So, first things first. There is an undefeated horse in the field named Gemologist. He is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano. As a side note, Javier used to ride Union Rags. He gave up Union Rags to ride Gemologist, and it was Javier who boxed Union Rags in on the rail during the Florida Derby, essentially ruining his former mount’s chance at the win. In other news, Javier is also the guy who was attacked by Calvin Borel after a Breeder’s Cup race. Thing is, by all accounts Javier is a super nice guy and a clean rider. Mostly, I just wanted to post the video of Calvin going bananas.
Anyway, Javier jumped off Union Rags in order to stick with Gemologist, and the horse is undefeated and won the Wood Memorial. Technically, I should like him. I loved his hard fighting sire, Tiznow, and Gemologist has shown similar grit. And yet, I’m just not a believer. He has bizarre action. His front legs paddle so much he’d be all kinds of useful in a canoe. There are a lot of rumors of unsoundness. He is trained by The Todd, which is always uninspiring. The Todd is the Corporate America of horse racing, and who roots for Corporate America? Pretty much just Corporate America. Another horse worth knowing is Alpha, second in the Wood Memorial. He’s a nice horse, trained by a nice guy, Kiaran McLoughlin. But I just don’t care about either of these horses, despite their prominence. So, in case you’re interested, here’s the Wood Memorial and I’m moving on. (Actually, I just watched the Wood again. It is a good race. The winner was bumped, forced wide, etc. and he still won…I don’t know why I don’t care.)
All right! Onto the horses I find more inspiring. Firstly, we have Dullahan. Here’s what he has going for him. A.) Cool name. B.) Cool looking C.) Real big. Those are always fun qualities, right? Especially when they come in a grand looking chestnut with a lot of white. He is trained by Dale Romans…who I like-ish, but sometimes he does things that baffle me. The way he’s handled Shackleford, last year’s Preakness winner, has kind of bummed me out at times. Moreover, First Dude improved enormously after moving from Romans barn to Baffert’s. So, I don’t know about Romans. He’s had all kinds of success, especially at Churchill Downs, but I don’t entirely trust him as a trainer. Anyway. Dullahan is ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the personality-filled jockey who is either really, really good, or really, really terrible, depending on the day. I think Kent’s struggled some since his divorce, too. But when he’s at his best there’s nobody better.
More importantly, though, here are some facts about Dullahan the horse. His dam, Mining My Own, is the same mare who brought you longshot Derby winner Mine That Bird. Dullahan, however, was not sired by the diminutive Birdstone, like his brother, but rather by the very large Even the Score, the only sound son of Unbridled’s Song. Maybe not the “only” sound son…no, wait, actually. Yep, pretty much the only sound horse ever sired by Unbridled’s Song. Mining My Own seems to pass on soundness, so hopefully Dullahan will have escaped the curse of Unbridled’s Song. (Germans would totally have gelded Unbridled’s Song ten years ago.) But moving on – Dullahan has had success over turf and dirt, but he seems to really excel over synthetics. He did finish fourth in the BC Juvenile behind Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause, so he isn’t terrible on dirt. The question is, can he be as effective over the dirt as he is over the other surfaces? We’ll find out. He definitely loves the holy heck out of Keeneland’s synthetic track, where he closed impressively to beat Hansen in the Blue Grass Stakes in his final prep before the Derby.
Another Easterner to keep your eye on is Went the Day Well. Brought to by the same team who took Animal Kingdom to the win last year, Went the Day Well is trained by the classy Graham Motion, ridden by classy John Velasquez, and owned by the sometimes classy, sometimes outspoken, often entertaining Barry Irwin of Team Valor. This horse, who really needs a nickname, was named after a British WWII movie. He has followed precisely the same path to the Derby as Animal Kingdom, having prepped with a win in the Spiral Stakes. In most ways I’d say he’s not as impressive as Animal Kingdom, but he is getting good right now, and seems to love Churchill. Motion worked him in blinkers last time out, and it really helped O’ Wenty (I just gave him a nickname) but the thing about an equipment change is that it can only be done without approval after a loss. Because Ol’ Wenty won his last race without blinkers, Motion will need to get approval from the stewards to make the equipment change before the Derby. Here’s Ol’ Wenty winning the Spiral. You can see how hard Johnny V. has to work to keep him straight in the lane. The blinkers will fix that, and help to keep him focused on the task at hand.
Finally, we have Take Charge Indy. Yet another graduate of the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, Take Charge Indy hasn’t done a whole lot of winning, but he has won when it counted most – in the Florida Derby over Union Rags. He also finished a good second in an important two-year-old race. What makes Indy special isn’t so much his race record as it is his personality and history. He is the son of the wonderful racemare Take Charge Lady, who raced 22 times, winning half her starts, finishing second seven times, and earning 2.48 million dollars. When Lady foaled Indy, she produced a colt who looked a lot like herself. Good sized, dark, scrappy. She also produced a colt with some pretty significant conformation faults. And so the colt out of one the greatest racemares of all time, and sired by the living legend A.P. Indy, could not find a buyer.
Indy’s owner went to a woman named Tami Bobo who had just entered into the Thoroughbred game after a lifetime with Quarter Horse show horses. She loved Indy, despite his close set forelegs, upright pasterns, and short strided walk. But then, if you’re a Quarter Horse person, you’ve seen plenty of upright pasterns and short strided walks in your life, so it makes sense. Tami bought Indy privately, and took him to her farm in Ocala. She believed he just needed time to grow up, so she turned him out to pasture and let him be a horse. She also took to riding him bareback all over the place with nothing but a halter. She even galloped him on the traick in this way. Indy is a very kind colt, and took to all the attention like a duck to water. Tami taught Indy tricks, teaching him to shake his head “yes” and “no” for carrots. Indy was introduced to trail riding, and went all over hill and dale with Tami.
Tami and her business partner had purchased Indy with the idea of selling him, but Tami found she had a hard time parting with the colt. Eventually, they sold part of Indy to some good friends. They owned him in partnership for awhile, but once Tami got used to the idea, she sold the rest of her stake in Indy to Chuck Sandford, the horse’s current owner. It was very important to Tami that Indy’s new owner understood who and what he was, so before Chuck bought him, she set up a meeting between the two, showing Chuck all of Indy’s many tricks, showing Chuck how kind and sweet he was. For Tami, this deal couldn’t be just business, it had to be personal, too. Chuck Sandford understood that he wasn’t just buying a racehorse, he was buying the son of a legend, and he was buying an animal with a ton of heart and personality. Tami remains an active part of Indy’s life, visiting him frequently.
But even before Chuck came on board, this rag tag team needed to find a trainer. They looked to Pat Byrne, who signed up immediately. Once upon a time, Byrne had been known as one of the greatest trainers in the game. He trained Favorite Trick, a one time Horse of the Year. And then something happened. I have no idea what. But something happened, because Byrne lost everything, and completely fell off the map for many years. Indy was his way back in.
In turn, Byrne brought on board the Rodney Dangerfield of jockeys, Calvin Borel. Bo-rail has won three Derbies, and knows Churchill Downs better than any jock alive. But every year he’s struggling just to find a mount for the Derby. This year, he latched onto Indy early and stayed with him, even when he wasn’t showing much in his races. Calvin had faith in the colt, and Indy rewarded that faith in Florida. They are a perfect match – Indy, a racehorse so broke you can trail ride him with nothing but a halter, and Calvin Borel, the jockey who likes to scrape paint (literally) when sneaking by on the rail. In Indy, Calvin found a horse willing to do whatever was asked of him. And it was a classically Borel ride that took the colt to his greatest triumph to date – The Florida Derby.
So! There you have it! Except you don’t, because what does all of this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that we have one the best fields in recent memory. In a refreshing change of pace, the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile wound up producing all kinds of Kentucky Derby starters. Knock on wood, the first five finishers – Hansen, Union Rags, Creative Cause, Dullahan, and Take Charge Indy – will not only be in the gate on Derby day, they will be in the top tier of favorites. This is absolutely unheard of. Knock on wood, knock on wood, knock on wood. Not only that, but other Juvenile competitors – Alpha and Daddy Long Legs (they finished 11th and 12th respectively) will Run for the Roses. Two other horses from the Juvenile, Optimizer and Prospective, may get into the gate as well. Considering that only 13 horses ran in the Juvenile, the fact that 9 of those 13 are still at the top of their class is absolutely extraordinary, especially when you consider another horse, Drill, is now a star sprinter.
And so we have a remarkable field of extremely talented horses. Not only have they shown consistency and class, they’ve been knocking it out of the park when it comes to the times they’re running. But guess what? This exceptional field has an Achilles’ Heel – and his name is Trinniberg. I will have one final post, where I will analyze the Derby, tell you about Trinniberg, and set you up for the First Saturday in May.