Virginia-bred Bodemeister pulled away for a convincing 9 ½-length victory in the Grade 1 $1 million Arkansas Derby before a crowd of 63,804 on Saturday at a warm and windy Oaklawn Park.

(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The promising sophomore by Empire Maker, out of Untouched Talent by Storm Cat was bred by Audley Farm in Berryville and sold as a yearling for $260,000 at the Keeneland September Sale.

Bodemeister broke wide coming out of the gate, but quickly took the lead and never relinquished it, in the 76th running of the major prep for the Kentucky Derby. The finish was a spectacular outcome for trainer Bob Baffert, who named the winner after his son, Bode. Baffert also trains Secret Circle, who finished a distant second in the field of 11 3-year olds.

Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith took Bodemeister right to the front. A number of horses were within a few lengths as they made the final turn, including Secret Circle. But Bodemeister found another gear, leaving a deflated field in the dust. He covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1.48 3/4 to claim the $600,000 purse.

(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

“It was extremely impressive,” Smith said.” You could see it as well as I could feel it. I had been watching him work, watching him run. I had seen his last two works and I was very impressed.”

Bodemeister most likely needed to win the Arkansas to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, due to his low amount of graded stakes winnings. The colt had just three career starts all in California, before flying in to Hot Springs on Tuesday. After the impressive win on Saturday, Bodemeister looks to be among the favorites at Churchill Downs.

“We’ll see what this took out of them and then we’ll start talking (Kentucky) Derby,” Baffert said. “Oaklawn is a very kind surface and the horses have been coming back great. Bodemeister should be in great shape. He ran hard and fast. We know distance won’t be a problem.”