Vineyard Haven is one of the most talented horses in training that has never raced in a classic or a Breeders' Cup. For the last two years he has been at the top of his class, but for a couple different reasons has not made it to the biggest races.
Hopefully, that will change in November.
In 2008 while owned by a partnership that included Bobby Frankel and Joe Torre, the talented Lido Palace colt romped in the Hopeful and Champagne (both gr. I) but Frankel decided against running him in the BC Juvenile because of the Santa Anita synthetic surface. Instead, they sold him to Godolphin for $12 million. It was huge news considering he was then thought of as the nation's top Kentucky Derby prospect.
Vineyard Haven was then sent to Dubai to prep for the 2009 Derby, but that didn't work out. He struggled training on synthetics, which was confirmed during a fourth-place finish in the UAE 2,000 Guineas. With the Derby dreams over, he was sent back to U.S. for a second-half campaign. Though he did win the De Francis Dash for his third grade I victory, the gray colt was DQ'd from a King's Bishop (gr. I) win before that and narrowly missed in the Cigar Mile (gr. I), which they chose instead of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile--again because of Santa Anita's synthetic surface.
Vineyard Haven sparkled in his 2010 debut--the James Marvin Stakes on opening day of Saratoga last week, setting a wicked-fast pace and still having plenty left to finish. He earned a 102 Beyer off a nearly eight-month layoff. Not too shabby. Other than Quality Road, he might be the fastest horse out there. I'm guessing we will hear plenty more from him the rest of the year and beyond. On Wednesday, Godolphin assistant trainer Rick Mettee was kind enough to answer some questions about the star 4-year-old:
JS: He ran so well off a layoff in the James Marvin. Did you expect that because he had also run so well off a layoff in the King's Bishop last year?
RM: He did a lot of work for the race-he had a long, steady set of works. But he was not as sharp as he was as a 3-year-old, so we were a bit concerned. So we were pleasantly surprised to see how well he ran.
JS: He ran a huge race, especially the pace that he set. Were you at all concerned when you saw him run a :45 half-mile?
RM: Yeah, I was a little concerned, especially because the horse going with him, Flat Bold, was a nice horse and the rest of the field was good. But it was a muddy track and that might have helped. Sometimes it's hard to make up ground on an off track.
He's run some big races on the slop. That might be an advantage at the Breeders' Cup this year since it's at Churchill. It's been known to rain there in November.
JS: Speaking of which, are you pointing him toward the BC Sprint or the Mile?
RM: I think the Dirt Mile more than the Sprint. It's a one-turn mile and he has such a high cruising speed. I think it will suit him well.
JS: It's kind of a shame to think that this horse hasn't run in a Breeders' Cup race after being such a talented horse the last two years.
RM: Last year we had the Cigar Mile targeted for him. The way he trained in Dubai, we had no confidence in him on synthetics. The De Francis and the Cigar Mile were nice alternatives. But we're looking forward to giving him a chance run in the Breeders' Cup. He deserves it.
JS: I read that you guys considered pointing him for the Woodward but ultimately decided on the Forego for his next start. Is that true?
RM: Yes, we thought about stretching him out and that time might come at some point. But he is so good at seven-eighths, especially at Saratoga, and the Forego is too good a spot to pass up right now.
JS: What about his prep for the Breeders' Cup? Any races that you have in mind?
RM: Nothing right now, although the Kelso at Belmont was moved from turf to dirt this year. That is one option as a prep.
JS: You are fortunate to have three exceptional sprinters-Vineyard Haven, Gayego, and Desert Party. I know that Gayego and Desert Party are pointing for the Vanderbilt in a couple weeks. I guess you would like to try to keep all of them separated after that?
RM: Yes, Gayego will run in the Vanderbilt and then there is there are the Vosburgh and Ancient Title in California-which he won last year-later this fall. A lot depends on the Vanderbilt. We'd like to keep them separated, but they do have different running styles. Gayego likes to come from off of it and so does Desert Party. So in theory, they wouldn't get in each other's way.
JS: A lot was made of the price that was paid for Vineyard Haven. Does it feel any more satisfying that he has proven to be a top caliber horse and he has maybe justified the price tag?
RM: He was really bought to be a racehorse, not a stallion prospect. I think you will see him race for a while. He will probably stay in training next year at least and hopefully win a lot more races. He's a top caliber horse. He won a grade I as a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, so it would be nice to win the Forego and get one as a 4-year-old.