Ky. Derby Trail: Leave the Training to Trainers

Over the past decade or so, racing has seen a new breed of owner enter the sport, many with a corporate philosophy. And like most corporations, there is the need for a manager, whether he or she goes by the title of GM or in this instance racing manager.

In many cases, an owner, whether it be of a corporation or a racing stable, feels it is necessary to hire a manager to keep everything flowing and running smoothly and eliminate the day-to-day headaches of dealing with large numbers of people. In racing, the owner, for whatever reason, is more comfortable having a manager to deal with the trainer or trainers on a daily basis and coordinate the schedules for the horses. In some cases the number of horses can reach 50-100.
But one thing we have learned over the years, especially on the Kentucky Derby trail, is that racing managers should have a level of communication with their trainer or trainers that cannot be exceeded for the good of all involved, especially the horses.

There have been only two Derby-winning owners who have had racing managers – the owners of War Emblem in 2002 and Super Saver in 2010.  In both cases, the owners maintained a vast operation; the trainers involved on the Derby trail were Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher; and the racing managers were former veteran trainers who knew exactly where to draw the line as far as issuing instructions to their trainers. So, in those cases the relationship worked and success followed.

There actually has been a third winning owner/racing manager team, but in the case of Jerry and Ann Moss, their racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs also happens to be the wife of their trainer, so there is no closer family than that team.

This year, Mike Repole, owner of Derby favorite Uncle Mo, as well as Stay Thirsty, has a racing manager, but Repole is so totally immersed in the Derby trail and has such a good relationship with Pletcher, the guidelines are well observed, and everyone knows exactly what their role is. As Repole said so profoundly at the Eclipse Awards presentations, he is a fan who happens to own horses. It couldn’t have been stated more perfectly.

It is the same way with Robert LaPenta and his trainer, Hall of Famer Nick Zito, who have yet another top Derby contender this year in Dialed In following their second-place finish in last year’s Run for the Roses with Ice Box. LaPenta likes to be involved, but neither he nor his racing manager, Ernie Reichard, will force Zito’s hand. That is why the relationship works, as it did with War Emblem’s late owner Ahmed Salman of The Thoroughbred Corp, racing manager Richard Mulhall, and Baffert. And why it did with Super Saver’s owner, WinStar Farm, racing manager Elliott Walden, and Pletcher. Walden actually takes on more of an executive role than the typical racing manager. In each of those cases, the three parties involved formed an equilateral triangle, which is as it should be.

But, those examples are often the exception rather than the rule. Many owners today, some of whom have only a handful of horses, either become too assertive, annoying, and demanding when dealing with their trainers or have their racing managers become too assertive, annoying, and demanding, which is even worse, especially when they take on the top trainers in the country, most of whom will not tolerate such an unhealthy situation.

Over the past six months, we have had three top trainers tell owners to take their promising young horse and hit the road. And the horses involved are graded stakes winners, and on each occasion the racing manager was the impetus for the ouster.

So, are trainers finally beginning to stand up for themselves and not deal with the aggravation? Well, it seems some of the top trainers are, but they can afford to. Other trainers cannot afford to lose a Derby contender.

Owners who want to have any chance of being successful, and especially making it to the Kentucky Derby, must bite whatever bullet has propelled them through life and recognize racing for what it is. Yes, it can be a business, but first and foremost it is a sport, and the people they entrust with the care and training of their horses, whether they cost $50,000 or $500,000, must be allowed to utilize the expertise that attracted the owner to them in the first place. If they want to hire a racing manager, that’s fine, but a line must be drawn between the manager and the trainer. If it isn’t, the situation becomes counterproductive.

So, to the novice owners and their novice racing managers: there are numerous stumbling blocks on the Derby trail and you’re not going to clear them if you keep tripping on your own ego. This obviously does not apply to all novice owners or racing managers; just the ones who believe they can train a horse better than their trainer and are intent on proving it.

As we’ve seen in recent months, trainers are getting mad and they’re not going to take it anymore.

OK, it’s time to get off the pulpit and back to racing.

-- It didn’t take long for our Derby Dozen challenge to take a hit on the always humbling Derby trail. And in Casper’s Touch’s case, make that hit literal. Stuck in behind horses after breaking from the rail in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile allowance race, the #1 ranked horse on our second list was fighting jockey Julien Leparoux and never really settled. Then, after turning for home, he was bumped hard by Shadow Warrior, who ducked in from a right-handed whip. That forced him to check and gather himself. He still managed to close well, getting up for second behind Shackleford. He certainly deserves another chance, which no doubt will come in stakes company.

Also in our Derby Dozen challenge last week, we ranked Elite Alex and Alternation #2 and #3, respectively. Although we’re still high on them, there was a slight “uh oh” when Commander, who had finished in a three-horse photo with both of them last time out, ran a disappointing sixth, beaten over 14 lengths, in an allowance race as the 2-1 second choice.

-- As for Shackleford, he tracked a relatively slow pace set by El Grayling, and then had no trouble disposing of him and drawing clear in the stretch to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:50. This was an excellent effort, considering he had run only twice in his career and had been farther than seven furlongs. El Grayling, who had never been on the lead in seven career starts, was just nipped at the wire by Casper’s Touch.

With this colt’s record and amazing pedigree, he moves way up on our list. For the followers of the RF (Rasmussen Factor—inbreeding to quality mares), you’re going to love the fact that Shackleford in inbred three times to Aspidistra -- twice through Dr. Fager (4x5) and once through her daughter Magic (by Buckpasser). Shackleford’s dam, Oatsee, a daughter of Unbridled, is inbred to one of the most potent stallions of the past 30 years, In Reality. What makes this pedigree all the more intriguing is that the inbreeding to Dr. Fager and In Reality is all through mares.

And we’re not finished yet. Shackleford’s fourth dam, Taminette (by In Reality), is a full-sister to the top-class stakes winner and sire Known Fact, a half-sister to the brilliant and versatile Tentam, and a half-sister to the dam of the major stakes winner and sire Gone West. This pedigree has the genius of John Nerud running through it – through Dr. Fager, Unbridled, and Fappiano; and Nerud raised In Reality at Tartan Farm. Unbridled, who Nerud bred, is a cross between Dr. Fager on top and In Reality on the bottom. By breeding Buckpasser to Aspidistra, Nerud was able to get inbreeding to War Admiral and the great foundation mare La Troienne, adding another RF to the pedigree. So, you can see why it is so easy to get excited over Shackleford’s pedigree, which also has a cross to Darby Dan through His Majesty on top and Roberto on the bottom.

-- Speaking of fascinating pedigrees, how about Saturday’s Whirlaway Stakes winner Toby’s Corner, who won going away in the slop, despite racing very greenly in the stretch, stuck on his left lead and gawking at the grandstand. It wasn’t until he switched leads and straightened his head out that he leveled off and drew away to defeat 8-5 favorite J J’s Lucky train by two lengths.

Toby’s Corner, who had won his last two at Laurel for Graham Motion, is by the brilliant Bellamy Road, out of a mare by Mister Frisky, the Puerto Rican sensation who won the 1990 San Vicente, San Rafael, and Santa Anita Derby for Laz Barrera, and was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, going into the race undefeated in 16 starts. Unfortunately, a grapefruit sized growth was discovered in his throat following the Preakness that ended his unique career. His name all but vanished, but here he is as a broodmare sire.

-- The way Bluegrass Cat’s half-brother, Cal Nation, won his career debut at Gulfstream Saturday it’s too bad it’s taken him so long to get to the races. The son of Distorted Humor was bet down to 6-5 in a seemingly tough maiden field going seven furlongs and drew off like a good horse to win by 7 3/4 lengths in 1:22 flat. Although he is way behind the others, let’s remember that this was the same weekend Curlin won his career debut, also at seven furlongs, by 12 3/4 lengths in 1:22 1/5.

Pletcher, like last year, is going to have to plot courses for all his 3-year-olds, while trying to keep them apart. He already has Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty, and Brethren, and a few other possibilities, so do you stay short with Cal Nation and go for the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) or go for broke and stretch him out to a two-turn stakes? WinStar also owns Brethren, so he naturally would have to avoid Super Saver’s undefeated brother.

-- If you miss John Shirreffs and want to see him back in the national spotlight, don’t give up hope quite yet. Shirreffs has a promising 3-year-old colt named Mr. Commons, who showed great promise breaking his maiden by 5 1/2 lengths in a rapidly run maiden race going 6 1/2 furlongs on the grass.

The son of Artie Schiller appears to be a grass horse, but he has trained very well on Hollywood’s dirt training track, and Shirreffs may decide to give him a try on dirt, just to see what he’s got. The colt is owned and bred by Ian Banwell’s St. George Farm.

-- When Rick Dutrow withdrew Boys At Tosconova from the Holy Bull (gr. III) because he didn’t like his energy level, that sent up a warning flare, despite Dutrow insisting it was not a setback and he still had plenty of time to get him ready. A few days later, it was reported in the Daily Racing Form that Dutrow has backed off on his training until he can figure out why the colt is not showing him the signs he wants to see.

-- Dutrow told DRF he is high on Rocking Out, a son of Include who won his only start impressively in November. We wrote about him on Jan. 5, saying, “Son of Include turned in an explosive stretch run to win his career debut at Aqueduct for Rick Dutrow, coming from 4 1/2 lengths back at the eighth pole to win by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:10 3/5. Let’s see if he shows up on the work tab soon, as he is playing catch up.”

Well, he not only showed up on the work tab, he actually got the better of multiple stakes winner D’Funnybone in a six-furlong work in 1:11 1/5, only his third work back. In his previous work, he went five furlongs in :59 4/5, so he is obviously getting ready quickly. He is still playing catch-up and likely will return in another sprint, so it’s going to be extremely tight if they have any plans to try to make the Derby.

He is out of an Elusive Quality mare, but there is a ton of stamina in his tail-female family.

-- Keep an eye on a Steve Asmussen-trained maiden named Albergatti, an exceptionally fast son of Unbridled’s Song who ran a huge race to finish second in his career debut at Santa Anita Jan. 16 behind a Baffert-trained speedster named Da Ruler, who had worked six furlongs for that race in 1:10 1/5. Albergatti ran a gutsy race after battling through torrid fractions of :21 3/5 and :43 3/5 with the winner and was beaten three-quarters of a length in 1:14 2/5 for the 6 1/2 furlongs. There is a question how far he wants to go, but he can run. He worked five furlongs in :59 1/5 on Feb. 1, so he should show up in another maiden race pretty soon.

-- At Palm Meadows Friday, Kentucky Jockey Club winner Santiva breezed a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 for his debut, which likely will be in the Fountain of Youth. The following day, Kenny McPeek sent out Washington’s Rules and Rogue Romance to work five furlongs in :59 3/5 (bullet) and 1:00 flat, respectively. Along with Casper’s Touch, McPeek should have a potent trio, especially going nine furlongs and longer.

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