Trainer Eric Guillot was refreshingly candid during an April 15 teleconference hosted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, calling his horse “one of the 15 who might not belong,” but saying a trip to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is definitely under consideration for Salute the Sarge.
The Forest Wildcatcolt, already a grade II winner and runner-up to Georgie Boy in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) last year, is pointing toward a start in the April 19 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland. The 1 1/16 mile event is one of the final Derby preps this year and will be a determining factor in whether Salute the Sarge will make it to the gate on the first Saturday in May.
“He’s got a little bit of tactical speed, so we could use him as a rabbit,” Guillot remarked, pointing to the sprinting tendencies of his runner.
All of Salute the Sarge’s four victories from seven starts – including wins last year in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes (gr. III) and the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) – have come at sprinting distances, from five to 6 ½ furlongs. Still, the colt wound up a solid second in the 1 1/16-mile Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) before throwing in his only off-the-board performance – a ninth-place finish in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) over a sloppy track at Monmouth Park Oct. 27 in his first attempt on a dirt surface.
“People say ‘He’s such a nice seven-eighths horse, why do you want to stretch him out?’” Guillot said. “Well, the day he ran in the Norfolk they used him up a little early and he didn’t switch leads, and he still finished strong. I’d hate to go to bed at night not knowing if this horse can route. Even though he’s bred to go a mile at best, we had to take the opportunity – especially with the Derby coming up.”
Bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farms out of the Silver Ghost mare Dixie Ghost, Salute the Sarge was purchased by Guillot’s Southern Equine Stable for $300,000 at the Barretts select sale of 2-year-olds in training last March. Guillot’s partner in the ownership of Salute the Sarge is entrepreneur Michael Morino, CEO of the Louisiana-based oil company Dynamic Industries.
“My partner loves taking big gambles and big shots, swinging for the fences,” the trainer remarked. “It’ll probably be up to entry day before we decide (if he’s running in the Derby), but I told my assistant and groom who are going to Lexington tomorrow, ‘Be sure you’re packing up enough clothes for two weeks.’”