Haskin's Derby Trail: Derby Dreams and Nightmares

Well, it’s one day away from the dreaded draw, that simple tradition that can have even the most hardened racetracker shuddering in fear and apprehension. This is the last hurdle to clear, and if you don’t, it could mean four months of training, racing, worrying, and dreaming right down the proverbial drain.

One owner of a Derby horse said just today, “If I draw post 1, I’ll kill myself. I might even consider scratching.”

Those agonizing minutes when the pills are being pulled are every horseman’s nightmare. Once you get past this hurdle unscathed, it’s just two days of waiting for the big moment.

But the magic of the Kentucky Derby certainly is not restricted to owners, trainers, and jockeys. The race affects people all over the country in different ways, many of whom have Derby dreams of their own.

One such person is Chris Simonds, who has had a lifelong dream of going to the Kentucky Derby with his grandfather, Frank Clayton, who used to take him to Los Alamitos when he was a kid and place $2 bets for his grandson

For his 18th birthday present, Frank took Chris back to Los Alamitos and gave him $50 to bet legally for first time. Chris and Frank were often accompanied to the track by Frank’s friend, Rod Lowe, and all three became very close during their travels to Los Alamitos and visits to Rod’s Quarter-Horse ranch.

Chris Simonds, his grandfather Frank Clayton, and Rod Lowe at Santa Anita.

Chris’ sister, Lisa Hill, said, “Through these experiences, a dream was born that the three of them would one day go to the Kentucky Derby, but they would only do it when they could go in style and live the full week of Derby experiences. This included tours of the racetracks, visits to the finest stud farms in the world, and ultimately tickets with a view of the Derby itself.”

Not long before Chris was deployed to Iraq, he promised his grandfather that he would return safely so they could finally attend the Kentucky Derby and fulfill their dream.

“It’s a dream that was some 12 to 14 years in the making, and when we did it, we wanted to do it right and go the whole nine yards,” Chris said. “But then came something that put a wrinkle in the plans.”

It actually was a lot more than a wrinkle.

“Five and a half weeks into his deployment, a sniper put a 7.62 bullet into my brother’s back,” Lisa said. “He was flung forward face first into the dirt and noticed large amounts of blood pouring out of his mouth. An ambush was underway with an enemy machine gun opening fire. A combat medic dragged him to safety. He couldn’t breathe and felt awfully cold enough though the temperature was 120-plus degrees. He lost consciousness nine times and began talking to God. He remembers thinking he had let his grandfather down.”

Chris made a full recovery and was awarded the Purple Heart. This year, for his 30th birthday, he decided it was the right year to finally live his and his grandfather’s dream.

“With some savings, the generosity of many family members and friends, and help from Sita World Tours and Premiere Sports Travel (www.sportstravel.com), Chris and his grandfather, and Rod and are finally living their Kentucky Derby dream,” Lisa said.

Said Chris: “This year’s Derby field is the most talented and well-bred in years, and I felt, ‘This has to be the year.’ Since day one of the trip I’ve probably slept a total of two hours I’ve been so excited. We visited Adena Springs, Hurstland Farm, and Old Friends, and on Wednesday we’re attending “Dawn at the Downs,” having breakfast on Millionaires Row, and then going to the Kentucky Horse Park to see Cigar and the other horses there, and then on to Three Chimneys. The only disappointment was that my grandfather really wanted to see Barbaro’s sire, Dynaformer, but, unfortunately, he died the other day, on Barbaro’s birthday. But this trip has already been so wonderful, and if it ended today it would still be wonderful.”

As for his brush with death, Chris simply said, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And that’s what makes this dream all the more special.”

The other Daddy on his way

We know that Daddy Knows, or we should say Nose, Best, but does he or anyone else really know what Daddy Long Legs is going to do in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)?

According to a Ballydoyle spokesperson, trainer Aidan O’Brien has been “happy with Daddy Long Legs since he won the UAE Derby (UAE-I) in Dubai.”

“Said O’Brien, “At home, Daddy Long Legs works well and is a good mover with an extravagant action. He’s a horse that likes eating and sleeping and only does what he needs to do. We’ve had a cold spell in Ireland with unseasonably bad weather which hasn’t been ideal, but he’s a very relaxed and straightforward horse to do anything with.

“Daddy Long Legs did a routine canter on Sunday morning, everything went well and he’s in good form. This morning he left Ireland for Kentucky and now we’re just looking forward to Saturday. Colm (O’Donoghue) rides him again and we’re hoping he runs well.”

O’Brien will remain in Europe Saturday to saddle Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) favorite Camelot at Newmarket.

Tuesday tidbits

The Todd Pletcher-trained Gemologist and El Padrino finally arrived from Palm Meadows, along with Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Take Charge Indy. Both Pletcher colts were in fine physical form, with El Padrino making an immediate impression. He is a powerful, flashy-looking chestnut with a white face and makes a striking appearance.

El Padrino - Photo By Steve Haskin

Take Charge Indy looked fantastic. The son of A.P. Indy has a refined classy, “Black Stallion” look about him and his coat had a beautiful shine to it, despite the cloudy, humid morning. He doesn’t look anything like his sire, but bears a close resemblance to his dam, the top-class Take Charge Lady.

Take Charge Indy - Photo by Steve Haskin

On the track for the first time Tuesday morning was Alpha, who arrived Monday evening just before 6:30. The smallish, narrow-bodied son of Bernardini had good energy coming off the track, spending most of his time looking at the crowd gathered along the rail.

Alpha - Photo by Steve Haskin

Rousing Sermon showed he likes this track, working a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, coming home his final quarter in :23 4/5 and final eighth in :12 flat, galloping out six furlongs in 1:14. There are a lot of things we’re liking about this colt, and can definitely see him coming on at the end and at the least being a part of the exotics.

Our final words of the day: Welcome to the Derby, Mr. Lukas.

Lava Man, pony for I'll Have Another - Photo by Steve Haskin

Dullahan - Photo by Steve Haskin

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