Steve Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby: Shooting Stars Light Up The Derby Trail

Steve Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby: Shooting Stars Light Up The Derby Trail
Photo: Equi-Photo/Bill Denver
Trust N Luck dominated over Fountain of Youth.
An ice storm that resulted in electricity being off at The Blood Horse and many other locations throughout Central Kentucky put this week's Derby Report on hold for a few extra days. But there certainly was no shortage of power at Gulfstream and Fair Grounds last Saturday, as Badge of Silver, Trust N Luck, and Lion Tamer sent a jolt of electricity throughout the Derby trail.

They all accomplished pretty much the same thing, but went about it a bit differently. Anyone who witnessed their demolition of the leading 3-year-olds in Florida and Louisiana doesn't need to read all the gory details again a week later. What we will do is look at each horse's main weapons and try to figure out just how much firepower they'll have left on the first Saturday in May.

All the talk has been about Badge of Silver's romp in the Risen Star Stakes, and rightly so. But that is not to take anything away from Trust N Luck, who was equally as dominant in his own way in winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes. And that domination is about all these two colts have in common.

First off, if you were at Gulfstream and saw Trust N Luck parading around the walking ring before the race, that would have been enough incentive right there to run to the windows. The son of Montbrook stood out, as he strutted around the paddock as if he didn't have a care in the world. It was as if he knew what was coming and what he had to do, and was not concerned about it in the slightest. Trust N Luck is a long-bodied, handsome colt who covers a lot of ground just walking, and obviously takes after his mother's family. His broodmare sire, Dahar, is a grade I-winning son of Dahlia, a long, lean running machine who was one of the top classic-distance fillies of all time, having defeated no less than nine classic-winning colts over her long career.

Trust N Luck has a world of speed, but he is all about power. He has a long, smooth stride and just keeps getting stronger as the race develops. Pity poor Midway Cat, who was so eager to run he didn't know what he was in for when he attempted to eyeball Trust N Luck down the backstretch. The big chestnut merely laughed off his brief and futile challenge and simply outdistanced his rivals from there, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Granted, this was a slow, speed-favoring track, but Trust N Luck still looked like the real thing. His running style is not what you're looking for in a Derby horse, regardless of last year's result, so there will always be that vulnerability as long as he insists on setting up shop on the front end. Who is going to be brazen enough to challenge him is another question. The feeling here is that this is not a speed freak by any means. He rates very well, but until he does it from off the pace we won't know for sure if he'll be as effective.

That brings us to Badge of Silver, a horse Bob Baffert referred to as a "running s.o.b." What this horse has accomplished so far has been nothing short of amazing. The son of Silver Deputy aired by 9 lengths in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race at Keeneland, then returned 9 1/2-months later after fracturing a cannon bone and having a screw inserted, then removed. In his first start back, he faced a tough opponent in Broke Again, who was coming off a narrow defeat to the talented Saintly Look in the Sugar Bowl Stakes. Despite the layoff, the lack of experience, and facing a proven quality stakes horse, Badge of Silver destroyed Broke Again, winning by 7 lengths in 1:09 3/5, earning some monster speed figures.

Then, it was two turns for the first time in the Risen Star, facing 11 opponents, several of them highly touted Derby horses with two-turn victories under their belt. It made no difference. This time, Badge of Silver sat just off Saintly Look's flank, and when Robby Albarado let him go on the far turn, he went by Saintly Look so quickly and effortlessly, it may have been the highlight moment on the Derby trail so far. Remember, Saintly Look had come off the Sugar Bowl to win the one-mile LeComte Stakes impressively. Turning for home, Badge of Silver simply left the others in the dust, winning by 10 lengths.

Unlike Trust N Luck, Badge of Silver is a smallish bay colt with very quick action. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in agility. The main concern is the possibility of his peaking too soon. With his first start coming last April at 4 1/2 furlongs, that race contributes little to his seasoning. He does have a pedigree more conducive to stamina than speed, but is he doing too much too early with so little experience? What trainer Ronny Werner is hoping is that, maybe he isn't peaking early at all. Maybe he is so freakish there still are more amazing feats still to come. But in reality, you really want to see this colt tested at some point in a race. If he runs in the Louisiana Derby against Kafwain he should get that test, and if he stands up to it, then the sky's the limit. Werner is not crazy about running him back in three weeks, so it's not 100% certain that he's going to run. But Werner does like the four weeks to the Illinois Derby and the four weeks after that to the Kentucky Derby. And he does like the fact that he'd be meeting Kafwain on his home court and wouldn't have to travel.

As for the record books, the only Derby winners since 1961 to have broken their maidens as early as April 12 are Dust Commander (April 5), Bold Forbes (March 12 in Puerto Rico), and Carry Back (January 29). The main difference is that those three colts averaged 21 career starts going into the Derby, while Badge of Silver will have 5. Whether he'll be up to the task is one of more intriguing aspects of this year's Derby picture.

Now, we drop back in distance and look at Hutcheson Stakes winner Lion Tamer, who was recently purchased by Michael Tabor from Peachtree Stable for $1.5 million. What is most impressive about this colt is that, while he possesses brilliant speed, he beats you with his power, much like Trust N Luck. The main difference is that he's more handy and can be placed anywhere. He has the ability to get good position near the lead, then sustain his run as long as he has to. He then runs his opposition into the ground and keeps going, building up more momentum through the stretch before bounding away from the field. He's shown as much raw ability as any 3-year-old we've seen so far, although Badge of Silver has shown it around two turns.

He's now won three straight races by an average margin of 5 1/2 lengths. Like Badge of Silver, he's not a big horse, but he has a longer stride. His sire, Will's Way, won the Travers, but his female family is geared more to a mile to a mile and an eighth, and he's inbred top and bottom to Intentionally, whose strongest influence is at a mile to a mile and an eighth. So, it looks like Lion Tamer might be right on the edge of getting a mile and a quarter. We'll know a lot more after he stretches out to two turns.

There were several allowance races of note this past week. On Saturday, Region of Merit captured his third straight race, winning a mile and 70-yard allowance race at Gulfstream in his first start around two turns. What was impressive about the race is how he let another horse come charging up on his outside at the quarter pole, but found another gear and drew off to win by 5 lengths. A son of Touch Gold, he has a good blend of mile speed and stamina and should have no trouble getting the Derby distance. He is a well-balanced colt who has the look of a stayer. He just needs to be tested for class now. But there is a lot to like about him.

Continued...

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