Kentucky Derby Trail: Checking in With The Derby Gods

Kentucky Derby Trail: Checking in With The Derby Gods
Photo:
Cynics be damned, it's time to see what the Derby gods might be scheming. With the equine version of March Madness starting next weekened, this is the last opportunity in a while to look at the Derby in an ethereal sense.

There are earthly matters to discuss as well, namely this past weekend's races. Although the stakes as a whole didn't measure up to Derby quality, there was one performance on Saturday that stood out, and that was the allowance victory by Eddington. I'll get to his race later on, but first back to the Derby gods and a little diversion from speed ratings and dosage.

No, I don't believe there is some Zeus-like figure sitting on a cloud above the Twin Spires, decked out in a rose toga, deciding the fate of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) with his celestial cohorts. So, let's just leave it to each person's own degree of romanticism when mentioning the Derby gods.

It's still early, but if the Derby gods have already sat down to discuss the possible recipients of their divine intervention, here are a few who likely have come up in the conversation.

Birdstone – First off, the Derby gods have already shown they like focusing their generosity on past winners. In fact, for their 125th birthday party, they invited back D. Wayne Lukas, Bob and Beverly Lewis, and Chris Antley to join them in celebration. So, there is no reason why they shouldn't feel one of their most devout worshippers, Nick Zito, has been away from the winner's circle too long. But the one person who fits right in with their past selections of Frances Genter, Paul Mellon, Mack Miller, William T. Young, Charlie Whittingham, and W. Cal Partee is Marylou Whitney.

A big supporter of the sport as an owner and breeder, Marylou is the last remnant of the powerful Harry Payne Whitney stable, which first won the Derby with Regret in 1915. Whitney's son, the late Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, husband of Marylou, was a titan of the turf for four decades. But amazingly, he finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th,6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th, and 13th in the Derby. So unless the Derby gods are looking to complete some weird gin rummy hand, and want to fill in that 10th spot, this could be the year they decide to continue a trend and give it to someone who is long overdue.

Value Plus or Shaniko -- This one is short and simple. Owner Aaron Jones, who races under his name and his wife, Marie, is 82, has beaten cancer, and goes back 22 years to his Jockey Club Gold Cup and Marlboro Cup winner Lemhi Gold in 1982. He made a resurrection in the late '90s and stormed back into the sport, spending millions of dollars each year buying young horses at public auction. He has come up with several major stakes winners, including champion Riboletta, and had a decent shot to win the 1999 Derby with Prime Timber, who finished a fast-closing fourth. He now teams up with Todd Pletcher, who at age 36 is younger than the Derby gods prefer, but he has at least paid some dues, finishing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the Derby, and sadded four horses in his very first Derby in 2000.

Redskin Warrior or Friends Lake – I am still of the firm belief that there is a Kentucky Derby with Richard Migliore's name on it. Once one of the hottest apprentices in history, he is now a 25-year veteran who has returned from two horrific injuries, one of which came within inches of leaving him a quadriplegic. Both times he overcame the odds. I have never seen a more devoted jockey or one who has more of a love of riding Thoroughbreds than The Mig. His enthusiasm is contagious and he is one of the most media- and fan-friendly riders in the country.

He's ridden in three Derbys. In the first one, back in 1985, his mount, the speed horse Eternal Prince, winner of the Gotham (gr. II) and Wood Memorial (gr. I), broke poorly and was swallowed up by the Derby field. In 2000, Migliore struck the front after turning for home on Wheelaway, but when he hit the colt right-handed he ducked in sharply, interfering with several horses. He finished fifth, but was slapped with a five-day suspension. Ironically, one of Migliore's main hopes this year is Friends Lake, who is trained by his longtime supporter John Kimmel, trainer of Wheelaway. Also, Friend's Lake's broodmare sire is Spend a Buck, the '85 Derby winner who was the recipient of Eternal Prince's bad start.

Friends Lake is a real sleeper, who has a very strong pedigree, has been working super at Payson Park, and could surprise a lot of people in the Florida Derby (gr. I). Migliore's other mount, Redskin Warrior, has been nothing short of brilliant in his last three starts. He's visually impressive, wins big with a combination of speed, power, and class, and has a magnificent stride that should take him on to bigger and better things.

Swingforthefences -- This is a bit of a reach, but you never knows what goes on the mind of the Derby gods. This up-and-coming colt is by Boston Harbor, who was owned and bred by 1996 Derby-winning owner William T. Young, one of the truly great men of the sport who died in January. Boston Harbor, who won the 1996 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to nail down champion 2-year-old honors, stood at Young's Overbrook Farm before being sent to Japan in 2001. A Derby victory by one of his sons would be a fitting and timely tribute to one of racing's classiest gentlemen.

Swingforthefences, who looked super winning a Gulfstream allowance race over the aforementioned Shaniko, is trained by Rick Violette, whose main Derby hope right now is Read the Footnotes. Violette is one of the sport's most well-liked and classy trainers, and don't forget, the Derby has been known to shine on second-stringers, such as Real Quiet, Charismatic, Grindstone, Thunder Gulch, Swale, Cannonade, and Iron Leige.

OK, so much for the Derby gods. To all the agnostics, hey, it's all in the spirit of the Derby.

Another E-lectric performance

Last weekend's stakes will be discussed in the next report in order to devote the remaining space to Eddington. When he broke his maiden in early February, I said he was as impressive a maiden as I'd seen all year. Now I can say he is as impressive an allowance winner as I've seen all year. If the same can be said about his first stakes appearance, which may be the Gotham, then we could have a Derby contender who is the complete package.

His victory on Saturday was virtually a replay of his maiden score, only against better horses. In the maiden race, he raced greenly turning for home and was late changing leads. But once he did, he leveled off beautifully and quickly drew clear, coming home his final sixteenth in :06 1/5 to complete the 1 1/16 miles in a sharp 1:42 3/5. And the half-mile and three-quarter fractions he pressed were only two-fifths slower than Medaglia d'Oro's fractions in the Donn Handicap.

On Saturday, he once again demonstrated his tremendous cruising speed, just gliding past a good horse in Tiger Heart while under a snug hold by Jerry Bailey, who merely flicked his wrists turning for home. Bailey threw a cross, but Eddington again wouldn't change leads. Bailey made sure he was clear of Tiger Heart and gave the colt a tug to the inside, then hit him once left-handed. It wasn't until just before the sixteenth pole that Eddington finally changed leads, and once he did, he leveled off and was gone in a flash, quickly opening his lead to 5 1/2 lengths at the wire in 1:43 flat, with the rest of the field spreadeagled up the track. Later, 3-year-old maidens went in 1:45 3/5 and tough older allowance horses/$75,000 claimers went in 1:44. This colt rattles off :24 quarters effortlessly and comes home fast, getting stronger the farther he goes. He's extremely athletic for a horse standing around 17 hands tall. Imagine when he matures.

Most Popular Stories