The Blues are returning to Kentucky this year after a two-year hiatus. Godolphin's royal blue silks will be worn in this year's May 7 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) by the appropriately named Blues and Royals, runaway winner of the UAE Derby (UAE-II). Although the experts are already dismissing the colt, who will be coming off only that one start, Godolphin firmly believes this could be their year.
It is the wide belief in this country that no horse can win the Derby off only two starts, never mind one. But, with the entire fabric of Thoroughbred racing changing dramatically, the Godolphin decision makers feel they can help push that change along by winning the Run for the Roses their way. And their way is via a nonstop flight from Dubai to Louisville.
For anyone who missed it. Blues and Royals, a son of the brilliant miler Honour and Glory
, proved more than a worthy back-up for British champion 2-year-old Shamardal, who faded badly in the UAE Derby and emerged from the race with sore shins.
As quickly as Shamardal dropped out of the race, that's how quickly Blues and Royals burst clear of the field, winning by 12 lengths. Not only did he display a smooth, effortless stride, but the kind of courage you always look for in a young horse. When he was asked to squeeze through the narrowest of openings along the rail after turning for home, he never hesitated for a second and was gone in a flash.
So, with only that one start under his belt, does Godolphin really believe he can come here and win the Derby, and are they prepared for the usual criticism from the experts?
"We're perfectly ready for all the criticism," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford. "The colt has just turned in a huge effort, he's fit as a flea, and he doesn't need another race; he genuinely doesn't. In fact, another race between now and the Kentucky Derby could act very much against him and would not be in his best interests. In our opinion, it's perfectly feasible to have a horse coming out of Dubai with one start. With all the shipping he has to do, to try to squeeze in a race between the UAE Derby and the Kentucky Derby might not be such a bright move. He will not be lacking for anything in fitness or conditioning on Derby Day.
"Obviously, statistics are always there until something new happens, and new things do happen. We've only been trying the Kentucky Derby for a few years and I don't think you can come to any hard and fast conclusions off the performances of a few non-stayers and horses that weren't good enough anyway. Most of our horses definitely were not mile and a quarter horses and weren't good enough. At the time, we were hoping they would prove themselves to be good enough, but they weren't, and history has shown that."
Crisford truly believes Blues and Royals, a $400,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September yearling sale, is the right type of horse to pull this off.
"He turned in a pretty huge effort coming off a 7 1/2-month layoff," Crisford said. "He did have three races last year, he hasn't missed a day's training throughout the winter, and he has a great attitude. He'll love the track, and he's not the type of horse who is going to get excited. He has a great disposition, he's very sound, and he'll stay."
As for the colt's courage coming through such a small opening along the rail, Crisford said, "He made it look so easy because he was traveling so well throughout the race. He was very brave, and he's got plenty of heart. They were going in real solid fractions and he picked it up and quickened away. He definitely deserves to take his chance in the Derby and we're really excited about him. We think he's got a very good chance.
"He'd been working super well on the dirt," Crisford continued. "He was only a surprise because his 2-year-old form was only useful at best; it wasn't rock solid. And of course the transformation once he hit that dirt track was completely different."
Crisford said that Blues and Royals, who is a half-brother to Limehouse (fourth in last year's Kentucky Derby), will ship to Kentucky on April 25, then will arrive at Churchill Downs on the 27th after clearing quarantine.