The horse is undefeated in five starts, with two of his wins coming at Churchill Downs. The trainer has won four Eclipse Awards and is one of the most recognizable names in horse racing. The jockey is coming off a record-setting meet at Gulfstream Park and is arguably the best rider in the sport at present. And the owner is one of the most prominent and successful farms in the industry. Oh, and the trainer and owner saddled 2010 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Super Saver just two short years ago.
So, to the casual fan, it would go without saying that Gemologist is the horse garnering all the attention heading into the May 5 Kentucky Derby, right? Well, not really. In fact, when post positions are drawn and morning-line odds are handed out on May 2, Gemologist won’t even be the favorite and is likely to be the third choice behind Bodemeister and Union Rags .
Sure, the son of Tiznow is coming into the race with a good amount of fanfare, but not nearly as much as some of the recent undefeated horses that have entered the Derby—Smarty Jones in 2004, Barbaro in 2006, and Big Brown in 2008. The question is, why?
“It’s a good question,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who conditions the colt for WinStar Farm. “I’m not really sure why. He’s done everything he could possibly do. Part of it could be because the 2-year-old races he was running in were not the Breeders’ Cup-type of races. He was a little late developing; he broke his maiden at Turfway Park and his first stakes was in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II), and then he ran in the allowance at Gulfstream in his first race this year.
“He was kind of on everyone’s radar to start the year, then he was one of those that had a late start. I think after the Wood (Memorial, gr. I), everyone knew what he was all about.”
Gemologist, who is ridden by Javier Castellano, won the April 7 Wood in impressive fashion, taking the lead into the stretch and holding off a determined run by fellow Derby entrant Alpha to win by a neck.
Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, has his own opinions on why Gemologist is not the standout that one might expect given the horse’s unblemished résumé.
“I think he’s maybe flying under the radar just a little bit,” Walden admitted. “I think there are a lot of quality horses this year. From that standpoint there are a lot of opportunities to talk about other horses. The other thing is, he stayed in Florida (to train). That’s probably added to it as well.”
Gemologist, who is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Crystal Shard, shipped into Kentucky on May 1 along with stablemate El Padrino after recording his final workout at Palm Meadows April 29 (four furlongs in :50 1/5 in the mud).
The bay colt, bought for $310,000 at the Keeneland November 2009 breeding stock sale, has been ridden in his last four starts by Castellano. The 34-year-old Venezuelan jockey will be aboard again, and is having the best year of his career. He leads the nation in both wins and earnings, and comes off a record-setting winter meet at Gulfstream when he shattered the single-season mark for wins in a meet. Not surprisingly, many of them came aboard Pletcher-trained horses.
Castellano is winless in four Derby starts, but does have a classic victory with Bernardini in the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
Castellano made major news earlier this year when, as the regular rider for Union Rags , opted to take off of the early Derby favorite in order to stay with Team Pletcher. Only time will tell if it was the right decision. One thing is for sure though; Pletcher is happy to have him on Gemologist.
“I would think there is going to be enough speed in here that (Gemologist) is going to be just behind that first wave of speed horses," Pletcher said. "He’s the kind of horse that will adapt to that well. That’s when it becomes a rider’s race. All the jockeys will have to be aware of how fast they are going and how close you want to be to it. Hopefully (Castellano) has that clock in his head.”
Walden and the rest of the WinStar team seemed very relaxed outside of Gemologist’s barn on the morning of May 2. And for good reason. Whether or not he is getting all the attention he deserves, the bay colt has never done anything wrong.
“We are very excited,” Walden said. “We feel like he is the best chance we’ve ever brought here, including Super Saver.”