Hard evidence points to the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) as the most productive Triple Crown prep race in 2004 and '05, with Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex each going on to sweep two-thirds of the Triple Crown after taking Oaklawn Park's signature event.
This year's Arkansas Derby winner, Lawyer Ron, boasts a six-race winning streak and figures to be the betting favorite in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) presented by Yum! Brands. He has matured into a very professional racehorse.
Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Brother Derek, with four consecutive stakes victories in California scored in front-running fashion, will not get an easy lead if Sinister Minister duplicates his Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) performance. Last year's Santa Anita Derby supplied four of the top six Derby finishers, including the winner, Giacomo. The Blue Grass has not had much impact on the Derby in recent years.
Undefeated Barbaro brings a five-race winning streak to Churchill Downs, capped off by his hard-fought, half-length victory in the Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park. He'll be bucking history by having a five-week layoff between that race and the Kentucky Derby.
The fifth major Triple Crown prep, the Wood Memorial (gr. I), was won by Bob and John over a very sloppy track at Aqueduct. The Wood has supplied three of the last six Kentucky Derby winners: Fusaichi Pegasus, Monarchos, and Funny Cide.
Put it all together, and it's an intriguing Derby. The prediction here is the Arkansas Derby again will stand tall as the key prep.
SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED
Thoroughbred owner and breeder Richard Santulli is best known in the business world as the innovative creator of fractional jet ownership. The company he built in the mid-1980s, NetJets, became an industry leader and was purchased by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in 1998. NetJets sponsors the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) and two group I races in Europe for horses in the mile division.
Between NetJets and his large racing and breeding operation, Santulli has found time to serve as chairman of the board of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, established in 2001 to provide financial assistance to the families of U.S. servicemen who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. The mission was adopted from the Intrepid Foundation started by Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher.
When recent federal legislation provided additional death benefits to military families, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund focused on design and construction of a 60,000-square foot state-of-the-art rehabilitation center--The Center for the Intrepid--to assist service men and women who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq with severe injuries: burns, amputations, head and body trauma, blindness, deafness, and paralysis.
"I have seen first hand the terrible injuries that some of our military have received, but I have also seen the indomitable spirit that each one of these fine Americans has displayed," Santulli writes in the chairman's message on the Web site of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (www.fallenheroesfund.org). "I am humbled by their courage and in awe of their commitment and the dedication to their mission."
A full-page advertisement in the April 17 New York Times (paid for by Santulli and the Fisher family) thanks the more than 525,000 Americans that have contributed to the fund and explains why the organization felt it was important the rehabilitation center--which will be built at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas--not be funded by the U.S. government but by its citizens. The organization is still accepting donations.
The Center for the Intrepid will open in January 2007.