Haskin's Derby Report April 1: The Day of Godolphin

Haskin's Derby Report April 1: The Day of Godolphin
Photo: Trevor Jones
Express Tour and Street Cry, finishing 1-2 in the UAE Derby, will ship to Kentucky from Dubai on April 8.
With the annual last weekend in March lull, the only news on the racing front was the impressive 3-year-old debut by Ommadon in an Aqueduct allowance race on March 28. This gives us an opportunity to sit back, take a deep breath, and reflect on...well, anything that will keep the Derby electrodes charged during this unwelcomed break in the action. With most of the horses here pretty much embedded in our minds already, we're going to concentrate a good deal on the two Godolphin horses, whom we feel will be legitimate threats, despite the questions surrounding them.

As plans stand now, both Street Cry and Express Tour will ship to the U.S. on April 8 to beat any possible USDA restrictions on imported horses due to foot-and-mouth disease. After a brief stopover at the quarantine facility in Newburg, N.Y., they will ship to Keeneland where they'll spend 48 hours in quarantine. They'll then van over to Churchill Downs on April 12 and be ready to begin training the following day. By leaving before the April 14 race for 3-year-olds at Nad al Sheba, Express Tour will be forced to run in the Derby off one start – his victory over Street Cry in the UAE Derby

No tears for Street Cry

Between Street Cry and Express Tour, don't be surprised if the Bluegrass turns even bluer on the first Saturday in May. Because so many people have now banished Street Cry into the dungeon of defeat for his recent transgression in the heat of battle, we can't help but play devil's advocate. When people say a horse like Street Cry doesn't have the will to win, or is a hanger, we don't think it's sufficient just to leave it at that.

Because the colt is always fully extended, with his ears pinned back, seemingly trying as hard as he can, we'll offer the possibility, repeat, possibility, that perhaps there were other reasons for his defeats.

Maybe he simply did not have quite enough speed and brilliance at two to beat a fast, and exceptionally tenacious competitor like Flame Thrower, who carried him to final times of 1:22 for 7 furlongs in the Del Mar Futurity and 1:34 4/5 for a mile in the Norfolk Stakes, earning huge Beyer Speed Figures of 103 and 105. That's faster than most of the good 3-year-olds are running this year. And for whatever it's worth, in the Norfolk, Flame Thrower did come out and bump Street Cry with enough force to knock him on to his left lead.

Maybe his closing kick in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, after being only 3 lengths off the lead the whole way, just was not good enough at that point in his career to catch a talented, precocious colt like Macho Uno. Maybe he would have looked more impressive had he tried to come from far back the way Point Given did and just make one late run.

Finally, perhaps the UAE Derby was nothing more than a horse going against a speed bias, getting caught in traffic, then making a long, sustained run for as long as he could before tiring slightly in the closing stages. The horse who came back to beat him could very well be something special himself, and, remember, there was a gap of six-lengths back to the highly touted "older" horse, Lido Palace, whom trainer Bobby Frankel was extremely excited about. Express Tour did outgame a top-class colt in Outofthebox in the In Reality division of the Florida Stallions Series, earning a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, so you know he's a battler.

Sometimes, a hard race in defeat, in which a horse gets tired, is just what he needs to set him up for a peak effort in the Derby. Just look at Silver Charm getting out-fought by Free House in the Santa Anita Derby, or Grindstone being unable to make up a length on Zarb's Magic in the final furlong of the Arkansas Derby, or Go for Gin being unable to catch Irgun after pushing him the entire race in the Wood Memorial, or Lil E. Tee getting out-gamed by Pine Bluff in the Arkansas Derby.

Remember, the Derby is a whole different ballgame. Apparent plodders like Ferdinand and Gato del Sol suddenly are able to explode past horses well before the wire. Horses who barely win their races, like Thunder Gulch, suddenly leave their opponents for dead. Horses who run slow times their whole career, like Unbridled, suddenly fly home the last quarter in :24 2/5 to win going away in solid time. Horses who always find a way to lose, like Alysheba (one-for-10 in his career), suddenly overcome near-disaster and find a way to win.

All we're saying is not to jump to any conclusions and dismiss Street Cry because he appears to have some character flaw. He has shown a reluctance to wait on horses, even in his training in Dubai. But you rarely, if ever, see a horse hang in the late stages of the Kentucky Derby after closing strongly. They may not get up in time, but they rarely hang. This is where the boys grow into men and discover they can do things everyone says they can't, which is why so many good handicappers toss their Derby tickets away every year. It's all a matter of timing with this colt.

He is a horse with excellent 2-year-old form who has shown speed, a good closing kick, and has never run a poor race in his life. That alone makes him dangerous. Godolphin has run three horses in the Derby, none of whom had the seasoning or could go a mile and a quarter, yet all three ran solid races. And all three looked awesome in the paddock. One of them, Worldly Manner, actually looked like a winner turning for home. Godolphin obviously is doing something right, and history has shown us, if this is indeed their year, Street Cry will find a way to win.

Express to Louisville

And if he doesn't, don't overlook Express Tour to make his presence felt in a big way. One trainer who truly believes he has "a helluva shot" to win the Derby is the colt's former trainer Marty Wolfson, who saddled the towering chestnut to a sweep of Calder's Florida Stallion Series. "Nobody realizes how good this horse really is," Wolfson said. "He's got everything, and his temperament is so terrific, nothing upsets him. He would just lay his head down in his stall, and if a filly walked by it wouldn't even faze him. He's over 17 hands, but he's amazingly agile for such a huge horse. People think Street Cry hung in that last race, but this horse did the same thing against Outofthebox in the In Reality. He was headed twice in the stretch and battled back, drawing clear to win by three-quarters, much the same way as he did in Dubai. In that overhead shot they had, you can really see him dig in after Street Cry passed him.

"Even if they don't get another race in him, I don't think he'll need it. I missed some time with him, and only got to work him out once from the gate. I was forced to run him going 4 1/2 furlongs with only one gate work to get him ready for the Stallions Series, and he would have won had he not broken poorly. His three victories in the Series were unbelievable. In the second race, I've never seen a horse look so impressive. He broke poorly again, went :45 flat for the half, and still drew off to win by 11 lengths (over eventual Holy Bull winner Radical Riley). I'm sick I don't have him anymore, but he was a buy-back for $47,000 and he'd been for sale since the day I got him. If you look at what this horse has done, and with his pedigree, I really believe he's a freak."

Express Tour's dam, Express Fashion, was bred in Michigan and won one of four starts as a 2-year-old. Her sire Private Express stood in Michigan for a $1,000 stud fee, siring one stakes winner from five crops. Tracing back through the tail-female family, there isn't a stakes winner in the first three generations. If Express Tour makes it to Louisville, he can serve as a reminder that breeding Thoroughbreds can be a very inexact science at times. If he should win off one start, he'll also serve as a reminder that you never know where a freak will come from.

Derby Report Part 2

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