Ky. Derby Trail: Arch of Triumph

Talk about no respect. First Archarcharch gets dropped from the final Future Wager pool because of a third in the Rebel (gr. II), in which he had a ton of excuses. We expressed all the reasons why we felt that was a mistake in a March 30 column, titled “Fallen Arches.” Then, as a final indignity, he goes off at an insane 25-1 in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), despite being a house horse and being ridden by the popular Jon Court and trained by the popular Jinks Fires.

We won’t rehash all this horse’s attributes and why he was sitting on a huge race. Let’s just say he was totally overlooked. And you know what? He’s going to be overlooked again in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), because Nehro was running down his throat at the wire. If you’re looking for a big bandwagon horse on May 7, look no further than Nehro, who is going to take a ton of money.

From the time Archarcharch broke his maiden in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds in a sharp 1:10 2/5, despite being bred for stamina, he has had the look of a good horse. He had excuses in his only two defeats, but looked like Kentucky Derby material in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) and certainly in the Arkansas Derby, both times exhibiting the turn of foot  you want to see in a Derby horse.

One of those surprised at his odds in the Arkansas Derby was his owner Robert Yagos.

“If I had known what odds he was going to be I would have brought more money to the track,” he said. “The morning line was 12-1 and I thought he’d probably drop down to 10-1. I knew most of the money was going to go on The Factor. But when he went off at 25-1 I couldn’t believe it. My grandkids were there and I was giving them money to go bet, and they had a great time.”

If you liked the Mike Smith story and angle in 2005 you’re going to love Jon Court’s story. The 50-year-old journeyman has been so close to the Derby on several occasions, but has never been able to make it to the starting gate. Now he’s on his way for his father-in-law, Jinks Fires. This whole story is all about family.

Court’s son, Justin, has been Archarcharch’s blacksmith in Kentucky, and when the colt has been out of town over the winter, Fires’ brother, Teddy, and his nephew, Richard, have shod him. Justin is looking forward to shoeing him again before the Derby. Also, one of Yagos’ sons helps out on the farm and takes care of the horses when he and wife are away.

“This has been a dream come true,” Justin said. “It’s quite a thrill for all of us.”

Court, Fires, and Yagos have been a team for quite a while and will bring hordes of family and friends to Churchill Downs on May 7.

“Jon is a great jockey,” Yagos said. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody for any reason. Not only because he’s Jinks’ son-in-law and he’s a good friend of ours and has ridden a lot of our horses. We try to put him on every horse we have because I have a lot of confidence in him. Not only is he a good rider, he has the best interests of the horse at heart. He won’t push a horse farther than he thinks the horse can stand it. He wants them to come back safe, but he’ll never quit on a horse. He’s just a good jockey and he’s smart.”

One of the reasons Archarcharch is a perfect fit for Kentucky Derby is his disposition and his easy-going manner. If there is one thing that’s for sure, the pandemonium of the Derby is not going affect him.

“He’s always been a calm laid back horse,” Yagos said. “I own a salvage yard and after we bought him we had him on our 40-acre farm that’s right next to the salvage yard and two miles from the end of the runaway of an Air Force base, so he’s been used to the sounds of forklifts and trucks and equipment and those big C-130s flying in and out all the time. The noise and activity during the day never affected him. He’s a smart horse who pays attention to everything, but he doesn’t let anything bother him.”

That will serve him well in Fires’ barn at Churchill, which faces the often busy and loud Longfield Ave.

It was a stroke of good luck that brought Archarcharch to Yagos and Fires.

“Jinks picked him out,” Yagos said. “Usually I go down to the Keeneland sales with him, but I couldn’t get away. He knew what we were looking for, and there were four or five other ones before him that we tried to buy, but they just went too high. Jinks and I talked about this colt and put a maximum on him. Jinks called me while the auction was going on and we were prepared to go higher on him, but it was late on a Sunday afternoon towards the end of the sale and we just got lucky and were able to get him for $60,000. Jinks put him on a van and sent him here to the house. When I saw him I was impressed.”

If he was impressed then, he has to be enamored with the colt now, which is why he has turned down several offers for him.

“We had a bunch of offers for him after the Southwest and they just kept going up and up and getting ridiculous, and we finally just decided we’re going to keep him,” Yagos said. “This is why we’ve been doing this for 20 years and we’ll probably never get another one like him. Whatever happens from now on he’s made us look good.”

OK, so we’ve got a horse who is a grade I winner, one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby, and has a Derby pedigree and running style. But what do the Derby gods think of their beloved race being won by a horse named Archarcharch? If they have a sense of humor they won’t mind a bit.

“We were trying to figure out something to go with his pedigree, and he’s by Arch,” Yagos recalled. “I told my wife we need to pick out something the announcers will have fun with, and, hopefully, if he’s the kind of horse we think he is he’ll go a long way and people will remember him. And we felt Archarcharch was a name people will remember.”

If he keeps running the way he has, people will remember him alright, but not because of his name.

The Nehro bandwagon

As we stated earlier, expect Nehro to take a good deal of money in the Derby. People love to see horses closing like that, especially in their final Derby prep, and throughout the years have supported them at the windows.

Nehro certainly is looking extremely live for the Derby, and you had to be impressed with the power he exhibited in the final quarter mile and the relentless manner in which he came charging at Archarcharch, who was closing fast himself. He flew home his final three-eighths in :36 and change and galloped out like a bear.

There are several reasons why we have Archarcharch ranked slightly ahead of him. First off, he was giving Nehro four pounds, but most important, he showed a quicker turn of foot on the far turn, where many Derbys are often won. Going into the turn, Archarcharch was a length in front of Nehro. When the jocks on each horse asked them for their run, Archarcharch quickly kicked into another gear and in a flash was five lengths ahead of Nehro, who was just beginning to pick up steam.

Archarcharch came charging down the stretch and rolled past Sway Away and Dance City at the sixteenth pole and began drawing away. But here came Nehro chopping into his lead with every stride. Archarcharch, because he can be so inquisitive, as Yagos mentioned, has worn blinkers his whole career. When he began to lose interest a little after opening a clear lead in the Southwest, Fires opened up his blinkers a little. We’ll see if he opens them up a little more for the Derby, although we can’t imagine him losing interest in the Derby with all the noise and the crowd.

What we love most about Nehro is that in a three-week period after breaking his maiden with an explosive move around horses, he has closed fast in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Arkansas Derby over two distinctly different surfaces. And he did it coming on the inside at Fair Grounds and the outside at Oaklawn, and from three lengths back at Fair Grounds and 10 lengths back at Oaklawn. In short, this colt can be placed anywhere on the track and still come with his powerful run. That is a trainer and jockey’s dream. As we said, bandwagon horse.

The Factor preempted…for now

Yes, The Factor was disappointing as the 4-5 favorite. But if he trains well at Churchill Downs and runs in the Derby, don’t be surprised even a little to see a big rebound performance.

As fast as he is, when a horse busts out of there in a 1 1/8-mile race and is hustled to the lead in :22 2/5, it would be crazy to try to outrun him. Not only did The Factor try to take back a little, he was crowded into the rail by Dance City. When Martin Garcia grabbed hold of him and took him off the rail, The Factor displaced so badly that Garcia could hear him gurgling all the way down the backstretch.

If The Factor makes it to the starting gate on May 7, you can be sure he will be allowed to run, and when this horse is allowed to run there isn’t anyone who can outrun run. Any horse that tries to will not be around for very long, and no one is going to want to offer their horse as a sacrificial lamb in the Kentucky Derby. So, it’s not inconceivable to see a Spend a Buck or Winning Colors type of performance, at least for as far as his speed can carry him.

Horses often will run a monster race after displacing or having any problem that hampers their breathing. Look at Holy Bull, who displaced in the Fountain of Youth and finished far up the track, then came right back and blew his field away in the Florida Derby, earning an outrageous 115 Beyer speed figure. And the Derby has shown us on a number of occasions that a bad performance has little bearing on what a horse does coming back in a couple of weeks.

Hansel, Snow Chief, Louis Quatorze, Lookin at Lucky, Point Given, Tabasco Cat, Little Current, and Pine Bluff are just some of the horses who finished out of the money for whatever reason in the Derby and came right back two weeks later to win the Preakness. And two of those – Point Given and Lookin at Lucky – were trained by Bob Baffert.

No one knows whether The Factor can carry his speed 1 1/4 miles, but if Baffert feels he’s ready for the Derby, it would be wise to at least take him seriously.

Blue Grass with the emphasis on grass

We’re not even going to begin analyzing the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). The only major Derby contender in the field, Santiva, never threatened, and you can choose to throw the race out if you wish. The only question with him is whether he got enough out of the race to go into the Derby off only two starts this year. We’re not going to hold this race against him, not on that surface.

The winner, Brilliant Speed – an oddly named horse considering his running style, appears to be a good horse, but looking at the race strictly as a Derby prep, let’s just say that the three horses in the photo – Brilliant Speed, Twinspired, and King Congie – have run in a combined five dirt races in their career and were beaten a total of 83 1/2 lengths, for an average margin of defeat of 16 3/4 lengths. And that is actually below the winner’s average of 20 lengths.

This was basically a grass race, and run as a grass race, and there really isn’t much more you can say about it, except for this: Brilliant Speed's sire, Dynaformer, has sired Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. His broodmare sire, Gone West, sired Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Commendable. And his second dam, Daijin, is a full-sister to Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold.

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