With the all mysteries and unknown factors surrounding the 137th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), there is no greater mystery than Master of Hounds, who was out on the racetrack for the first time Thursday.
Most feel the Ballydoyle boys are looking through rose-colored glasses running this colt in the Derby, but whether you do or not, let’s once again give thanks to Coolmore and trainer Aidan O’Brien for taking a shot and sending a top-quality horse to the United States for a major stakes race and their continued support of American racing.
Although Master of Hounds has never run on dirt and has only one victory in seven career starts, the son of Kingmambo is still a top-quality colt who has been farther than any horse in the race, having gotten a beaten a nose in the 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby (UEA-II) in his only start this year.
In that race, he showed his courage by digging in and battling back when confronted by the classy UAE Oaks (UEA-III) winner Khawlah, despite coming off a 4 ½-month layoff. Behind him was a collection of Southern Hemisphere “older” horses, including the Brazilian-bred Xin Xu Lin, winner of the group I Carlos Pellegrini (South America’s equivalent of the Arc Triomphe), Brazilian Derby, Brazilian 2,000 Guineas; Mahooba, a group I winner in Australia and winner of the UAE 1,000 Guineas (UAE-III); Zanzimar, a stakes winner in South Africa and a fast-closing second in the UAE 2,000 Guineas; and the Australian-bred Reem, who trounced the colts in the Al Bastakiya, the second leg of the UAE Triple Crown.
Also behind him were the UAE 2,000 Guineas winner Splash Point; the American colt Sweet Ducky, a multiple stakes who was second to Kentucky Derby favorite Dialed In in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III); Japanese-trained Laser Bullet, winner of two of three career starts; and his stablemate Alexander Pope, winner of his last two starts in Ireland.
“We’ve always liked him,” said trainer Aidan O’Brien, who is scheduled to arrive from Ireland tonight. “After he broke his maiden at Tipperary, we ran him in the (group I) Racing Post Trophy over soft ground and he missed the break and fell back early and ran well to finish third.”
He was sent off as the 7-2 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) and steadied early and had to go four-wide, finishing sixth, beaten three lengths.”
“He might have still been too immature for what we were asking him to do,” O’Brien said. “We nominated him to the Triple Crown, because we still felt he was the right kind of horse for America. He’s a big scopey kind of cruiser who travels well on the bridle. He likes to grind it out and keep galloping, and he’s tough as nails. We just thought he was a Kentucky Derby type of horse.
“We thought the UAE Derby would tell us we were going with him, either the 2,000 Guineas or the Kentucky Derby. We were absolutely delighted with his performance in the race, especially considering it was his first start of the year. He’s worked very well on our Polytrack surface at home and made the transition from grass to synthetic. I know it’s different running on the dirt, but I’ve heard that grass horses take to Churchill Downs, and he’s handled every surface we’ve put him on.”
O’Brien said he is not going to give jockey Garrett Gomez an extensive list of instructions. He just wants him to put the horse in a good spot several lengths back and keep grinding them down from there.
Master of Hounds, it must be remembered, is by Kingmambo, who has sired his share of dirt horses, including Eclipse champion Lemon Drop Kid, winner of the grade I Belmont and Travers among others.
O’Brien who has been represented in the Breeders’ Cup Classic numerous times, trying to land a big American dirt race, has tried the Kentucky Derby once before, sending over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Johannesburg along with Castle Gandolfo in 2002.
Johannesburg had only one seven-furlong race before the Derby and wasn’t bred for a mile and a quarter, whereas Master of Hounds is bred to run all day and has a lot more bottom, competing at 1 3/16 miles over a very slow, deep surface at Meydan.
And how much would Coolmore like to win the Derby with a colt out of a Sadler’s Wells mare, having just lost their great stallion on April 26 at the age of 30.
So what kind of impact will the post position draw have on the Derby? Most of the talk has been about Archarcharch drawing the dreaded rail. But if he can break cleanly and can escape the first sixteenth of a mile unscathed and get a good position along the inside somewhere near midpack he should be OK. But he’ll have to have good racing luck and everything to fall his way. It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s not something that can’t be overcome. And if he does have good racing luck, he actually could get a dream trip like Fusaichi Pegasus did in 2000 when he had the rail all to himself for most of the trip, found a seam approaching the quarter pole and was gone.
Uncle Mo, who was crawling out of his skin galloping this morning, his first gallop since working last Sunday, drew post 18, and again he’ll need good racing luck to avoid getting hung wide on the first turn.
Decisive Moment and Comma to the Top, breaking from post 5 and 6, respectively, likely will vie for the early lead, with Pants On Fire sitting right off them from post 7. Shackleford and Soldat are the other pace horses breaking from the outside, in post 14 and 17, respectively, and likely will try to tuck in right behind the leaders, along with Uncle Mo. Shackleford, however, has the speed to go right up and challenge, but has to make sure he doesn’t use himself too much. Midnight Interlude, breaking from post 15, has the speed to be close up, but is rateable enough to take back to midpack, depending on what Victor Espinoza decides to do.
Two horses who will have to drop right out of it early are Brilliant Speed, breaking from post 2, and Nehro, breaking from post 19. The morning line favorite Dialed In drew well in post and the big, long-striding Mucho Macho Man is in a great spot, breaking from post 13.