By Nick Hahn

The grass is greener, the air is cleaner and there’s a bounce in everyone’s step at Berryville’s Audley Farm in northwestern Virginia where Bodemeister was bred.  Their former resident as a weaning and a yearling is scheduled to “run for the roses” in the Kentucky Derby in less than two weeks, likely as the favorite in a twenty-horse field.  Should he win, Bodemeister would become the first Virginia-bred to win the Derby since Sea Hero in 1993. 
“Everyone is dreaming of that,” Audley’s General Manager, Dr. Jens Von Lepel said.  “This is the best reward for my owners and my crew here.  They are so stimulated.  In the morning, they come out (and ask) where are my horses.”

Dr. Jens von Lepel stands with an Untouchable Talent weanling, Bodemeister’s half sister.

Come to think of it, even on a rainy Monday afternoon, there wasn’t a blade of uncut grass outside of the paddocks.  With a 10 length score (officially 9 ½ lengths) in the Arkansas Derby April 14th at Oaklawn Park, Bodemeister not only ensured his place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, he will be the first Virginia-bred to start in the Derby since Semoran in 1996 (Keswick Stable). 

Tuesday morning, Bodemeister worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 4/5ths at Churchill Downs for trainer Bob Baffert.  It is Baffert’s son, Bode, whom Bodemeister is named.   Usually handicappers shy away from frontrunners in the Derby’s mile and a quarter, yet they can’t dismiss Bodemeister as he has the highest Beyer speed figure (108) of any potential Derby starter this year.

Jens Von Lepel believes Bodemeister can adapt to the Derby style and distance coming slightly off the pace instead of setting it.  He would love to see his former resident between third and fifth heading up the backstretch, slightly different than his spring campaign where he was either first or second. 
He recalls a morning earlier this spring at Santa Anita when Bodemeister galloped one morning and came upon five thoroughbreds working on the rail.  Bodemeister ran up to and engaged the horses, running evenly before the rider pulled him up.   
“They send the best horses in the Derby.  The luckiest horse that day wins,” acknowledges Von Lepel knowing that talent alone isn’t enough to win the Derby.  “It still could be the best one but I would always say the luckiest one wins it.” 
Bodemeister as a weanling in an Audley paddock.

For Virginia racing and breeding, Audley’s appearance in the Triple Crown couldn’t come at a better time.  Last fall the farm of Virginia’s largest thoroughbred breeder was dispersed after its owner, Edward P. Evans passed away.  Audley is eager to fill part of that void more out of respect than rivalry.

“I think it was very sad for the whole industry because these kinds of people who have that kind of passion, we need,” says Von Lepel.  “Without passion, it doesn’t work.  If you find a person like Mr. Evans who had that passion, I think it’s wonderful.”
In fact, it was Evans in 2009 that would have ended the Virginia-bred drought in the Triple Crown with Quality Road.  Mike Battaglia, who set the morning line for the Kentucky Derby in 2009, said he would have made Quality Road the favorite before a quarter-crack forced his withdrawal five days before the race.  Evans won at the highest levels of racing but never in the Triple Crown.
Sir Barton stood (and still stands) at Audley Farm.

The Triple Crown is new territory for Audley Farm, despite being the home of the very stallion that founded it, Sir Barton.  Audley was the first place Sir Barton stood after his racing career.  The winner of 1919 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes stood at Audley long before the Triple Crown was conceived. 

Prior to Bodemeister, Audley’s most successful horse was likely the filly Mandy’s Gold, a grade one stakes winner who won 11 of her 22 starts.  Audley was Virginia’s breeder of the year in 1995, 1997 and 2002 before Evans moved his mares from Kentucky to his native Virginia.
Bodemeister as a yearling at Audley.

Bodemeister was purchased at Keeneland’s September 2010 yearling sale for $260,000 by Zayat Stables owned by Amed Zayat.  He didn’t race as a two-year old, something every Kentucky Derby winner has done since 1882, when Apollo won the Derby without a two-year old start.

“As a late April foal, Baffert thought he was not really ready.  He knew he had talent, just immature,” says Von Lepel. 
Bodemeister is sired by 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker out of the Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent who has another Virginia-bred, Secretariat, that shows up in her lineage. 
Untouched Talent has a yearling by Smart Strike at Audley.

One of 16 broodmares, Untouched Talent loves to graze in the paddock just outside the historic Audley house and is now in foal to Unbridled Song.  Alongside is her weanling by Tiznow and across the road in another paddock is her yearling by Smart Strike.  After she foaled Bodemeister in 2008, the German veterinarian passed on breeding her in 2009.

A weanling by Tiznow circles Untouched Talent.

Eric Von Baumbach and Christophe Boehringer, two of the nine German heirs of Hubertus Liebrecht, who purchased the equine and cattle farm in 1978, continued to operate the equine portion of Audley Farm’s 2500 acres.  Von Lepel was the long-time breeding manager for Liebrecht in Germany.

One of many Audley scenescapes.

So, if you hear a tune coming from the upper Shenandoah Valley, no need for concern.  The hills are full with the sound of music.