Tommy Hamilton is always looking for a solid Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prospect. So when he got a call from longtime friend and bloodstock agent Stanley D. Petter Jr., he was all ears.
“I’ve known Stanley for a long time, and he is very astute,” said Hamilton, who races his horses in the name of Silverton Hill, along with his wife Bonnie. “He told me about a 2-year-old Officer colt running in Peru. I decided it was worth a look.”
The colt Petter was referring to was Murjan, who was bred in Kentucky by JMJ Racing Stables in Kentucky. Offered at the Keeneland November 2008 breeding stock sale, the dark bay/brown colt did not sell but was later sold privately and taken to Peru. Petter first became interested in 2-year-old Murjan, who is out of the Tabasco Cat mare Jeanne Cat, after learning he broke his maiden by more than 10 lengths and won a first-level allowance event by 16 lengths in August.
When Murjan defeated 3-year-olds in the Peruvian Two Thousand Guineas (Per-I) Sept. 19, Petter was really impressed. After doing more research and with help from his Peruvian friend Fernando Machiavello, Petter decided to recommend the colt to Hamilton.
“Part of being a bloodstock agent is about finding the right fit. You need to know who specifically would be right for each horse,” said Petter, who owned Hurricane Hall Stud for more than three decades before becoming a full-time agent. “I know Tommy is interested in South American horses. Both of us were interested in Tomcito (third in 2008 Florida Derby, gr. I). That didn’t work out but he told me to keep my eyes open for another one.
“After (Murjan) won the allowance race, we became interested. And when he won against older horses like that, we began to put things together.”
In September Petter and Machiavello arranged for Hamilton and trainer Darrin Miller to fly down to Lima to see Murjan in person. They liked what they saw, though the tricky part was having Miller ride him. In South America, they don’t put a saddle on a horse when it breezes.
“They just had a pad on him, no stirrups,” Hamilton said. “But Darrin is a top rider and very skilled. He did just fine.
“We were impressed with him. He has good size; not huge but a little more than 16 hands. And he was pretty well balanced. Darrin liked the way he moved, so with help from Fernando’s friend, we did the deal.”
Originally thinking Derby, Hamilton and Miller decided it was worth giving Murjan at shot at the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. They kept the colt with his original trainer, Juan Suarez (who also trained Tomcito), and he had his final work Oct. 21 in Peru.
He then shipped to Miami, where he was quarantined for seven days. On Oct. 28, Murjan was flown to Indianapolis and then vanned to Churchill Downs, arriving at the track at 3:30 a.m. EDT the next day.
“He has been in quarantine seven days, so we are going to play his schedule by ear,” Miller said of Murjan, who will be ridden in the Breeders’ Cup by Rafael Bejarano. “I just got a peek at him when he got in this morning and then now, but so far everything looks good.”
Hamilton said he is not running Murjan in the competitive Juvenile, where he would face the likes of Uncle Mo, Boys of Tosconova, Stay Thirsty, and Jaycito, just to have a starter. He believes his horse has a good chance to pull an upset.
“The track (in Peru) is very deep and the times are usually slower over there because of that,” Hamilton said. “We think he will skip over the (Churchill) track. The classic he won over the there (Two Thousand Guineas) was a two-turn mile, which is nice experience. We think our colt has a good chance to win."
This is the third consecutive year Miller has had a foreign runner arrive in his barn from the Hamiltons. In 2008, Driving Snow came over from Ireland after winning one of four races, with that victory coming over future champion Sea The Stars. In 2009, King Ledley also came over from Ireland, and in his first start for Miller ran 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Park.