Hindsight has a way of making sense out of the unexpected, especially where the development of would-be contenders on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is concerned. An upset winner usually has some kind of "tell" to indicate such an effort was coming, be it a particularly strong workout or a better-than-it-looked losing effort.
On paper My Boy Jack's first six starts didn't exactly scream a contender for the American classics was emerging. He finished sixth in his debut on dirt, beaten 8 3/4 lengths. Though he took five tries to break his maiden, he was noticeably better when switched to turf, where he won a stakes at Santa Anita Park in October and finished just three lengths behind winner Mendelssohn in the Nov. 3. Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T).
Even as My Boy Jack took steps forward on the grass, trainer Keith Desormeaux kept seeing a horse that, in the mornings, was getting over the main track as good as any in his barn. So when it was time to get My Boy Jack's sophomore season underway, the veteran horseman made the call to see if the son of Creative Cause could earn his way into the discussion of candidates for the first Saturday in May.
"Last year, when he won the stakes on the turf, that obviously got him into the Breeders' Cup. But Keith called and said, 'This horse trains as well if not better on the dirt, and he can run all day. ... Do you think we should cross-enter and look at the Juvenile as well?,'" said Sol Kumin, whose Monomoy Stables co-owns My Boy Jack along with Don't Tell My Wife Stables. "We got together and figured there would be plenty of chances to run on the dirt next year, (so) let's just run in the turf race. And he drew a horrible post, and he was four wide ... but ran a monster race.
"Going into this year Keith wanted to try him on the dirt. I still thought he was a turf horse, but Keith said, 'He ran well enough for me to try it one more time, and by the second race is when you can really tell.' So we listened to him."
In his second start this season, My Boy Jack backed Desormeaux's instincts when he came flying up the rail to win the Feb. 19 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park. With qualifying points and dirt credibility now in his pocket, the dark bay colt will aim to bolster his sophomore portfolio March 24 as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the field of 10 entered for the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Spotting My Boy Jack's potential has been a theme for Desormeaux since he purchased the colt for $20,000 out of the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. Aside from his lackluster debut and compromised run in the Breeders' Cup, My Boy Jack has not been out of the top three in eight outings.
When he made his season debut in the Jan. 6 Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita, he finished a well-beaten third behind winner McKinzie. Given that McKinzie cemented himself as one of the top 3-year-old males during his battle with Bolt d'Oro in the March 10 San Felipe Stakes (G2), My Boy Jack's effort looked all the more respectable.
Over a muddy (sealed) track in Arkansas just more than a month later, the colt looked to have even more upside when he advanced from ninth in a 10-horse field to score by 4 1/2 lengths over a group that included grade 1 winner Sporting Chance and Smarty Jones Stakes winner Mourinho.
"As soon as he crossed the wire in Arkansas, we started thinking about our next move," Desormeaux said. "When you win over a track, it makes sense to run right back there, but Sol Kumin brought up a good point. The Rebel is not an equal-weights race, so off a graded stakes win, we would be at an immediate disadvantage. The Louisiana Derby is equal weights and there are twice as many points offered."
With his running style and pedigree, the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby distance should be of little issue for My Boy Jack. In addition to the level of competition he is set to face, against the likes of Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) winner Bravazo, one question he stands to answer this weekend is how much the wet track aided his cause last time out.
"He had a great trip up the rail (in the Southwest), and the rail was very good that day. And, obviously, the wet track moved him up," Kumin said. "But I think this race will really tell us where we are. We didn't draw a great post, but we're still in a good spot, and we'll see what he's really made of."
Calumet Farm's homebred Bravazo showed off his progression when he fought past Snapper Sinclair in deep stretch to win the head bob in the Risen Star—his second victory in as many starts this season.
The only real blemish for the D. Wayne Lukas-trained son of Awesome Again was his 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) in November. He will be reunited with jockey Gary Stevens after Miguel Mena—who piloted him in the Risen Star—suffered a broken ankle in a spill last week.
Snapper Sinclair led all but the final step of the Risen Star Stakes, and, like My Boy Jack, is a stakes winner on turf who has successfully made the transition to dirt. Owned by Bloom Racing Stable, the son of City Zip was also third in the Jan. 13 Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds, and his connections were both ecstatic and gutted in the moments after his recent narrow defeat.
"It was an emotional roller-coaster ride," owner Jeff Bloom said of Snapper Sinclair's Risen Star loss. "At first it was like the greatest euphoria, because it was like, OK, this horse proved he's legit. Look what we've got. And then there was the opposite end of it, where it was like, we lost, but we literally lost by less than an inch.
"I think always in the back of our minds. We thought he would come back to dirt. I think in (trainer) Steve (Asmussen's) mind, it went, 'This is a really good horse. Now is the time to try it and find out if we can proceed with the Derby trail.'"
Also returning to Fair Grounds is Noble Indy, who finished third in the Risen Star Stakes. The 3-year-old son of Take Charge Indy was handed his first loss in the Risen Star after a pair of victories at Gulfstream Park—an 8 3/4-length maiden romp and a Jan. 11 three-quarter-length score against winners.
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Saturday, March 24, 2018, Race 11
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Bravazo (KY) Gary L. Stevens 122 D. Wayne Lukas 7/2 2 2Noble Indy (KY) John R. Velazquez 122 Todd A. Pletcher 7/2 3 3Marmello (KY) Jack Gilligan 122 Mikhail Yanakov 50/1 4 4Givemeaminit (LA) Javier Castellano 122 Dallas Stewart 20/1 5 5Retirement Fund (KY) Shaun Bridgmohan 122 Steven M. Asmussen 12/1 6 6Hyndford (KY) Joe Bravo 122 Todd A. Pletcher 8/1 7 7Snapper Sinclair (KY) Jose L. Ortiz 122 Steven M. Asmussen 9/2 8 8Lone Sailor (KY) James Graham 122 Thomas M. Amoss 20/1 9 9My Boy Jack (KY) Kent J. Desormeaux 122 J. Keith Desormeaux 5/2 10 10Dark Templar (KY) Florent Geroux 122 Brendan P. Walsh 12/1
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Saturday, March 24, 2018, Race 11