Kentucky Derby Trail: Remember Apollo as Year Draws to a Close

If you have an unraced 2-year-old, you have only a couple of weeks to avoid the dreaded curse of Apollo. Meanwhile, there were several interesting winners across the country in recent weeks, and last year's Hopeful (gr. I) winner, Silver Wagon, was defeated in his return.

Apollo, in case anyone has forgotten, is the last horse to win the Derby without having started at 2, and that was in 1882. Interestingly, Apollo went on to run 21 times as a 3-year-old and 30 times as a 4-year-old.

Of course, we all know that, with the way the sport has changed, it's only a matter of time before the name Apollo fades into history. But until it happens, the jinx is still with us. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "That's a pretty big matzoh ball hangin' out there."

It's not the lack of a race at 2 that has prevented anyone from winning the Derby, it's having to make up for it by cramming four or five races into an inexperienced horse in the span of four months with no setbacks along the way. Remember, history says having only four career starts heading into the Derby also doesn't cut it. This year, Atswhatimtalknbout, unraced at 2, managed to squeeze five starts in before the Derby and ran a super race. And Congaree ran a fantastic race in the 2001 Derby with only four career starts, as did Strodes Creek in 1994. So, you just don't know when one or more of these so-called jinxes are going to fall.

Michael Dickinson, who has written a new chapter in the history books on getting horses ready off long layoffs, says he will give Laurel Futurity (gr. III) winner Tapit two or three starts next year before the Derby. If it's two, that means Tapit will have to deal with the Exterminator four-race jinx, which has been going on since 1918, and also will try to become the first horse since 1983 to win the Derby with only two starts at 3. But Dickinson points out that other horses do not have the benefit of training at his Tapeta Farm, where he can train European style over a testing, but safe track that holds water better than any surface in the country, and gets horses much fitter than at the racetrack. Now, it's just a question of which battle plan Dickinson will choose. As usual, he is meticulously mapping out a plan.

Bob Baffert, who has several promising colts, unveiled another one recently when he sent out Mike Pegram's Preachinatthebar to break his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths, going 1 1/16 miles. Like Baffert's last maiden winner, Totally Platinum, Preachinatthebar is bred to run all day. He's by Silver Charm, out of the Silver Deputy mare Holy Nola, who is a full-sister to the classy stakes winner Bare Necessities. Second dam, Shrewd Vixen, is by Spectacular Bid, out of French champion Theia, winner of the group I Criterium de Pouliches and group III Prix de la Nonette and Prix Vanteaux. She also was third in the Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT) in America. Preachinatthebar, who was bred by Pegram, has a strong dosage profile of 1-3-10-2-0 and a 1.29 DI.

Baffert appears thrilled with his latest addition, Misty'sgoldentouch, who continues to work up a storm. The son of Touch Gold drilled 7 furlongs on Dec. 18 in 1:25 4/5, the same time he worked six days earlier. Prior to that, he turned in a 5-furlong work in :59 1/5 and a half in :47 2/5. Wimbledon, another colt Baffert has high hopes for, worked 6 furlongs in 1:11 4/5.

Bobby Frankel is high on several of his youngsters. His newly purchased Ice Wynnd Fire breezed 5 furlongs recently in 1:02 2/5. Frankel also likes Dealer Choice, who was beaten a nose in the Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT). The son of Green Tune has finished second in four consecutive races, the last three in France. Although his pedigree is all turf, Frankel is looking forward to trying him on the dirt. He has a DI of 2.08. Frankel, of course, has taken over the training of Remsen Stakes (gr. II) runner-up Master David, and also has the impressive maiden winner Major Success. But he has not worked since that race, which was on Nov. 23.

Silver Wagon, impressive winner of the Hopeful Stakes, made his return in the 1 1/16-mile What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder and was drilled by the Louis Quatorze colt, Second of June, who won by 5 lengths for his third victory in five starts. Second of June's dam, Whow, is by Spectacular Bid. He is inbred three times to Bold Ruler, which accounts for his 4.33 DI. It is worth noting that he sold at Ocala this year for a paltry $7,500. He is a very late foal, born, you guessed it, on the second of June, but it looks like trainer Bill Cesare, who bought the colt, has found himself quite a bargain who should get at least 1 1/8 miles with no problem.

One of the horses mentioned in an earlier report, Hi Teck Man, scored his fourth victory in a row, winning the Sunland Futurity Trial. Although he only won by a length, it might be worthwhile to keep an eye on the runner-up, Willionaire, who was a maiden, coming off only one second-place finish. A son of Will's Way, this colt has a very strong tail-female family. Third dam, Rokeby Venus, is by Belmont winner Quadrangle out of the dam of Belmont winner and Horse of the Year Arts and Letters. Second dam is by Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo. His pedigree much stronger than his 3.00 DI might indicate.

At Santa Anita, Richard Mandella is keeping Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Action This Day on his toes for his 3-year-old debut in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. III). After a slow 5-furlong breeze in 1:05 4/5, he came back last week with a 1:01 1/5 breeze.

Mark Reid, who has purchased several major stars for Bobby Frankel, has bought Lit de Matrix for Chris Clement and owner Peter Karches. The son of Lit de Justice had broken his maiden by 11 lengths at Remington Park after finishing second in his career debut. He has a DI of 3.00.

At Aqueduct, Jaglander, a son of Mazel Trick, broke his maiden by 7 1/2 lengths in the slop in his career debut for trainer Richard Dutrow. He has a dosage profile of 1-1-5-1-0 for a 1.29 DI. On the same card, Distressed Debt, by Smoke Glacken, came off a horrendous performance in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. II) to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance race by 6 3/4 lengths, winning wire-to-wire over Peachtree Stable's Parthenon.

At Turfway Park, Jim Baker saddled first timer Away to Boston to a nose victory on Dec. 5. The son of Boston Harbor came from 3 1/2 lengths back at the eighth pole to just get up in the final strides. He is out of a Forty Niner mare and has a DI of 3.00. Bred more for a mile to 1 1/8 miles, but you had to love the way he won first time out at 10-1.

This weekend, Lion Heart, brilliant winner of the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III), could leap right up near the head of the class with a victory in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). He is expected to face the most competition from Saint Afleet, winner of his last two for Craig Dollase. The son of Northern Afleet should handle stretching out to two turns from 6 furlongs with no problem. Baffert sends out Pegram's Quiet Cash, a son of Real Quiet who is coming off an impressive maiden victory on the grass. One intriguing horse is St. Averil, a son of Saint Ballado who won his career debut by 3 lengths in a swift 1:15 3/5 for 6 1/2 furlongs. This colt is bred to go long, as evidenced by his 6-3-11-2-2 dosage profile and 1.53 DI. Maternal great-grandsire Paavo is a half-brother to Exceller, by champion turf horse Hawaii.