All trainers look for horses who are fast, brilliant, and correct. But there are times when the key to unlocking a good horse is something that can't be detected with the naked eye. Sometimes it is what's inside a horse and how much they are willing to give of themselves. If that was the criteria that measured a horse's worth then Tamarando would be worth millions. He still may be by the end of the year.
The California-bred son of Bertrando, out of the Dehere mare Tamarack Bay has been a dream to train for Jerry Hollendorfer. Race after race, he's gone out there and given everything he has, regardless of the track surface or the distance or the competition. And on March 22, he will be at it again, this time across the country in Kentucky when he makes his first start outside California in the $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park.
At stake will be a total of 85 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), with 50 points going to the winner.
After finishing a fast-closing fourth in his career debut, Tamarando has finished in the money in his last nine starts, seven of them stakes. Although considered by some as nothing more than a Cal-bred plodder and synthetic specialist, Tamarando has somehow managed to win or place in three grade I stakes and has won or placed at six different distances on dirt and synthetic. The only three horses to finish ahead of him since last November have been 2-year-old champion Shared Belief and leading Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contenders California Chrome and Candy Boy.
In all 10 of his career races, ranging in distance from five furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, he has closed ground in all of them, winning the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) on Polytrack, El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) on Tapeta, and Real Quiet Stakes on Cushion Track, while placing in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) on dirt, CashCall Futurity (gr. I), and two state-bred stakes.
Hollendorfer has lost Shared Belief on the Derby trail to a series of foot problems, and history has shown us that second stringers have on several occasions proven worthy substitutes in the Kentucky Derby, just as Calumet's Iron Leige was after Gen. Duke was injured just before the 1957 Derby and just how Swale was after stablemate Devil's Bag, the 2-year-old champ, failed to make it to the 1984 Derby in a situation similar to Shared Belief and Tamarando.
Whether Tamarando, bred and co-owned by Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams, has the talent to challenge the heavy hitters at Churchill Downs come May 3 no one can tell at this point, but a big effort in the Spiral Stakes will at least give him the opportunity.
"He's never gone backwards," Hollendorfer said. "Usually if a horse goes backwards, we try to freshen him up, but he's gone steadfastly forward, so we just keep going on with him. He's been very ultra consistent. We take horses out and jog them on the road, and he has never shown any filling in any joints.
"We worked him seven-eighths this week and he handled it very well. If we go (to the Kentucky Derby ) he'll take us there; we're not going to take him there. After running 10 times we wouldn't be putting him on a plane if he wasn't doing well. We're bringing a nice sound horse out there. He's been in against some of the best in California, so I feel he's going to run well in the East."
Russell Baze rode Tamarando to victory in the El Camino Real Derby in his last start and will be back aboard for the Spiral.
"Russell won the Spiral for me with Event of the Year, and he's been working Tamarando, so we'll let him have a chance to ride in a couple of big races," Hollendorfer said.
Hollendorfer had the Spiral Stakes in mind when he kept Tamarando at Golden Gate following the El Camino Real Derby to train over the synthetic surface.
"I just thought if he trained well at Golden Gate it would be a better way to prepare for the Spiral," Hollendorfer said.
Looking ahead to a possible start in the Kentucky Derby, Hollendorfer said that Tamarando has run well on the dirt at Santa Anita Park, with one second and two thirds in three starts, which were excellent efforts considering how speed-biased Santa Anita could be on certain days.
"He may handle Churchill Downs a lot better and close more ground," Hollendorfer said. "And he should get a decent pace in the Kentucky Derby."
But first he has to get past the Spiral, which should attract a number of top-class horses, most of them proficient on Polytrack or grass.
If he does pass this latest test, it likely will be on to Churchill Downs.
"Everybody wants to win the Derby and I'm just like everybody else," Hollendorfer said. "It's a big event for any trainer, and I just hope to be one of those trainers that does it."
Another thing Tamarando has going for him, especially if he does wind up heading to Churchill Downs, is his disposition and ability to adapt to all surroundings.
"He's really easy-going around the barn and easy on himself," Hollendorfer said. "He does what the rider asks him to do. He doesn't get too wound up and excited about things. And it would be fun to take Russell to Kentucky with this horse."
Hollendorfer had hoped to go to Kentucky with his 2-year-old champion Shared Belief, but nagging foot problems prevented that.
"It's been a slow-going process, but it's almost to the perfect point, so we might see some works in a couple of weeks," Hollendorfer said. It was something that started out as an abscess that came out in the heel. As time went on, sand from track worked its way into the foot even with us soaking it. We patched it and that didn't work so well, so we took the patch off and cleaned it up. It's been a long drawn out process. If we didn't have patience and let it heal, we'd wind up losing a lot more time. So we want to be 100 percent sure before beginning strenuous training."