Kentucky Derby Trail: Team Valor, Dickinson Set Sights on Churchill Downs

This is the fifth in a series of early looks at next year's potential Derby horses. The new-look Team Valor is thinking Derby with Tiger Hunt and two European imports. In Maryland, Michael Dickinson embarks on his first Derby adventure with a pair of talented colts.

Team Valor announced recently it was going private, with longtime Bill Mott assistant, Ralph Nicks, taking over the helm. Nicks' main base most of the year will be Saratoga, where Team Valor president Barry Irwin feels the horses will have a better chance to stay sound. Irwin said he decided "to take the bull by the horns and make something happen," and feels Nicks was an excellent choice to make that something happen.

Team Valor has three Derby trail hopefuls, headed by the late-running Tiger Hunt, who will join Nicks at Oaklawn Park, and a pair of recent aquisitions from Europe. Team Valor has an excellent record on the Triple Crown trail with their European purchases, having won the Santa Anita Derby with The Deputy, who went wrong at Churchill Downs, and My Memoirs, who finished a fast-closing second to A.P. Indy in the Belmont Stakes.

Tiger Hunt -- This son of Kris S. has a big closing kick, but after winning his first two starts, including an impressive score in the Miller Genuine Draft Cradle Stakes at River Downs, his late runs have come up short. He just got up to finish second behind runaway winner Eurosilver in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity and just missed getting up for third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Both times, he was stuck down on the inside and had to weave his way through traffic. And the inside is not where Irwin wanted him to be in the BC Juvenile. This horse will be more effective with a clean, outside run, where he can use his powerful kick more effectively. He'll have two starts before the Kentucky Derby, using the Rebel Stakes as a prep for either the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass Stakes. No worries at all about 1 1/4 miles. Strong distance pedigree top and bottom, with good speed influences mixed in. Second dam is a half-sister to stakes-winning sprinters, Purple Mountain and Ring o' Bells (both by Grey Dawn II), but is by One For All, who could run all day. Fifth dam is one of the great foundation mares, Shy Dancer (inbred 5x3 to Man o'War). Family of numerous graded stakes winners (Heavenly Cause, Two Punch, Bounding Basque, Opening Verse, Shy Dawn, El Basco and others). Dosage profile of 6-5-19-2-0 and DI of 1.78. Has all-around look of a true Derby horse.

Malin -- Won two out of three in England, with only loss coming in 18-horse field in debut. Won his last two starts over a good (firm) Goodwood course, and carried 130 pound in his last, going a mile. Colt had been promised to Jenine Sahadi before Team Valor's announcement, so he is in Southern California with Sahadi, who trained The Deputy. By top-class miler Cape Cross, he has a strong female family with plenty of dirt influences. DI of 3.50.

Shadowland -- Won his only start going six furlongs at Thirsk for trainer Andrew Balding, who along with his father Ian (trainer of Mill Reef) stayed in for 10% of the colt. Son of Distant View won from a very wide post, and Balding is not known for sending out first-time winners. Breezed five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at Churchill Downs for Dale Romans. Will run this month at Churchill, then join Nicks at Oaklawn Park. Very lively pedigree, loaded with chef-de-race influences, as indicated by his dosage profile of 11-4-18-2-1 and 2.00 DI. Female family alone has Nijinsky II, Alydar, and Vaguely Noble.

Michael Dickinson has been called the Mad Genius on more than one occasion. He showed off his genius side once again on Saturday by winning the grade I DeFrancis Dash with A Huevo, who knocked off the brilliant Shake You Down by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:08 4/5. Not bad for a West Virginia-bred who was laid up for 3 1/2 years, and was making only his third start back. This is not the first time Dickinson has pulled off such a feat. Who can forget Da Hoss, who won his second Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) off one prep following a two-year layoff. Dickinson also pulled off the remarkable feat of winning three straight races with Business is Boomin right off a five-year layoff. And then there is Cetewayo, a rare complete horse who is still competitive in graded stakes at age nine, and was a grade I-winner at age eight, despite nagging problems throughout his career.

But the new Dickinson is not just about grass and distance and bringing horses back from long layoffs. The master of Tapeta Farm is now developing some of the most exciting young horses in the country, first with Soto last year, and now with Paddington and the undefeated Tapit, who looked awesome winning the Laurel Futurity (gr. III) several races before the DeFrancis.

"The world is changing," Dickinson said Sunday morning. "The best rapper is white (Eminem). The best golfer is black (Tiger Woods). The Germans don't want to start a war. The French are calling Americans arrogant. And Michael Dickinson is a dirt trainer.

"What people don't understand is that, while we have great grass courses (at Tapeta), we have the best dirt track in America. We've had four 2-year-old winners this year, and two of them are on the Derby trail."

Dickinson said that Tapit and Paddington will be given a rest, then head down to Palm Meadows, where he has five stalls, and likely will be pointed for races at Gulfstream.

Tapit -- This eye-catching gray son of Pulpit left few questions unanswered on Saturday, as he overcame a bad start and traffic problems, then split horses and blew his opponents away, winning by 4 3/4 lengths in a solid 1:43 4/5, earning a 98 Beyer Speed Figure. There is no doubt this is a courageous, professional athlete. In his first start, he won a mile maiden race by 7 3/4 lengths at Delaware Park. Cost $625,000 as a yearling at Keeneland september. His dam is by Unbridled, out of a Nijinsky II mare, so there is a ton of stamina in his female family. And he is inbred 5x3 to Nijinsky. His dam also is inbred 3x4 to In Reality, who is a major presence these days. He has a very strong dosage profile of 9-3-12-2-2 and 1.80 DI. A colt with an unlimited future.

Paddington -- Frustrating colt in that he has a world of ability, but lacks that competitive instinct, at least for the time being. Dickinson's partner, Joan Wakefield, says he's a "big goofball" who doesn't concentrate. She points out, however, that he does have "a ton of talent." Dickinson and Wakefield thought he was as close to a sure thing as possible in his career debut, but showed little, finishing a distant fourth at 6-5. He then broke his maiden at a mile by two lengths at Delaware before romping by five lengths in the mile Whirling Ash Stakes at Delaware in the slop. Shipped to Belmont for the Champagne (gr. I), Dickinson thought he couldn't lose, but he again finished a well-beaten fourth after making a brief bid into contention. In the mile Nashua Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, he tracked the early pace, then looked as if he was going to blow by the leader, Read the Footnotes, at the head of the stretch. Jockey Ramon Dominguez felt he had the leader anytime he wanted, but when he asked Paddington, the colt refused to go on with his run, eventually finishing second by 2 1/4 lengths. Although it was an improvement over the Champagne, Dickinson was disappointed that the colt didn't try. He can only hope that the competitive instinct will come with maturity. By Saint Ballado, out of a Naevus mare, he amazingly has the exact same dosage profile and DI as Tapit – 9-3-12-2-2 and 1.80.

In the next several reports, we'll scour the country for other interesting potential Derby horses. We'll also take a close look at the brilliant Lion Heart and see if the Derby might be in his future. And we'll add Tales of Glory to Todd Pletcher's long list of 2-year-old runners.