BALTIMORE – Unencumbered by a jockey and suddenly free to run wherever he darn pleased, Bodexpress decided to take a shot at winning the Preakness.
Taking one of the most memorable trips in the 149-year history of Pimlico Race Course, Bodexpress followed the leaders without a rider on board and at one point appeared to be a contender in the 13-horse race.
“You’ve got to be careful because some of them try to win,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who saddled race favorite Improbable. “I’ve had horses that try to win. They actually run a great race sometimes.”
From the moment the frisky 3-year-old hopped from the gate, ejecting Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, craziness ensued . Running on his own in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Bodexpress began his obligatory trip around the track, driven either by instinct or the desire to be part of the crowd.
Fortunately, Velazquez quickly rose from the dirt and scooted off the track without injury.
“When the doors opened, I was off right from the start. He kind of jumped sideways,” Velazquez said. “I had my feet out of the irons so I lost my balance then, I went off.”
There was an indication that things weren’t going right when Bodexpress veered left from the post parade instead of right, along with the other horses.
“He was just not behaving good in the gate. He was not sitting really well,” Velazquez said. “He got me against the wall and the gate.”
Coming out of the nasty spill with his health was a positive, but the 47-year-old jockey won’t soon forget this (non) ride.
“When you come in here to a big race and then things like this happen with the horses, it’s disappointing,” Velazquez said.
An outrider tried to corral Bodexpress at the top of the stretch, but he wasn’t about to let the horseplay come to an end. The colt sped up and passed a few competitors near the finish line and kept going.
In fact, he ran the entire track again before finally calling it a day – a veritable victory lap for the social media champion who was still trending on Twitter hours later.
Bodexpress, the Florida Derby runnerup in March, was placed last and officially gets a did-not-finish.
When has was finally done running, Bodexpress was fine. The son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and career non-winner was finally brought under control after taking another lap around the track.
Turns out, Bodexpress wasn’t the only horse getting antsy in the gate. The same applied to favored Improbable, whose pre-race dance turned into a sixth-place finish.
“He was acting pretty well and then he got fired up and then after that, when horses do that it just takes a lot of energy out,” said Baffert, who was denied a record-setting eighth Preakness win. “He got in the gate, and when he did that, I knew that was it.”
Regarding Bodexpress, Baffert could sympathize with Velazquez and appreciate what the other riders (and horses) were thinking as the jockey-less horse strode by.
“There are so many things that can go wrong in a horse race,” Baffert said. “It’s scarier for the horses that are in there because they’ve got to watch him the whole way.”
Although it doesn’t usually happen in a Triple Crown race, this isn’t the first time a horse has thrown his rider.
“I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen that, yeah, of course,” Baffert said. “I had one that did it. I was a heavy favorite a while back that did it. I never had one before and it happened to me this year. I thought I’d seen everything.”
The good news is, Velazquez – winner of four Triple Crown races – emerged unscathed and said he won’t be seeing a doctor.
“He had that look of disappointment,” Baffert said. “It’s like a bull rider getting bucked off the first jump.”
Velazquez can take consolation in that Mark Casse, the trainer of Preakness winner War of Will , hopes the first-place finishing jockey, Tyler Gaffalione, can one day match the fallen jockey’s greatness.
“One ironic thing is,” Casse said, “I call Tyler the next Johnny Velazquez.”
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