Let's Not Forget Country House

Someday, hopefully in the not too distant future, all the anger, pain, frustration, and feuding that resulted from the 2019 Kentucky Derby will at least dissipate to the point where we can all move on. For some, like Gary and Mary West, Jason Servis, Luis Saez and all those who saw their scorching mutuel tickets reduced to ashes right before their eyes, it will be more difficult. But in racing there is always tomorrow and more horses to train and more tickets to cash and new stars emerging.

We will always remember the parties involved in this year's Derby and we will certainly remember Maximum Security for the courageous race he ran and what was taken away from him, whether deservedly so or not. Some will remember Flavien Prat as the jockey who stole the Kentucky Derby, while others will remember him for his quick thinking by opening the stewards' eyes to the infraction he witnessed. 

But what of the horse who has actually gone into the record book as the winner of the 145th Kentucky Derby? Not many people are talking about him. We have never seen a Kentucky Derby winner so ignored in regard to who he is and what he accomplished. Right now while the flames still burn, he is merely the horse who didn't deserve to win racing's greatest prize. Perhaps when those flames finally are extinguished, he will be appreciated at least to some degree. It is Country House's job to elevate himself to where he can capture the public's respect and create his own fan base. Who knows, that could come in the Belmont Stakes or the Travers Stakes or even the Breeders' Cup Classic. 

What we have to remember is that the horse who ran hard against 18 top-class opponents in the slop to finish second in the Kentucky Derby is like a brawny teenager who still has a lot of maturing to do and who did not even turn 3 until four days after the Derby. This a horse who is so strong and tough, trainer Bill Mott was able to wheel him back three weeks after the Louisiana Derby and run him in the Arkansas Derby just to get enough points to ensure a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby and then run him back in another three weeks at Churchill Downs. You rarely see horses like that any longer. He is quickly becoming a throwback to when horses ran hard and often and thrived on it. 

What we saw on the first Saturday in May is only the tip of the iceberg. What will Country House be capable of later in the year when he finally does mature into a seasoned professional athlete? We got a glimpse of that the day he broke his maiden when he veered sharply to the inside from the 1 post, nearly hitting the rail and dropping back to last. He regained his composure, settling in stride, and then delivered an explosive move on the far turn, sweeping to the lead and drawing off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. We also got a glimpse of it in the Risen Star Stakes when he again rallied on the far outside and finished second to the brilliant War of Will despite lugging in badly. So it wasn't very long ago that he was still a big baby learning how to be a racehorse.

To demonstrate how he has thrived on racing and has never really regressed in seven career starts, his Thoro-Graph pattern in his past five starts reads as follows: 6 1/4...4...4 1/4...2 1/4...1/2. He has improved two full points in each of his past two starts despite racing at three-week intervals and stretching out in distance each race. He has hit the board in six straight starts, while racing at five different racetracks in five different states. That is as close to a throwback as you're going to find these days. Assistant trainer Riley Mott said of him back in January, "Physically, he's built like a grown man. If you had a two-turn horse, you would want it to look like him." 

A lot of that toughness comes from his Rasmussen Factor 4x4 (RF) inbreeding to the great producer No Class, the dam of four champions: Sky Classic, Regal Classic, Grey Classic, and Classy N Smart, who in turn produced Canadian Triple Crown winner and Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Dance Smartly, as well as two-time champion sire Smart Strike, sire of Curlin, Lookin At Lucky (Country House's sire), English Channel, Battle of Midway, and My Miss Aurelia.

No Class is a daughter of Nodouble, one of the toughest horses I have seen in my 50 years in racing. A long lean gazelle-like horse, he was nicknamed The Arkansas Traveler, competing in major races all over the country. He defeated the great Damascus in the Michigan Mile and an Eighth at Detroit Race Course, defeated the brilliant Reviewer in the Met Mile at Belmont, defeated his arch rival Verbatim in the Brooklyn Handicap at Aqueduct, won a pair of Hawthorne Gold Cups at Hawthorne, defeated Hall of Famer Gamely in the Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita, defeated the classy Rising Market in the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park, set a track record winning the San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita, and captured the Arkansas Derby. 

He also placed in the Preakness, Hollywood Gold Cup, Charles H. Strub Stakes, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Met Mile, Woodward Stakes, American Derby, and Californian Stakes. 

He set track records at Belmont and Santa Anita and equaled the track record for 1 1/4 miles at Hawthorne. And he won on all kinds of track conditions. After retiring, he was the leading sire in North America in earnings and stakes winners. Leon Rasmussen dubbed him "The Hundred Grand Specialist." He was called "The Iron Horse" in Thoroughbred Record. 

That is the blood that runs through Country House, not once but twice.

No one knows what the future holds for Country House, but for now let's embrace him and give him credit for trying very hard to win our hearts. That will become easier to accomplish as he keeps maturing and improving and the fumes of May 4 begin to dissipate.

So just for a moment let's calm down and put our feelings and hostilities aside and simply appreciate the horse who will forever be known as the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.


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