Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Sweet New Faces and More on the Way

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Sweet New Faces and More on the Way
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Haskin: Cause to Believe's "small, Arabian-like head makes him an attractive and appealing individual."
The biggest news of the day was the arrival Tuesday of Sweetnorthernsaint and Cause to Believe. With a lack of work activity once again, the talk of the morning was the cold and the unveiling of the new Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) saddle towels, which appear to be designed with the sole intention of going unnoticed.

It was good to see some new faces Wednesday morning, with several others scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Cause to Believe arrived around 5 p.m. and was full of life coming off the van. The son of Maria's Mon settled in nicely and was out for a leisurely jog this morning at 6:30. He's not a big horse, but he's well put together, and his small, Arabian-like head makes him an attractive and appealing individual.

If one takes into consideration the number of classy stakes horses that performed miserably in Hawthorne stakes this spring, his well-beaten third in the Illinois Derby (gr. II) over a track horses either loved or hated can certainly be forgiven. Having already beaten Sinister Minister, A.P. Warrior, and Wanna Runner in stakes, as well as finishing a fast-closing second to leading 3-year-old sprinter Too Much Bling in 1:08 2/5, this colt makes for an interesting longshot possibility.

One horse who will not be a longshot by any means is Sweetnorthernsaint, who rolled into Churchill Downs at around 10:45 last night after encountering heavy storms in West Virginia. The son of Sweetsouthernsaint is loaded with personality and has a good deal of class about him. His coat looks great, and his presence on the track tomorrow will create a great deal of attention.

"We're here to run, and I think we're going to run well," trainer Michael Trombetta said. "I've been trying to keep everything the same as it's been. With these horses, you have to travel, and they don't get to run in the same place too many times, so they have to learn to adapt. We try to take everything in stride, and we don't want to change the routine too much."

Sweetnorthernsaint's routine in his races has been to rout his opposition. In the four races in which he's finished first, his average margin of victory is 10 lengths. His game third in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III), in which he broke from the 10-post and went wide on both turns, looked even better when Gotham winner Like Now finished a gutsy second in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) after turning back two challengers and still battling back in the final yards.

Sharp reply

In yesterday's column, Sharp Humor's trainer, Dale Romans, pretty much threw down the gauntlet and warned opposing trainers that his colt is going to the lead and will look forward to any challenges.

Bob Baffert, trainer of the freakishly fast Sinister Minister, responded by agreeing that Sharp Humor will be in front..."of the second wave. Sinister Minister will be the first wave by himself."

Baffert said that his other two Derby starters, Bob and John and Point Determined are both doing fantastic, and will ship to Churchill Downs next Tuesday. The main concern about Bob and John is his maturity, being a May 17 foal. But with nine starts and five stakes appearances, he is one of the most experienced and accomplished Derby horses. And having finished in the money in eight of the nine starts, with his only out-of-the-money performance a close fourth in his career debut, he also is one of the most consistent.

Romans, who attended his first Kentucky Derby at age nine when his great-uncle took him to see Seattle Slew win the roses, couldn't be more confident in the way Sharp Humor is coming up to the race.

"I think my horse is doing as good as anybody that's gonna be bet in the race," he said. "I don't think anybody will be training any better."

Wolfer steps it up

Steppenwolfer had a good stiff 1 5/8-mile gallop this morning. The son of Aptitude was down on the rail as he galloped strongly around the clubhouse turn. Turning into the backstretch, he was joined by another horse, who dropped in on him. The two galloped together for a short while until the other horse drifted back to the middle of the track.

Trainer Dan Peitz said the colt was strong yesterday, as well, and may have been a little more keyed up after standing and schooling at the gate. Peitz has scheduled a work for Saturday but, with rain in the forecast for the weekend, may move the work up a day to Friday.

With so many late arrivals this year, Steppenwolfer feels like an old friend already and would make a good case for returning to the old method of shipping into Churchill early should he win the Derby.

Derek won't be lonely in new home

One of trainer Dan Hendricks' concerns was Brother Derek being all alone on the backside of Barn 42. Horses like company, so Hendricks turned to trainer Wally Dollase, who offered to send his pony, Blackie, to Barn 42, where he will take up temporary residence next to the Derby favorite.

Brother Derek had been scheduled to arrive yesterday, but now will ship tomorrow morning. Things should start picking up considerably once the likely Derby favorite arrives, along with Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Barbaro from Keeneland and Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) winner Deputy Glitters from Belmont Park. Trainer Michael Matz had originally planned on vanning Barbaro over on Thursday, but now says it may be Friday.

Deputy Glitters breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Belmont this morning, and at Hollywood Park, Sacred Light drilled seven furlongs in 1:28. The son of Holy Bull still needs several defections before he gets into the field. Trainer Dave Hofmans will ship the colt on Saturday, along with Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) contender Balance.

McKee trying to break unlucky 13

John McKee has had two mounts in the Kentucky Derby and has finished 13th both times, aboard the Bob Holthus-trained Greater Good and Pro Prado. He does not anticipate another 13th-place finish aboard Lawyer Ron.

"The first two years, I got butterflies from the whole experience," McKee said. "But this time I'm as relaxed as I've ever been. I realize I'm a very fortunate person to ride a horse like Lawyer Ron in the Derby. He's getting stronger and stronger, and is working out of the bridle.

"Another reason I'm confident we're going to win is that Bob Holthus is 77 years old. How many more years is he going to have? How many more chances is he going to get? He's paid his dues and put in his time. I met Bob at Churchill Downs about three years ago. He put me on a horse, and it didn't run well. He put me on another horse and that one didn't run well, either. Then, the next horse he put me on won, and it kind of snowballed from there. Bob tells me what to do, and I just try to be a good passenger. I'm really grateful to him. It goes beyond business. We molded a friendship together that I could never replace, and he's taught me a great deal of things in the business, and in life as well."

In other Derby news:

-- And now for the terrible towels. The once distinctive yellow saddle towels worn by Kentucky Derby starters could be seen across the entire racetrack. Everyone, whether they were a veteran racetracker or a novice, knew when a Derby horse came by. This year's towels are white with green trim, and basically look like any other saddle towel. At least the red Yum! Brands logo will show up better against the white, if the saddle doesn't cover it. And with the new towels, it will give one a better opportunity to study the horse's markings more closely. (This is the so-called humorous graph of the report, as feeble as it may seem, and is not to be taken seriously...unless you happen to be at the rail one morning looking for Derby horses).

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