Although several other horses that prepped at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots ran well in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), trainer Al Stall Jr. has no regrets about having Departing skip the race to run fresh in the May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course.
Graduates of either the Risen Star Stakes and/or Louisiana Derby, both grade II races at Stall's hometown track in New Orleans, finished in the five spots behind Orb in the Derby over a sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs.
"With those conditions, I was happy that the horse was sitting back in a nice comfortable stall instead of in a mile-and-a-quarter war on a tough racetrack," Stall said May 6 in his office at Churchill Downs. "I didn't think about that. We were committed to what we were going to do and we don't look back."
Departing, a homebred for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail after finishing third in the Louisiana Derby. Stall and the owners changed their plans for Kentucky and decided to point the gelded son of War Front to the Preakness, using the Illinois Derby (gr. III) as a prep. At Hawthorne Park on April 20, Departing broke from the outside post position and went on to a 3 1/4-length win in the Illinois Derby.
"The timing was perfect," Stall said of the Illinois Derby and Preakness. "He's not that big of a horse. The race was a prep for the Preakness. That's what Hawthorne designed it as and we're going to follow it that way."
"The Louisiana Derby was only his fourth race," Stall said. "He ran well, but we just thought that he was lacking in seasoning. He might have gotten in a little bit of trouble and it looked like the holes were moving a little bit faster than he was.
"The Louisiana Derby clearly picked him up quite a bit and he showed a lot of seasoning and a little guts in the Illinois Derby. It's apples and oranges. The way he trains every day. He's more into it. He just has more life to him. That last little piece of seasoning he got was the Louisiana Derby."
Stall plans to gallop Departing at Churchill Downs the rest of the week and is planning to give him a breeze over the weekend before shipping to Maryland May 15. The veteran trainer was impressed with the performance of Shug McGaughey-trained Orb in the Derby.
"He was the best horse that day," Stall said. "He seems to be a horse going in the right direction. He's got all the pedigree in the world, all the connections. He's strictly the horse to beat. I have no idea whether we can beat him or not. We're happy with our horse and are going to take a chance."