Trainer Bob Baffert has made a villain out of Bodemeister by pulling his colt out of the Belmont Stakes and has done a disservice to horse racing in the process.
If this was a decision made based on health concerns for the horse, it would be perfectly acceptable. However, it seems Baffert wants to spare himself another failure in the form of a second-place finish.
Bodemeister was the consensus best horse in the field, and the odds-on favorite to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. By withholding him from the last leg of I'll Have Another's Triple Crown quest, Baffert has forever tainted the legacy of the Doug O'Neill-trained horse should he accomplish the feat.
Bodemeister had the greatest raw speed in the first two races, and lost at Churchill Downs and Pimlico by the smallest of margins. Now that he is not attending the race at the Belmont, people will look back on I'll Have Another's Triple Crown (if he is able to win) with speculation. This is the equivalent of the best team losing their best player in the playoffs, then another team winning the championship, which makes fans look back and say "Well, they wouldn't have won if so-and-so didn't go down."
Baffert owed it to O'Neill, jockey Mario Gutierrez and I'll Have Another to run Bodemeister in the June 9 race, instead of sending his horse back to California. This seems to me like Baffert threw a temper tantrum when his horse faltered at the end for the second consecutive race and was fed up with the thoroughbred not being able to close out races.
This isn't a case when a coach pulls an aging veteran out of the game to save him the embarrassment of being dominated by the younger, better players in the game.
This is a horse. This horse does not know what was at stake or what he lost. Bodemeister certainly doesn't know that he cost Baffert a couple of million dollars by not being able to hold off I'll Have Another.
This is purely a human being wanting to save himself the humiliation of losing three consecutive races to a horse that his was supposedly better than. It would not hurt Bodemeister's feelings if he lost at the Belmont, and he would go back to the stable and eat his oats like nothing happened.
But, Baffert is being selfish and his actions will mar the most impressive performance of I'll Have Another's career. Even if Gutierrez rides I'll Have Another to victory by a heavy margin, horse racing diehards will look back at the 2012 Belmont Stakes and think to themselves, "What if Bodemeister had raced? Would he have been able to hold off I'll Have Another?"
Even if the answer is no, their questions will still be raised.
Pulling Bodemeister out of the race for any other reason than a concern over his health, which I have yet to hear, was not the right thing to do. You can't win them all, and Baffert should have taken his lumps and ran his horse one more time. Who knows? Maybe he would have held off I'll Have Another this time.
We haven't seen a Triple Crown in nearly 35 years, and to pull the second-best horse out of the last leg is to put a figurative asterisk next to I'll Have Another's name in the record books.