"I thought I'd never see a horse as good as Kitten's Joy," Dale Romans said. "I'm starting to think this one might be."
"I think he's by far the best 3-year-old and I don't just mean on turf," said Kent Desormeaux.
They were the quotes by Paddy O'Prado's trainer and jockey minutes after winning the Secretariat Stakes on Saturday for his first grade I victory. It was also the third straight graded turf win for the son of El Prado, who has emerged as a star in a little more than five months.
It's pretty amazing to think about what this colt has accomplished in such a short amount of time. Heading into the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) on March 6 at Gulfstream, Paddy was winless in four starts, including a third-place finish in a maiden special weight in February. I remember talking to Romans a few days before the Palm Beach and he was very confident about Paddy's chances even though he was a maiden going against winners in a graded stakes. He picked the horse out of the Keeneland September 2008 yearling sale (for $105,000) for owner Jerry Crawford and had been high on him ever since.
As a juvenile, Paddy was beaten a neck by Dean's Kitten in his turf debut and then ran third to Interactif in the With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Saratoga. Despite the defeats, Romans knew he was a special horse that just needed more experience. His words before the Palm Beach gave me confidence to pick him, (which I did on That Handicapping Show), and I was rewarded with a nice 7-1 score that day.
Romans and Crawford always knew Paddy was best suited for turf, but they took a shot on the Triple Crown trail, and rightfully so. Paddy ran huge in the Kentucky Derby and should have been runner-up had it not been for a boneheaded mistake by Desormeaux nearing the wire. (By the way, to Romans' credit, he didn't throw his rider under the bus after the Derby despite having plenty of chances to. He acknowledged Desormeaux's error but did so in a classy way. Romans has stuck with Desormeaux and has been rewarded for doing so).
After finishing sixth in the Preakness, Romans knew it was time to get him back to the turf. All three of his subsequent wins have been dominant, which begs the question, is Desormeaux right? Is Paddy the best 3-year-old out there, not just on turf but on dirt? And, is Paddy on the same level as Kitten's Joy, the champion grass horse from 2004 that Romans also trained?
Obviously, Lookin at Lucky is division leader in mostly people's eyes right now, and deservedly so. But if Paddy wins his next start, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) on Oct. 2 at Belmont, Desormeaux's comments might not be so far-fetched. Despite being a 3YO, he would likely go into the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) on Nov. 6 as America's No. 1 threat and might even be the first 3YO to be favored in that race since...well, Kitten's Joy in 2004.
As far as being compared to Kitten's Joy, it's eerily similar how their 3YO seasons have mirrored each other. Kitten's Joy won the Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT) in 2004 to begin his campaign, then won the Palm Beach and American Turf (gr. IIIT), lost by a head in the Jefferson Cup (gr. IIIT), and reeled off wins in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), Secretariat and Turf Classic before finishing runner-up in the BC Turf. Paddy also has won the Palm Beach, Virginia Derby, and Secretariat, and will point toward the Turf Classic and BC Turf.
No matter how the rest of the year plays out, one thing is for sure: Paddy O'Prado is a star on the rise--this year and beyond.