There certainly is no pressure on Kiaran McLaughlin as he prepares Goldolphin’s Incognito for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. For McLaughlin and the Godolphin/Darley brain trust, this is one of those typical “everything to gain and nothing to lose” scenarios.
McLaughlin is relying strictly on pedigree in his belief that the regally bred son of A.P. Indy – Octave, by Unbridled’s Song has some sort of chance of making an impact on the finish of the mile and a half race.
That’s not to say there isn’t talent and heart to back that up, but at this point, the handsome gray colt is unproven against top-class company and even McLaughlin admits, “He’ll go a mile and a half, I just don’t know how fast.”
So, what kind of case can one make for a horse whose only stakes appearance resulted in a 15 3/4-length defeat and whose highest Beyer Speed Figure has been a paltry 86?
First off, let’s go back to the colt’s maiden victory on March 16. He was coming off a fast-closing neck defeat to Mr. Palmer, who went on to win the Private Terms Stakes easily and then finish a fast-closing fourth in the Wood Memorial. In that maiden score, he tracked a slow pace going a flat mile and came home his final two quarters in :24 and :24 3/5 to win going away by 3 1/4 lengths.
Anyone who saw his next race, a first level allowance race against older horses, had to come away with a tremendous appreciation for the colts courage, toughness, and determination.
Trapped behind a wall of horses in the stretch, he was bumped soundly, ran up on a horse’s heels and stumbled, nearly falling. Somehow, he was able to recover and get back in stride. He was steered to the inside for room by jockey Mike Luzzi and proceeded to go between two horses. But just as he got to the opening, both horses closed it up quickly and he found himself sandwiched in tight quarters. But he wasn’t about to back out of it. Instead, he bulled his way through, knocking both horses out of his way. Once he finally got in the clear, he kicked in to another gear. Winning seemed unlikely, but he kept coming and amazingly got up to win by a nose. He may have earned only an 86 Beyer, but, considering what he overcame, you can add a number of points to that figure had he had a clear run.
Then came his stakes debut in the Peter Pan, for which he was bet down to 7-2. Although his past performances lines would indicate he tired, losing 10 lengths from the opening quarter to the finish, it was just the opposite. He broke sharply over the sloppy track and seemed to be in good position as they headed down the backstretch. But Luzzi decided to move him in behind horses. Incognito apparently did not like the slop being kicked back in his face and proceeded to take himself out of the race, dropping back abruptly, and was not seen on the TV screen until they straightened into the stretch.
Still behind horses, Luzzi saw the rail was clear and steered Incognito to the inside. Once he rid himself of the kickback, the colt took off and began picking off horses. By then, however, Freedom Child, who had led every step of the way, was long gone. He was 10 in front at the eighth pole and continued to widen, winning by 13 ¼ lengths. Incognito was just getting rolling, and although he finished fifth, he was beaten two photos for third. After the wire, he kept building up steam and actually flew by the winner galloping out, which means he had to make up 16 lengths in less than a furlong, and just kept going.
It was that final furlong and the gallop-out that encouraged his connections to try for the Belmont, knowing the mile and a half distance will only help him.
“That’s why we’re running him,” McLaughlin said after watching the colt work a solid :48 1/5 over the training track Monday. “Luzzi said he didn’t like the kickback. He doesn’t have the Sheets numbers, so he’s not going to be a wise-guy horse.”
With rain forecast for Friday and Saturday, many people will toss him after the way he reacted to the slop hitting him, but he did run a good third, closing a lot of ground, in a mile maiden race over a muddy track back in January. He has plenty of strong slop influences in his pedigree top and bottom, and his dam, Octave, ran a super race in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in the slop, rallying from 12th to finish third, beaten only a half-length. She also finished second in the Kentucky Oaks, run over a muddy track.
Incognito is not the type of horse who is going to give you that quick acceleration, and at times he looks as if he’s going nowhere on the far turn, despite being pushed on. He is, however, the type of horse you can never give up on, because it takes a while for him to get going, and once he does, he just keeps coming. And one thing we do know about him is he has the heart and guts and the will to win, and the ability to overcome adversity.
What we don’t know about him is his class against top company and how much talent is there, at least at this point in his career. The speed figures say he’s not fast, and that may be true, but fast speed numbers often are not a major prerequisite to winning the Belmont. Just look at Commendable, Drosselmeyer, Da’ Tara, Ruler On Ice and a host of “slow” horses who managed to pick up a piece of it, such as Atigun, Anak Nakal, Andromeda’s Hero, Nolan’s Cat, Royal Assault, and Thomas Jo, all of whom finished in the money in the Belmont at huge prices.
Whether or not he proves he belongs in this year’s Belmont, Incognito has already shown one of the main qualities you look for in a Thoroughbred – heart. If there is a dogfight, especially at the end of a mile and a half race, he’s the kind of horse you want to have your money on.