Perhaps no horse on the Derby trail is more aptly named than Giant Oak, who makes many of his opponents look like saplings next to him. A big, long-striding son of Giant's Causeway , his size, stride, and style of running can also be a detriment, as he demonstrated in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) when he got bottled up in traffic and was unable to break free until it was too late.
But once he does get in the clear, he gobbles up ground with enormous strides and is impressive to watch. Trainer Chris Block realizes that traffic problems will always be a fact of life with this colt and all he can do is hope he gets a chance to show his best in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II).
“He’ll settle into a spot and just needs clear sailing from the three-eighths pole to the wire,” said Block, who is having his first experience on the Derby trail. “If he can get that he’ll be able to get his big long stride in gear, and hopefully that will enable him to show his best on Saturday. He is such a big, long-striding horse, if you get in trouble and the rider has to step on the brakes its hard to get him going again. It takes a few strides to get him back in motion and use that stride to the best of his ability.
“So we’re going to have to be looking to give up some ground to get to the outside and give him a chance to stretch his legs and get his big stride going. I like Fair Grounds’ long stretch, but the track is narrow, and when they do bunch up going around the far turn you have to put it in idle and enable yourself to get to the outside between the three-eighths pole and quarter pole to make a strong run down the stretch. We’ve just chalked up the Risen Star to bad luck We hope James (Graham) can find a seam approaching the quarter pole, guide him to the outside, and turn him loose and let him do his thing from there.”
Block said it was frustrating to put in so much work with the colt over the winter following his strong second, beaten a neck, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), only to have bad luck plague him in his 3-year-old debut
“We worked awfully hard with him between Nov. 29 and Feb. 7 to get him sitting on go, and we wanted to see if he really belonged with these horses,” Block said. “It didn’t happen, so there was quite a bit of frustration for the first 24 hours. But you have to look at the other side, and the horse came back good and was beaten only five lengths. So we decided to at the brighter side. He did show up, and if he had a better trip he would have been running right over the top of them at the wire. So we just put it behind us and looked forward to the Louisiana Derby.”
Although Giant Oak loses the services of Edgar Prado, Block is happy with his new rider James Graham.
“I picked James for a number of reasons,” he said. “He’s been breezing the horse since I had him in New Orleans, and he and the horse seem to have come forward since the Risen Star. I think he has a good handle on the horse. He became real aggressive on the backstretch in the Risen Star, then the pace slowed, and that’s how we ended up having all that trouble. I can’t blame Edgar. It was the circumstances in front him that put us in that position. We’re confident in James, and I’m not going to give him any advice. He knows the racetrack and seems to fit the horse well.”
Giant Oak did miss a work recently due to an abscess in his mouth, but Block assures that will not affect his performance.
“We had a little issue 10 days ago with his mouth that cost us a couple of days of training,” he said. “But that won’t be any excuse whatsoever. He missed a work, but I don’t think it was necessary that he have three works in between races. We got a real good work in him in 1:00 4/5, with a last eighth in :11 and change. Now we just want to see if he’s worthy of continuing on the Derby trail. I would love more ground for him. The farther the distance the better he’ll get. We think we’re seeing a horse who’s going forward mentally, and we think that and his talent will combine for a good race on Saturday.”
Block said if Giant Oak passes this test, he likely will have his final Derby prep in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).