Trainer Henry Dominguez is a legendary figure among Southwestern horsemen. The 50-year-old native of El Paso, Texas, cut his teeth at nearby Sunland Park (just over the state line) and other tracks in New Mexico and Arizona, and later worked with Hall of Fame trainer D.Wayne Lukas.
Since taking out his trainer’s license in 1990, Dominguez has won 864 races from 4,136 starters, good for 21% and has 47 stakes wins to his credit. His “big horse” would be Song of Navarone, a son of Sultry Song he purchased at the 2006 OBS April 2-year-olds in training sale for $190,000 who has gone on to win five stakes, set two track records, and earn more than $750,000.
At the current Sunland meeting that began Dec. 11, he’s won 27 races with his 40-horse stable, good for second in the standings.
The biggest win came Saturday, Feb. 26 when Lathrop Hoffman’s Storming Saint was put up via disqualification in the $100,000 Borderland Derby, a prep for the March 28 Sunland Derby (gr. III). Demoted to second by the stewards was Raise the Bridle, another Dominquez-trained runner, owned by the Mine That Bird team of Dr. Leonard Blach’s Buena Suerte Equine and Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch. It was 8 3/4 lengths back to the third-place finisher.
Graded for the first time in it’s history, the Sunland Derby figures to be a springboard toward the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Mine That Bird, trained by Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., was fourth in last year’s Sunland Derby prior to winning the Run for the Roses.
We caught up with Henry just after training hours Monday, March 1 and asked him five questions:
What can you tell us about your colts Storming Saint and Raise the Bridle?
“We bought both of them at the OBS 2-year-old sales (Storming Saint for $12,000 and Raise the Bridle for $120,000). We’re not high-time buyers; we don’t train for people like Padua Stables or (Frank) Stronach. We can’t afford to buy pedigree, but we try to find the refined horse.
“Storming Saint was real well-balanced horse. He looked like he could be something. At the price he bought him for, we were surprised. He had a few minor problems. I worked for Wayne Lukas for nine years and he always said there’s no such thing as a ’10.’ Storming Saint’s a ‘7.’ I think he can be a grade III horse. I think he was a great bargain.
“Raise the Bridle is an exceptional horse. We bought him for $120,000. I wasn’t at the sale, I was sick, but I watched the works on the computer. I had a horse named Song of Navarone and I compared Raise the Bridle to him. His speed and acceleration is better than Song of Navarone’s. He can maintain and go on with it.
“I’m limited when it comes to my budget, and I can only do so much. With him, I was going to go out on a limb and if he went over our limit, I was going to put the rest up, or sell my house. He was one I really wanted.
“We really have some great expectations for them. We are going to start looking around at all of the graded stakes, not just the Sunland Derby.”
Neither colt was an early nomination to the Triple Crown. Why is that, and after their race Feb. 27, might that change?
“We’re small; we stay in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. We never try to get too far ahead of ourselves.
“We’ve never been there (to the Kentucky Derby). We have time to wait, but I think we will nominate both of them to the Triple Crown.”
With the added purse money from slots and with Mine That Bird winning last year’s Derby, tell us about the momentum building for racing in New Mexico?
“We’ve got good horses in New Mexico. Our purses are better now. They’re bringing a better stock of horse here now. New stallions are coming to New Mexico. We’re hoping for the best.”
You trained Song of Navarone who won the 2007 WinStar Derby (now Sunland Derby) and it looked like you might be on your way to Louisville. What happened?
“We were going to go to the Derby with him. He stumbled coming out of the gate in the WinStar Derby and grabbed a quarter really bad. We had to turn him out for a long time. He also had some intestinal problems. He was out for a year.
“So far, right now, both of our horses have little minor problems but nothing we can’t work with. Right now we’re sitting in the catbird seat and I’m loving where I’m at. The only thing I don’t like is that I’m not in Florida or New York…I’d like to be able to run for more graded money.”
You worked for Wayne Lukas a long period of time. What was your best ‘take-away’ from your time with the Hall of Famer?
“In one word: Detail.
“He’s a sharp horseman; he knows a horse. Wayne can just look into a horse and see what’s there. I learned a lot of things from Wayne.
“I grew up with Jeff (Wayne’s son). Jeff and I are the same age. When Todd Pletcher came along, Todd was just a kid.
“My homeground is here in El Paso, so I just decided to stay here. If you ask Wayne Lukas, he’ll tell you, ‘I’m the only one that got away from him.’ ”