Considering it's only February, Kaleem Shah's Dortmund has displayed about as many qualities as one could hope to see in a potential Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) horse.
Talent? Dortmund won his Nov. 2 debut by 4 3/4 lengths. And when stretched out to a mile for his second start, he drew off to a 7 3/4-length romp.
Dortmund winning Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs.
Photo: Reed Palmer/Churchill Downs
Affinity for Churchill Downs? That 7 3/4-length score came in a Nov. 29 allowance-optional claiming race at Churchill. Trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time Derby winner, shipped Dortmund from his Southern California base to Louisville for his second career start and the son of Derby-winner Big Brown thrived at the one-turn mile while picking up experience on the track.
Determination in the stretch? In his first try at two turns and a stakes race, Dortmund prevailed in a three-horse stretch battle that he won by a head over Firing Line and Mr. Z.
Toughness? In the stretch of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) Dortmund yielded the advantage to Firing Line in early stretch but then squeezed through along the rail to register another narrow victory. An ability to race in tight spots while not shying from rivals certainly can prove useful in the crowded Derby. Dortmund certainly displayed that quality in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita.
"It looked like that horse was going to go by him, but then he's such a fighter, he just kicked in," Baffert said. "You really don't know about these horses until you put them in that scenario, and that's twice now that he just fought and came on to win like that. That was him."
The Robert B. Lewis story looked like it might be another chapter for Racing Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens. After Dortmund moved first into the far turn to take the lead, Stevens and Firing Line then came on Dortmund's outside to gain the advantage leaving that turn.
In the stretch, with Firing Line leading, Stevens, with repeated right-handed action, edged over toward the inside, taking away about a half-lane from Dortmund and jockey Martin Garcia without committing a foul. It's the type of move that can intimidate a lot of horses but Dortmund had none of it, as he came back along the rail. Watching the head-on replay, Dortmund's wide body seemingly fills all of the available space between the rail and Firing Line as he punches through for another narrow victory.
Dortmund holds off Firing Line in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
Photo: Benoit Photography
"Firing Line gave us pressure but my horse just took off again," Garcia said.
That tenacity surprised Stevens.
"I thought we buried the one we had to beat, then I saw the shadow coming back at me," Stevens said.
On a day that a close loss could have been forgiven, Dortmund picked up some important experience and the victory.
Points Update: With the victory, Dortmund picked up 10 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Firing Line 4, third-place finisher Rock Shandy 2, and fourth-place Hero Ten All 1. With a pair of graded stakes wins in two-turn races, Dortmund moved into third in the standings with 20 points.
In the Withers Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 7 at Aqueduct, Black Rock Thoroughbreds' Far From Over scored a clear victory, upsetting runner-up El Kabeir. Far From Over earned 10 points, El Kabeir 4, third-place finisher Classy Class 2, and Tencendur 1 for placing fourth.
Already a two-time winner of points races, Zayat Stables El Kabeir leads the overall standings with 25 points. Rounding out the top five are Ken and Sarah Ramsey's International Star with 21, Dortmund, Ralph Evans' Upstart with 16, and WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stables' Carpe Diem with 14.
Two more (10-4-2-1) points races are on tap for this (long) weekend with the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) Saturday, Feb. 14 at Golden Gate Fields and the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) Monday, Feb. 16 at Oaklawn Park.
Expected to make his 3-year-old debut in the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate is Conquest Stables' Conquest Typhoon while Zayat Stable's grade I-placed Mr. Z, who veered out entering the stretch when third in the Smarty Jones Stakes, will try the 1 1/16-mile Southwest.
These two races wind up the races that offer 10 points to the winner. The points series will begin its Kentucky Derby Championship Series races, beginning with eight races that award 50-20-10-5 points to the top four finishers.