Pyro is the perfect example of how extraordinary Thoroughbreds can reveal their potential early with a certain look and feel that is different than your average horse.
“It wasn’t just because he had done anything amazing on the track, though. It was the way he carried himself," said Evan Downing, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, March 21 at Keeneland, where Pyro is training for the April 12 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).
Long before Pyro became a multiple graded stakes winner and the leading contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), grooms, exercise ridesrs, and jockeys alike knew they were handling something special.
"We could sense it," Downing continued. "(Regular jockey) Shaun (Bridgmohan) said that, too. As soon as he rode him for the first time, he said immediately that this is going to be a nice horse. And everybody else who rode him said that as well."
Downing spoke about the son of Pulpit as he calmly stood in Barn 36 at Keeneland, which will be his home for at least the next three weeks. Pyro, who is owned and bred by Winchell Thoroughbreds, arrived at Keeneland March 19, along with his other 40-plus stablemates.
“He’s a very adaptable animal. He has settled in very nicely,” she said. “He’ll have his first work (March 24) when Steve gets here, and he’ll work once a week leading up to the Blue Grass."
Downing said Pyro, who is out of the Wild Again mare Wild Vision, has matured a great deal as a 3-year-old. Aside from putting on about 250-300 pounds, Pyro has become more relaxed, she said.
“When he was a 2-year-old, he was a little bit of a boy brat, and he actually tried to kick the daylights out of me,” Downing said. “He could definitely act a little studdish. Now he is more relaxed and has taken on more of a manly look. But even though he acted up a little bit in the beginning, he has always been a very confident horse, and was like that even when he first came up to Churchill from Laredo (Texas, where Asmussen’s father, Keith, broke him).
"He has always been pretty sure of himself. He never had any type of nervous energy about him, which you see sometimes. Things just don’t seem to rattle him. When he gets excited it’s because he feels good, but he definitely doesn’t have fragile nerves.”
Pyro’s easy-going demeanor can be seen in his racing style. Usually breaking slowly from the gate, the dark bay colt seems to bide his time on the backstretch before unleashing his furious assault on the lead around the final turn and into the stretch. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Feb. 9 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), in which he went from last to first in what seemed like an instant. A convincing victory followed in the March 8 Louisiana Derby (gr. II).
Still, Downing said, his connections knew Pyro was capable of big things before those two wins.
“We felt he was going to do big things before he even raced,” said Downing, who has been an assistant with Asmussen for three years. “We had been working him with horses that were already graded stakes winners and he eyeballed them. We threw him into stout company right away and he always handled it. We kind of knew that this was a horse that we’d been waiting for.”