John Fort does not have any regrets about deciding to bypass the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with Flashpoint, but after watching the front runners set some of the softest opening fractions in the past quarter century of the race, he admits he has thought about what might have been.
Flashpoint, though not a need-the-lead type of horse, has exceptional early speed and could have gone a long way on the front end if he had been at Churchill Downs last weekend. By virtue of his Hutcheson (gr. II) win and fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Flashpoint was eligible for the Derby in terms of graded earnings. However, Fort decided to shoot for the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) instead.
“Wesley (Ward) called me after his work at Keeneland (April 28, bullet five furlongs in :59-flat) and said, ‘John, we’re running in the wrong race,' ” said Fort, president of Peachtree Stable, who won the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) with Plum Pretty. “He said the work was unbelievable. You never know what might have happened, but I made what I think was the right decision. So much of the outcome of these races is determined by trip; you have to get a clean trip. On that day, Animal Kingdom was the right horse, with the right trip.
“I’ve been in and around the Kentucky Derby as a fan and owner for many years. You have to think about the whole scenario. If you run in it, you have to be prepared to suffer the consequences. So many of them come out of the race and disappear. I didn’t want that to happen to Flashpoint.”
Flashpoint has had only three starts in his career—all this season. After breaking his maiden by 6 1/4 lengths at six furlongs in January at Aqueduct, he rocketed onto the Triple Crown scene with a 7 1/4-length romp in the Feb. 26 Hutcheson. At that point, even though his pedigree suggests he might not be best suited for two turns, Flashpoint made his most recent start in the Florida Derby (gr. I), where he finished an even fourth.
It wasn’t long after the Florida Derby that Fort made the decision to remove Flashpoint from the barn of Rick Dutrow Jr. in favor of Ward. Fort admitted Dutrow’s recent denial of a trainer’s license in Kentucky prompted the move.
“Obviously, Rick has some hurdles to overcome,” Fort said. “I hope he does; I’ve known him since he was a little boy. He has a good heart. His dad, Dicky Dutrow, trained a lot of horses for me.
“Wesley used to ride for me as a jockey. He’s a very good trainer who probably hasn’t had the backing he deserves.”
Fort said Flashpoint was given a short time off at the farm after the Florida Derby before being transferred to Ward at Keeneland. Since that time, he has had three very sharp works. Fort said Flashpoint’s reputation as a front-running, speedballer is not accurate. In fact, he is not even sure he will be on the lead in the Preakness, depending on his post.
“In the Hutcheson, he sat off of Travelin Man for a half-mile; he relaxed beautifully” said Fort. “The Florida Derby wasn’t bad, but everything went wrong. He had an outside post, he was wide, and just had a terrible trip. It was a throw out for us.
“He has trained very well since then. Wesley has trained him specifically to sit off of horses. He has trained with Pleasant Prince, who was second in the Florida Derby last year. We’ve been letting Flashpoint sit off of him and he has done it beautifully. He’s a very tractable horse.”
As far as his breeding, Flashpoint is by multiple grade I sprinter Pomeroy, out of the Two Punch mare Two Punch Lil, who was also a sprinter. Fort admits that it’s not the ideal classic pedigree, but he is still optimistic about his chances.
“Pedigree is an indication, but the four-generation pedigrees are all pretty much the same nowadays,” he said. “The immediate direct influences of Pomeroy and Two Punch Lil suggests that he is more likely to be a sprinter. But it just means he’s more likely, it’s not an absolute. He’s a big, strong horse with overpowering speed and a great mind. And he’s a terrific breathing horse; he never lacks for air. I’m willing to go to Baltimore and take our chances.”
Flashpoint will have his final breeze on Saturday at Keeneland before shipping to Baltimore on Wednesday, May 18.