Ky. Derby Trail: Old Fashioned Blunder
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 4/9/2009 7:53:51 AM
Last Updated: 4/11/2009 2:13:47 PM

Old Fashioned (right) attempts to turn the tables against Rebel Stakes winner Win Willy in the Arkansas Derby.
Photo: Coady Photography

Starting from the first Derby Dozen, I had Old Fashioned   ranked No. 1 for five consecutive weeks, despite many people insisting he hadn’t beaten anyone and would not stay the mile and a quarter. Prior to the Rebel, my comment on Derby Dozen concluded with, “Don’t expect any fireworks until the Arkansas Derby.”

 

So, now, here it is two days before the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and the expected fireworks, and I look at my latest Derby Dozen and I ask myself: “How in the world did this horse drop to No. 8?”

 

I thought about if for a short while and the only answer I could come up with was, “Darned if I know.” First it was I Want Revenge   knocking him down to No. 2, then came his own stablemate Friesan Fire  , followed by Pioneerof the Nile  , Quality Road   and Dunkirk  , and even Desert Party   and Chocolate Candy. Seeing the name Old Fashioned now below all those horses looked very strange, I must admit. Then it hit me: that might have been one colossal blunder.

 

Well, it’s too late to do anything about it now. I have become intrigued by Win Willy after his victory over Old Fashioned in the Rebel, feeling that he is a legitimate Derby contender, and a better horse than people think. There is no reason why he shouldn’t run another bang-up race in the Arkansas Derby, but you never know about a horse until they repeat it. I’m also looking for Flying Private to get Wayne Lukas back to the Kentucky Derby, and all he needs is better racing luck than he’s had and a little more maturity when it comes to changing leads. There are other talented horses in Saturday’s race, including the speedy and classy Papa Clem  , the late-running Flat Out  , the one-time hot item Poltergeist, and several others who could jump into the fray.

 

But if Old Fashioned is the horse Larry Jones believes he is, and yours truly once believed he was, then why shouldn’t we see fireworks on Saturday? He definitely needed his last race after an ill-advised early move by Ramon Dominguez, who apparently misjudged the fast fractions over a heavy track. All that no doubt combined to take their toll on the horse. But that race might actually help him in the long run.

 

If he gets a stalking trip behind Papa Clem, which is likely, or if he should outrun him, there shouldn’t be any excuses this time. If Old Fashioned does bounce back with a victory on Saturday then what? There still is the question regarding his ability to get the 10 furlongs in a race like the Kentucky Derby, especially with his in-your-face running style. Perhaps that is why he kept dropping down the list. Running on or near the lead and a questionable pedigree normally do not equate to victory in the Kentucky Derby. But he will show on Saturday whether he has the raw talent and professionalism against top-class competition to overcome that on May 2.

 

As much as a victory would restore the colt’s once lofty reputation, you don’t want to see an Afleet Alex  -type of demolition, while being hard-used. It’s all about style. Old Fashioned needs to win, preferably from off the pace, and come home in solid fractions without losing lengths in the final furlong. The margin is not that important, as long as it’s not by a pole in blazing-fast time, and as long as he’s running strongly at the end.

 

If Old Fashioned passes this test, then comes the dilemma of where to rank him. How far do you move him up? Who deserves to be lowered? But, to paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara, I don’t want to think about that now. Tomorrow is another day.

Whenever I imagine Old Fashioned taking the lead in the stretch, I keep seeing Win Willy charging at him again. In his three career victories, he always hit another gear near the wire and re-accelerated, then galloped out as if he were just beginning to run. You love to see that in a horse. The question he has to answer is, can he do it again in his second two-turn race? Sometimes, horses will run lights out in their first try around two turns and then fail to duplicate it. That shouldn’t happen with Win Willy, but until they go out there again you can never be 100% sure. So, that is the test he must pass. If win Willy does not duplicate his Rebel victory, and if Papa Clem doesn’t run back to his gutsy performance in the Robert B. Lewis, then a much sharper and fitter Old Fashioned could very well have his own way in the stretch and ascend back toward the top of most everyone’s list of Derby contenders.

 

Dancing in the Bluegrass

 

The Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) is as wide-open and befuddling a race as one can imagine, as Polytrack horses (including one from England), dirt horses, and Pro-Ride horses collide in a muddled heap. Good luck trying to decipher this one, as horses converge on Keeneland from seven different racetracks, with 10 of the 11 starters having won or placed in stakes. You can pick just about anyone and hope to get a good run for your money and a good price.

 

We don’t know for sure how the track will be playing, but the most dangerous pace horse by far is Join in the Dance, a vastly improved son of Sky Mesa  , who is coming off a magnificent effort in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), in which he was nipped right at the wire by Musket Man after battling head and head the whole way in his first race over the quirky Tampa Bay surface. Musket Man, of course, went on the win the Illinois Derby (gr. II) with authority.

 

Join in the Dance is trained by Todd Pletcher and gets reunited with John Velazquez, who last rode him in his maiden victory at Saratoga. He’s only run once on an artificial surface, finishing second in a maiden race at Arlington Park last year. Whether he goes to the lead or settles just off the pace, the feeling here is that he is going to take a lot of beating, and he should be a decent price. A son of Sky Mesa, he has a dynamite pedigree, especially his female family, which is loaded with class and stamina influences.

 

I miss Wayne Lukas

 

From a personal standpoint, here’s hoping Flying Private runs well enough to earn a place in the Kentucky Derby field, because I miss Wayne Lukas. For most years, the daily ritual of covering the Derby began with my arrival on the backstretch each morning well before the Derby trainers…with the exception of Lukas, who was at his barn well before I arrived.

 

My routine was always the same. I would get out of my car, walk over to Lukas’ barn and get my quote fix for the day. Lukas, the most quotable trainer in the universe, always had pearls of wisdom to share, whether about his own horse or his competitors, many of whom he referred to as muskrats. You want a column for the day? Lukas would practically write it for you. And his good-natured (I hope) ribbing of the press always was an extra added attraction. Who could forget the year he referred to the media as cockroaches or the many times he would remind yours truly of his ineptitude as a handicapper? Or how about the year he bet writer Bill Finley $500 that Timber Country would finish ahead of Finley’s pick Jumron? Needless to say, Finley showed up the day after the Derby with an envelope containing, if I remember correctly, ten $50 bills. I have to admit I miss the bantering, the ribbing, and the early morning talks.

 

And then there were the afternoons. I would return to the backstretch each afternoon, and as in the morning I would head over to Lukas’ barn, where he would be grazing a Derby horse in the small grassy area outside his barn, near the racetrack. Lukas was much more cerebral with a horse at the end of the shank. It was there each day in 1999 that Lukas showed off the impressive physical attributes of Charismatic, admiring every muscle and fitness line on the colt’s radiant chestnut frame. I had never heard Lukas rave about a horse, never mind a 30-1 shot, as he did with Charismatic, insisting he was going to surprise a lot of people.

 

As he did with Finley, Lukas bet Shane Sellers’ agent Ronnie Ebanks $2,000 that Charismatic would finish ahead of Sellers’ mount, Florida Derby (gr. I) and Fountain of Youth (gr. I) winner Vicar. The morning after the wager, Ebanks stopped by the barn and told Lukas how he had led him right into his trap by getting him fired up, reminding him what a stupid bet he had made. Lukas, who is undefeated in the war of words, shot back: “No, no, I don’t catch a soft touch like you every day.”

 

Ebanks kept rubbing it in: “Let’s get it straight. We got a two thousand dollar bet, horse for horse, whoever finishes in front of the other, Vicar against…how do say your horse’s name?”

 

Lukas wasted no time firing back: “Don’t worry, it’ll be a household name by Saturday night.”

 

After the Derby, as Ebanks got in his car, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “All I can do is pay him and say, ‘Hail to the king.’ He got me again.”

 

It’s time to get the king back to the Derby. I miss him.

 

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