Weeks after the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the disappointment is still evident in Jerry Crawford’s voice. The head of Donegal Racing, the partnership that owns Dullahan, was supremely confident going into the Derby that his charge was sitting on a firecracker effort, and he wasn’t wrong. The Even the Score colt, coming off a victory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), got knocked around leaving the starting gate, then had to go at least seven wide on the turn for home before running on and finishing third, just a length and a half behind winner I’ll Have Another.
"Our horse showed up as we knew he would in the Derby," noted Crawford, an Iowa-based attorney and lifelong horse enthusiast who also campaigned grade I winner and stallion Paddy O'Prado. "When you put a horse out on the track in a 20-horse field, crazy things can happen that keep you from being able to win the race. It’s pretty simple."
Dullahan will be one of the noted contenders seeking to deprive I’ll Have Another of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 9 at Belmont Park, and Crawford is anxious for the rematch and a chance for vindication for his charge, who is owned by 20-24 partners, many of them friends of Crawford’s. Having skipped the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Dullahan figures to represent a major threat along with fellow Derby runner Union Rags, who also passed the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"If your horse doesn’t have a chance for the Triple Crown and you think you may have the best 3-year-old in the country, I don’t think you run your horse three times in five weeks," Crawford said of the decision not to run in the Preakness. "I believe the Belmont Stakes is more of a stallion-making race, and on genetics Dullahan is more likely to run well in New York. We made a decision that was best for the horse and in hindsight I think it’s the right decision."
Crawford reported that Dullahan, under the care of trainer Dale Romans, came out of the Derby in superb shape. He is in the midst of spending 10 days in New York acclimating before the Belmont Stakes. As for playing the role of spoiler, Crawford embraced the situation.
"Well, it could just as easily have been us going for the Triple Crown," he said, "and if it were, I would expect the best horses in the world to come and try and make sure we deserve the Triple Crown. I think you owe that to the Secretariats and Affirmeds of the world and the history of the sport."
With Kent Desormeaux, the regular rider of Dullahan, having undergone personal problems, Crawford made the switch to rider Javier Castellano for the Belmont. While Crawford voiced support for Desormeaux and wants to ride him again after the jockey straightens out his personal situation, he is confident in his new rider. "Who knows Belmont better than Castellano?" Crawford asked.
A contingent of some 300 supporters from around the country will be on hand to root Dullahan home in New York, typical of the large traveling squads that regularly cross the country to cheer on Donegal horses. Crawford, busy dealing with travel accommodations, noted with a laugh, "I was just thinking that I used to be a lawyer before I got into the travel business."
He’s hoping for a problem-free trip for Dullahan come June 9.