Since mid-December Fox Hill Farm's Normandy Invasion has been working steadily under the tutelage of trainer Chad Brown at Palm Meadows in Florida. On Feb. 22, the son of Tapit will make his highly anticipated return to racing in a one-mile allowance optional claiming contest at Gulfstream Park.
A well regarded sophomore last year with runner-up efforts in the Remsen (gr. II) and Wood Memorial (gr. I), Normandy Invasion went to the sidelines in the summer when a deep abscess in a front hoof curtailed his season.
Kentucky-bred Normandy Invasion's last start was a respectable fourth in the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Kept out of the Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont (gr. I) by design to await a summer campaign, the colt out of the Boston Harbor mare Boston Lady was sidelined in early August when the abscess was discovered.
Hoof repair specialist Ian McKinlay, who has worked on such greats as Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown , helped repair the colt's injury. But by the time the abscess had healed, there were limited options for 3-year-old route races left in the season.
"So we decided to let his hoof grow out completely," said Rick Porter of Fox Hill, adding that farrier Vernon Dryden of Rood & Riddle had also had also been involved in Normandy Invasion's recovery. "We sent him to WinStar (near Versailles, Ky.) and he spent some time with his buddy Revolutionary —they became friends there."
Normandy Invasion eased back into light training at WinStar, and then shipped to Palm Meadows in early winter. In his most recent breeze Feb. 16, he covered four furlongs in :48.90.
"He's has put on a lot of weight and looks like a different horse," said Porter, who plans to attend the colt's comeback event. "He's training better than he's ever trained. We're excited and cautiously optimistic that things will go well on Saturday."
While Porter was disappointed that Normandy Invasion's 3-year-old season was cut short, he felt it was important to put his horse's welfare and safety before his own desire to see him compete.
"If you don't give them time and do what's best for the horse...I've seen bad things happen in many cases," said Porter. "I'm very cautious and try to do what's best for the horse. That's why we gave him two thirds of the year off."
Normandy Invasion will break from the inside post under jockey Javier Castellano in his 2014 debut, the fourth race on Gulfstream's Feb. 22 card. He will face five others, including graded stakes-placed runner Morgan's Guerrilla.
"If I had to pick a negative about the race, it's that we drew the 1 hole," said Porter. "But hopefully he's good enough to overcome that; it's a short field."
Depending on how the colt emerges from the race, he may be pointed for the March 29 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
"I just hope he runs as well as he's training," said Porter. "If he does, I think we'll see Normandy Invasion back to being the kind of horse that everybody thought he was."