 to do so as well at this point?

Aggressive conditioning develops Classic winners, the others (in my opinion) rely on the blessings of pedigree to hand them their stars.  On a different subject; years ago as California was forced to move away from dirt, Baffert was the first to realize that change would hamper his Derby chances, so he began the Oaklawn-based preps. Even with a return to lightning fast dirt at SA, he has continued the practice, good for him – that SA dirt has little in common with the CD strip, OP is a nice compromise.

Perhaps if Bodemeister, Secret Circle, Creative Cause, and I’ll Have Another fill out the Superfecta on The First Saturday in May, some east coast conditioners will take note and lengthen their works for elite level prospects?

P.S. So why did Game on Dude get demolished in the Dubai World Cup? Simple, as important as conditioning is to the process, surface trumps all. Dude had a bunch of 6-7F works under him before shipping to the desert, but all took place on the dirt at SA. Repeat after me west coast trainers who will attempt to go to Dubai in the future: Tapeta….Golden Gate Park….Tapeta….Golden Gate Park. I know it is a hassle to stable 4 hours north of your home base for just 6 weeks – but it will buy you a few lengths at Meydan and that is a $10 million dollar purse after all, where even a third place finish earns you a seven figure piece of the pie.

P.P.S. Most probably know that Bob suffered a heart attack recently in Dubai and was unable to make the trip to Hot Springs last week. It’s amazing to me that such a successful guycontinues to push himself so hard, but then again – that’s why guys like him are at the top of their professions. Get well soon Mr. Baffert.

EDIT: 5/2/12 (as the draw for the 2012 KY Derby plays on my TV…)

Finally the world, or in this case, the DRF, catches up to Baffert’s superior conditioning methods:


I’ve written about this for several months now, and on the eve of the Derby we finally see some mainstream media pick up on how Baffert bucks the cookie-cutter conditioning methods prevalent over much of the US. Of course, I may not be singing the same tune if Bodemeister turns into Comma to the Top in a few short days–


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on April 16, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Baffert been training circles around peers you mention for years. And, it’s not even close. His stock really good, but can only imagine what he’d do w/ the other nice stock out there training on “conventional” programs. Good of you to highlight his work.

    • Thanks Sean, typically I get the ‘but he breaks horses down’ complaint from other ‘easy/light’ trainers – but guess what, they break horses down also.

      • If you want to do a real story about Baffert, do some research and see how many of those horses he drills 6f and 7f are vanned off the track the next day or two. Go through the workouts and past performances and see how many horses he goes through in a year that magically disappear. Don’t do a puff piece like this, and just promotes more of what’s bad in American racing.

      • That’s bullshit, or more appropriately horseshit Battler. If they are going to race 8F+ they sure as hell better breeze 6F+ in preparation. Now if you want to complain about drugs ruining American racing, that’s legitimate. But all trainers have horses get injured. Mott and Pletcher and all the others you idolize have similar breakdown stats.

        This quarterhorse ‘conditioning’ that Lukas introduced is what’s wrong with US racing, in my opinion. I’m ecstatic that he is 0 for his last 110 stakes starters. Why don’t you explain to all of us how your in depth research illustrates how breezing 4F prepares a horse to race a mile?

      • I will help you get started with your story. Here’s a list of horses over the last few years, trained by Bob Baffert, who had one or more workout at 5f or longer (shorter works were excluded) and NEVER raced or worked again after the published workout.

        Air Ace (2/25/08) 5f
        Alcindor (9/27/11) 5f
        Bobby Zapper (12/26/11) 5f
        Bull Creek (8/23/11) 5f
        Buried (9/26/11) 5f
        Butch (1/20/07) 5f
        Cape Flyaway (3/18/08) 6f
        Capital Account (3/15/12) 5f
        Casino Gold (8/18/09) 5f
        Charm N Chuck (12/24/10) 6f
        Coming Thru (11/17/11) 5f
        Conveyance (10/14/10) 5f
        Crank Caller (1/09/07) 5f
        Cry and Catch Me (8/17/09) 6f
        D’pendable (3/10/12) 6f
        Del Mar Miss (2/1/08) 5f
        Diamond Tags (1/19/11) 5f
        Dreamcaster (11/1/11) 7f
        E Z’s Gentlemen (7/13/11) 5f
        Elusive Allie (2/20/10) 5f
        Excessively Nice (10/27/06) 6f
        Express Rail (11/25/08) 5f

        That’s just A through E since 2007, who worked 5f or longer. If they worked shorter or were last seen in a race they were not included. If you need F-Z, I will do the couple hours research for you, too. Now get to work! and find their whereabouts after all that drilling. If any of them are still alive, get some pictures, then you will have a real story.

      • Your efforts are a colossal waste of time without doing the same for other trainers. Why do you continue to ignore that request of mine? Are you PETA, or are you just biased against Baffert? You go back 5 years and thru 5 letters of the alphabet to give me 22 instances, so extrapolation gives us 500 injured horses overall – out of roughly what, 1500 he’s come across in that time? 33%. That compares favorably to another list I have seen:


        So, give me Pletcher’s stats – if you can prove to me that Baffert ruins a higher number of horses than any other trainer – I promise to publish the data – although I would imagine the surface at SA may have something to do with it. Look, if a damn horse can’t work 5F safely – I’d rather find out in the morning instead of during a 6F race where he goes down and takes 4 others with him. The old time Hall of Famers worked twice as often and 50% further than Baffert – and back then the US breakdown rate on dirt was 1.6 per 1,000 starters, now its 2.14.

        Otherwise; US horses breakdown 3x that of Australia, even when only looking at turf. Australian horses work fast 2x per week and don’t use Lasix or Bute on raceday:


        Raceday drug use and underconditioning are the true scourges of US racing. I wish guys like you would use some of your admittedly sterling research methods to spell out that fact, instead of picking on one trainer like you have done here.

  2. great article. I grew up with old school guys. Some when I had a opportunity to start to train my own horses I went old school. It really paid off. Ran allowance at keeneland finished 4 in 5 horse field. Got stuck on the rail on the grass. The filly was running up the rear of the horses in front. Came back to barn took two sips of water and wanted to graze. came back 7 days later same race on grass with Sandy Hawley up won by 5. Train her up to race like Baffert would and watch what I was doing and really had a lot of fun.

    • Thanks for sharing David! Great story. I still wish Baffert and the other west coasters would go old school and train fast every 3-4 days; alternating a 6-8F longer, slower work with a 3-4F fast speed move. That is what most, if not all, triple crown champions did, like Assault:

      3 – 4F in :48
      4 – Won Kentucky Derby by 8 in 2:06 on sloppy track
      5 – walked at CD
      6 – shipped to Pimlico
      8 – 3F in :40
      9 – 8F in 1:45
      11 – Won Preakness Stakes by a neck in 2:01 on fast track
      12 – shipped to Belmont
      16 – 4F in :52
      18 – 3F in :40
      20 – 4F in :48
      22 – 8F in 1:44
      24 – 3F in :35
      25 – 1.25 miles in 2:05 (:50, 1:15, 1:40, 2:05)
      28 – 4F in :50
      29 – 1.5 miles in 2:32

      1 – Won Belmont Stakes by 3 in 2:31 on fast track
      5 – 4F in :52
      7 – 4F in :51
      9 – 8F in 1:43
      11 – 3F in :36
      13 – 8F in 1:43 at Aqueduct
      15 – Won Dwyer Stakes by 5 lengths in 2:07 on fast track

      If you haven’t already read it, here’s a young trainer doing much of that stuff with an oft-injured, previously winless runner – turning him into a good earner in Germany:


  3. Phillip Haycock

    Hi Bill
    Id like to share an experience that is relevant to this read on conditioning.
    This is a recent experience and may back up what many old timers and new ones are saying. It’s a bit of a story but will try and condense it.
    There is a horse that had a good base then did 9 workouts in 25 days.
    The workouts were on a treadmill set at 2 degrees.
    The workouts were interval format.
    Each consisted of 4 x 1600m heats with intervals of between 20 and 180 second between the heats
    Speeds ranged from 20 to 40 mph
    Each workout included a mile and a ¼ warm up at 4.5mph before first heat. And a 1000m walk down and end.
    Remember its 9 workouts in 25 days.

    Then she had 7 days off due to Mud fever.
    Then she started back to work with what was to be a 5 mile gallop at 20mph.
    Because she was to do one long slow gallop I was only watching her HR and not her distance.
    A short time after starting out her HR spiked to 191 so I shut the workout down immediately to check her and the gear. All was good, including HR recovery so off she went again with a nice HR.
    Then a short time on her HR hit 171 so I stopped her again. Again all was ok including HR recovery so again she set off.
    Would you believe it the same thing again, this time 160bpm when Id expect 135-140.
    Again I stopped her, this time for only 20 seconds then set off again, this time she ran 2 ¾ miles with a nice HR down to very low numbers.
    We finished up and I downloaded the date to the PC. What I saw intrigued me.
    The distance she traveled between HR spikes was close to 1600m each. The same distance she had been conditioned to run in the majority of her previous 9 days x 4 x1600m heats.
    That’s 36x 1600m heats.
    I believe these heats had conditioned her to only want to run that far and when asked for more distance she had resisted at a physiological and or emotional level which showed as a spike in HR.
    There are trainers out there that insist that a horses should train at race distances, I tend to believe this

    • Interesting Phillip-

      Obviously in the US most breeze 4-5F in 12sec fractions, but only after a rolling start off of a gallop in the 17-20sec/furlong range. Of course in a race, the horse is then expected to repeat that 4-5F burst, but off of a MUCH faster pace of 11-12 sec/furlong for several panels.

  4. I see I’ll Have Another is West Coast trained, backing up your beliefs!

    • The 4 west coast horses took places 1-2-5-6. Everyone of them ran well over a baked CD strip that was quite similar to Santa Anita in favoring speed. Much more detail coming in a new post….the 2012 Breeders Cup at Santa Anita will be a bloodbath for under-conditioned east coasters.

  5. What do we know about “I’ll have another”?

    • Plenty known about this west coast colt, hang on for a detailed post in the next day or two. Trainer Doug O’Neill made some comments in an interview this week that leads me to believe he reads this blog, very interesting!-

  6. we know he did nt have mike smith on his back

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