Yum! Brands officials were probably hoping for a huge response to the $1-million bonus they will offer to this year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) victor if he posts a margin larger than Barbaro's 6 1/2-length triumph in 2006.
But Derby-bound trainers, though encouraged, were also cautious when considering the incentive Tuesday morning on the backstretch a day after the announcement was made at Churchill Downs.
"My opinion is, I'm not going to try and tell my jock to win it by seven (lengths)--we're going to try and save some horse for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I)," said trainer Larry Jones, who will send out Hard Spun on Saturday. "I thank (Yum! Brands) for their offer and I think it's a great gesture, but it's not going to influence me or my jockey to try and win by any more than we necessarily have to."
Yum! Brands, a parent company representing several fast food chains including Kentucky Fried Chicken, will be sponsoring the Run for the Roses for the second straight year. The Louisville-based operation's bonus, which has been dubbed the "Yumfecta," would be split evenly among the winning owner, jockey, trainer, and the NTRA Charities - Barbaro Memorial Fund.
Like many other horsemen, Jones believes the field for this year's Derby is too competitive for anyone to win by an exceptionally large margin. "If anybody wins by more than a length, it's going to be a surprise to me," he said. "I think it's going to be a blanket finish with two or three horses within a length or a length and a half between each other."
"I think it will be really hard for a come-from-behind horse to better that (6 1/2-length) margin, but a horse that lays close to the pace could possibly do it," said Jamie Sanders, who trains Teuflesberg. "(The $1-million bonus) is amazing--it would be nice to do to better than that margin."
Unlike an earlier racing bonus by other sponsors that offered a $5-million if a horse could win all three legs of the Triple Crown, the Yum! Brands challenge deals only with the Derby. The $5-million Triple Crown bonus was offered between 1987 and 2005, first under a Chrysler sponsorship and then under Visa. The bonus was never paid, as the last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.
"Well, a million dollars is a million dollars," said Darrin Miller, who trains Dominican. "I hope that my riders are not concerned with how far in front they are because a nose would mean as much to me as a seven-length, $1-million win. It's a great incentive and certainly a bonus, but I wouldn't be concerned about it while riding the race."
Four horses have won the Derby by eight lengths in the history of the race. The Derby record-holders are Old Rosebud in 1914, Johnstown in 1939, 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway, and 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault.
"There was so much positive that came out of the Barbaro story--you wouldn't want to diminish it by anything like (a bonus)," said John Sherriffs, who saddled Giacomo to win the Derby in 2005. This year, the trainer will send out Tiago.
"I think the awareness and the people that love horses that came together and supported Barbaro during that time was amazing," Sherriffs said. "It was sad, but you have to think that if they learned something, then that's good because it may help the next horse that goes through it."
The story of Barbaro, who was euthanized earlier this year because of complications after suffering a broken leg in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), has drawn interest from thousands of racing fans across the world.
"I think it's good just keeping Barbaro involved--he meant so much to the business and brought so many people together that normally wouldn't have," said Doug O'Neill, who has two Derby contenders this year in Great Hunter and Liquidity. "Not that this race needs any more buzz, but it's a great added buzz to have a Barbaro-like performance, and there's a financial bonus on top of that, so it's fun."