Joe Sharp knows full well what he's getting into.
As a former assistant to trainer Mike Maker, the upstart conditioner got a taste of the madness that is the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). There is nothing, however, that compares to throwing the saddle over a contender that is the product of one's own program on the first Saturday May.
And after the display of talent his protege Girvin put on in the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) April 1, Sharp will have a front-row seat to all the twists and turns that come with having a leading classic contender.
With his trainer screaming himself hoarse once again, Girvin surged up on the outside and solidified his status as one the main acts when the best sophomores gather five weeks from now, besting Patch by 1 1/4 lengths in the signature prep race at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Girvin's ascent to the forefront of a parity-filled 3-year-old male division is one that has come from the clouds. The son of Tale of Ekati came into the 1 1/8 mile-Louisiana Derby as the 6-5 betting choice off his breakout win in the Feb. 25 Risen Star Stakes (G2)—what was just the third start for the dark bay colt.
Where many well-regarded contenders have suffered setbacks in physical health or on-track form this season, Brad Grady's colt proved he was no one-hit wonder Saturday. He reeled in Local Hero after that one struck the front with about a furlong to go and continued to respond to jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.'s urging, adding 100 qualifying points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard to the 50 he earned in the Risen Star.
"He's such a talented horse, and he puts a lot of confidence in you," said Hernandez, who departed shortly after the race to head to Lexington where he will work his other leading Derby contender, unbeaten McCraken, at Keeneland April 2.
"He makes you have confidence in him and he has enough athletic ability that he can put me in a good spot. When I saw Local Hero settle the way he did (in third) in wanted to give (Girvin) a target. Turning for home, he got to swapping leads back and forth some but he's going to improve off of this. It's great to win this race, for sure."
In an effort to make sure his stable star had an honest enough pace to run at, Sharp also entered longshot Hotfoot in the Louisiana Derby. That one did his part on the front end, breaking from the outside post in the nine-horse field and hustling to the front to cut fractions of :23.46 and :47 while his stablemate tracked along fifth, next to eventual runner-up Patch.
After rating third down the backstretch, Local Hero made his move at the 98-1 pacesetter fading from his early exploits at the head of the lane. As well as Local Hero was traveling, Hernandez had his mount going that much better. Girvin wrested command inside the final furlong and edged clear in the final strides, hitting the wire in 1:49.77 over a track rated fast.
"It doesn't feel bad," Sharp, who went on his own in 2014, deadpanned when asked about having his own leading Kentucky Derby contender. "He's a talented horse and we're just enjoying the ride."
Bred in Kentucky by Bob Austin and John Witte out of the Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, Girvin didn't debut until last December when he broke his maiden at first asking over the Fair Grounds surface. When plans to run in the Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes (G3) went awry due to a quarantine situation at the track brought on by an outbreak of the equine herpesvirus, Sharp started Girvin back on turf in the Keith Gee Memorial Overnight Stakes Feb. 4 where the colt finished a good second in a stepping stone to his two-length Risen Star triumph.
In addition to his divisional-leading 150 qualifying points, Girvin improved his mark to three wins from four starts with $874,400 in earnings. He was purchased for $130,000 by Grand Oaks at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale.