You train them like champions and let them disappoint you.
That adage often works its way into a horseman's vocabulary because, more often than not, there is no shortage of disenchantment when conditioning Thoroughbreds. Rare is the kind who can carry strong regard before ever making it to the track, then live up to the hype. So while his sample size may be small, Robert and Lawana Low's Magnum Moon has seemingly defied the odds.
"He's kind of one who we had been high on all along going back to when my dad was breaking him as a yearling. We felt like there was big potential there," trainer Todd Pletcher said of the unbeaten son of Malibu Moon . "But it's always great to see it actually happen. You always reserve judgment until you see them deliver performances like he did in the Rebel."
In his graded stakes debut and third career start, Magnum Moon showed advanced ability when he captured the March 17 Rebel Stakes (G2) by 3 1/2 lengths over multiple grade 1-placed Solomini. In the last major prep race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), the bay colt will aim to keep touting himself to masses when he and Solomini face seven others in the April 14 $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park.
Three of the top four horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard are Pletcher trainees, and if Magnum Moon duplicates his effort of a month ago, the seven-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner will have the No. 1 runner on the points list—and with a horse who was unraced at 2.
Magnum Moon didn't debut until Jan. 13, winning handily on the front end going six furlongs at Gulfstream Park. After successfully stretching out to one mile and 40 yards in an allowance test at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 15, he showed he could handle yet another track and deeper waters when he stalked the pace in the Rebel, then took control in the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile race.
Magnum Moon's quick ascension is such that he earned 8-5 morning-line favoritism out of post 6. If his climb up the prep scene has been a barn burner, Solomini's has been more a slow burn.
The Bob Baffert-trained son of Curlin has been what his connections call "a challenge" due to his lackadaisical tendencies in the morning, but he often makes up for it with his grit come race day. Though he has only a maiden win to his credit, he has not run worse than third in four subsequent graded stakes, including the Dec. 9 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (G1) in which he crossed the wire first before being disqualified to third for interference.
In the Rebel Stakes, Solomini had to steady in the lane but still got second in his season debut.
"I thought he ran a good race. We were coming off a bit of a layoff since the Los Al Futurity," said Justin Zayat of Zayat Stables, which co-owns Solomini along with Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. "He was looking around in the paddock, and he was still showing some greenness when he got there. Overall, he did handle it well, and one thing with Solomini is he always shows up in every single race.
"He always comes with that Solomini run at the end where he keeps grinding it out and grinding it out. Hopefully, we can turn the tables (on Magnum Moon) this time."
The Arkansas Derby field had its complexion change slightly last week when Quip, winner of the March 10 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in his sophomore debut, was scratched out of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland and rerouted to Saturday's 1 1/8-mile race for the sake of trying to get a grade 1-triumph on his résumé.
Trained by Rodolphe Brisset, Quip has been on or near the front end in each of his three wins, with his lone defeat coming when he was mired in seventh—and stayed there—during the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) in November.
"We liked what we saw when he came back from the layoff. We gave him a couple weeks off at WinStar Farm (in the winter), and when he came back, we did really like what we saw from him," Brisset said. "The horse had changed physically, and he had grown. He had a nice shoulder on him, a good amount of weight. I don't think he was 100% cranked (for the Tampa Bay Derby), but we got him fit enough to go two turns off the layoff, and he ran pretty good."
Oaklawn Park, Saturday, April 14, 2018, Race 11
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Beautiful Shot (FL) Richard E. Eramia 122 J. Keith Desormeaux 30/1 2 2Machismo (KY) Scott Spieth 118 Anthony T. Quartarolo 20/1 3 3Tenfold (KY) Victor Espinoza 118 Steven M. Asmussen 10/1 4 4Dream Baby Dream (KY) Luis Contreras 118 Steven M. Asmussen 15/1 5 5Solomini (KY) Flavien Prat 118 Bob Baffert 2/1 6 6Magnum Moon (KY) Luis Saez 122 Todd A. Pletcher 8/5 7 7Plainsman (KY) C.J. McMahon 118 William B. Van Meter 30/1 8 8Quip (KY) Florent Geroux 122 Rodolphe Brisset 9/2 9 9Combatant (KY) Ricardo Santana, Jr. 118 Steven M. Asmussen 6/1
Oaklawn Park, Saturday, April 14, 2018, Race 11