Is Larry Doing What's Best?

Larry Best's comments about pulling the brilliant Instagrand out of training, his thoughts on the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown, and admitting his decision overruled trainer Jerry Hollendorfer have created quite a stir.

This is a lot more complex than people might think. First off, Best spends a lot of money at the sales, and obviously is free to do what he feels is best, stating that he goes by his gut, something that has gotten him to where he is now.

As an old schooler, I have always been a firm believer in building a racing foundation in a 2-year-old, not so much to win the Kentucky Derby, but to enhance his chances of prolonging his career after the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. That is when the foundation is necessary to enable a horse to withstand the rigors of the Derby trail and Triple Crown and move forward off it.

In an era when we have lightly raced horses winning the Derby, and, now, even the Triple Crown, it is natural for owners and trainers to want to have a lightly raced horse on the Derby trail, believing it would help prevent a horse from burning out too early and saving something for the first Saturday in May. Many obviously believe a 2-year-old foundation is detriment to a young horse. 

With that thinking, it seems more than a coincidence that seven of the past 10 Kentucky Derby winners never won a race after the Triple Crown, and five of those seven never won a race after the Derby. As mentioned in my previous column, in the 1970s alone, Kentucky Derby winners Riva Ridge, Secretariat, Foolish Pleasure, Bold Forbes, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid all won at least one sprint stakes as a 2-year-old.

With that said, I have also seen rare occasions when you have a horse come along that is, as the old saying goes, "Too fast to last." Even the all-time greats usually progressed at 2, getting better with each start, even if they won first time out. Many did not. But once in a while you came across a horse so fast and so brilliant he took everyone's breath away, winning by the length of the stretch in fast time. If he followed that by moving up in class and once again blowing the doors off his opponents, then you had better start pondering his future and figuring out how to slow down this missile.

I have seen a number of these "Too fast to last" youngsters, such as Graustark, Hoist the Flag, Raise A Native, and Danzig. All came out like gangbusters, running a hole in the wind, and all broke down either as 2-year-olds or before the Derby. Ironically, all became top-class sires. Those horses, however, were not subjected to the 2-year-old sales as Instagrand was. Many of those 2-year-olds who work blistering times often need time to develop, mature, and control their speed if they want to have an extended career.

It is extremely rare to see a horse like Instagrand, who won his debut by 10 lengths in a blazing :56 flat for five furlongs. He then moved up in class in the grade 2 Best Pal Stakes and won that by 10 1/4 lengths under a hand ride in 1:10 1/5, coming home his last quarter in a scintillating :23.73.

Being by Into Mischief, there are no guarantees he is even a Derby horse. But if you're going to try to harness some of that speed, you sure don't want him to continue running races like that. A horse that precocious and that fast, and by that sire, is not what you look for in a Derby horse. Best is not even that interested in the Derby at this point, but if Instagrand does make it to Churchill Downs, he has no desire to continue through the Triple Crown, preferring instead to point long-range toward the Travers and hopefully a 4-year-old campaign.

Best said he is going by his gut, but the bottom line is that all horses are different and meant to do different things and take different paths. And from what we have seen so far from Instagrand, I don't see how anyone can criticize his decision, which at this point seems to be what is best for the horse, as much of a cliché as that may be.

Best spent $1.2 million to obtain the colt as a 2-year-old, so you can only imagine how fast he worked, especially considering he was purchased as a yearling for only $190,000. That is quite a pinhook. The last thing Best wants with an investment this large, or any investment, is to have a horse who is "Too fast to last."

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