Odyssey: The Derby Odyssey Beginneth

By Kevin Stafford, The Aspiring Horseplayer

Odysseus - photo by Natalie Keller Reinert: http://retiredracehorseblog.wordpress.com/

From our vantage point the past week has been a whirlwind of mind-boggling activity.  We stood and cheered as the undefeated Zenyatta imposed her will on the field of the Santa Margarita in typical Slow Cheetah style.  We gasped in disbelief as our beloved Rachel Alexandra was collared in the stretch by Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies.

Indeed, the week itself was a veritable roller-coaster ride of ups and downs that only now are we beginning to be able to put into proper context.  Along the way, however, we also caught a glimpse of some of the better 3-year-olds in the land as they continued their quest for all important graded stakes earnings in order to secure a starting spot in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

Perhaps lost in the day’s excitement was the emergence of a lightly raced 3-year-old: Odysseus.

Author’s Note: For awesome-terrific dramatic effect, and you know I only break out the multisyllabic expressions like awesome-terrific when things are really awesome-terrific so this must be off-the-charts awesome-terrific to warrant such classification, this post is set to the lyrics of the song “When We Were Young” by The Killers.

Yes, I used this same song in the same fashion when Curlin’s retirement was announced.  I think you’ll understand why I think it fits again here by the time you finish with this post.  Besides, it’s a beautiful song, and I…we apologize for the duration of this italicized Author’s Note.  Those responsible for its length have been sacked. Come see the majestic moose. 

“You sit there in your heartache. Waiting on some beautiful boy to save you from your old ways. You play forgiveness. Watch it now, here it comes!”

If there’s one thing I simply can’t do with any sort of acumen (besides long division or picking the winners of turf sprints), it’s pick a Kentucky Derby horse.  Each year amounts to a miserable suffering of ineptitude.  Ever since Barbaro (in a year that I also gave out Bandini as a ‘must use’), my selections have been Curlin (07), Colonel John (08), and Quality Road (09, followed by I Want Revenge and Friesan Fire as the Derby scratches mounted).

Needless to say, my confidence in picking a Derby horse was effectively shattered.  After all, despite having an eye for SOLID race horses, I was a big fat 0-3 in recent years in our most popular race, and my one winner in the last 4 campaigns (Barbaro) suffered a horrific career ending injury in my favorite race of the year – the Preakness!

Some folks would interpret this as a curse.  Not me.  Like some Hall & Oates song, I can’t help but feel we’ve been “so close, yet so far away.”

I really thought I had something that first time I saw Curlin in 2007 (turns out I was right about that overall, just not for the Derby).  It was the morning after his victory in the Rebel.  I hadn’t seen the race live.  I don’t remember what it was that caused me to miss the race, but I vividly recall firing up the youtube replay.  The subtitle to the video told me everything I hoped to see.  Curlin had won.

I was only aware of the majestic chestnut through online whispers from folks who had seen his maiden victory.  Watching the grainy replay that morning, my jaw hit the floor as he unleashed his giant strides and opened up a veritable can of whoop-ass on the field, pulling away to a 5 1/4 lengths victory in the 8.5 furlong Rebel in 1:44&3.  Had he really beaten anyone?  Hindsight would suggest not much, although the show horse Teuflesberg was the winner of the Southwest Stakes and would go on to win the Woody Stephens (Grade 2) at Belmont.

Fast forward to this year.  Odysseus made his first appearance against winners on February 17 at Tampa Bay, beating allowance foes by 15 lengths and traveling 8.5 furlongs in 1:44&1.  Once again, by virtue of being at work that Wednesday afternoon, I had missed the race live.  It wasn’t until I got home and heard folks mentioning the impressive victory that I went back to check things out for myself.  Imagine my surprise then when this chestnut beauty caught my eyes.  I had to pinch myself in disbelief.  I know Square Eddie got a lot of publicity for being called “baby Curlin” last year, but in one race Odysseus had proven to me that he was much closer to a true “baby Curlin” than Square Eddie ever was.

Here he was, the horse I had been looking for all year.

Instantly he became my Derby horse.

“Can we climb this mountain? I don’t know. Higher now than ever before. We can make it we take it slow. Let’s take it easy. Easy now, watch him go!”

Will he make it all the way to the Kentucky Derby and have a chance in the run for the roses?  Only time will tell.  I think we all know that anything can happen between now and the first Saturday in May.  For now Padua Stables and trainer Thomas Albertrani will be taking it the proverbial “one day at a time.” I’m certain that they too are starting to feel like they may have something special here.  Let’s face it though, he’s also as green as can be in the stretch.  It almost felt like he lost interest at times in the Tampa Bay Derby.  Maybe he was just toying with the field, but if so than even he had to be worried as he raced to the wire along with Schoolyard Dreams.  The amazing thing about the victory was that most horses would’ve given up.  You don’t often see horses re-rally like that in the stretch.

His “watch him go” moment was when he darted to the inside, just before the call: “Odysseus is running again!”

“We’re burning down the highway skyline on the back of a hurricane that started turning when you were young.”

I’ve always thought that was the most beautiful line of the entire song, and the most fitting for a horse racing post.  In fact, it’s probably that line that continually leads me back to this song for repeated references.  Either that or the hours spent playing the album version on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but I digress.

That has to capture a bit of what jockey Rajiv Maragh is feeling as he pilots the son of Malibu Moon (A.P. Indy) into the turn.  Think about it.  Rajiv’s been aboard him for all 4 lifetime races.  They are a team now.  They know each other.  So much so that despite being given up on by everyone (including myself) as the field entered the stretch for the Tampa Bay Derby, Odysseus still had something he wanted say about the matter. 

You’ve got to love that he can gut out the close victories.  Anyone can blow an inferior field away by open lengths – but gutting out those photo finish, final head bob victories are what really separates the men from the boys, especially this time of year.  You want a fighter in your corner, someone with ample amounts of heart and guts to go along with a healthy dose of talent. 

There’s something else though, and it relates to the hurricane reference.  Hurricanes are noted for their speed and destructive power of their damaging winds.  Odysseus definitely has speed, and he’s certainly got a powerful stride that helps him get where he needs to be in the stretch.   He’s a bit wild and uncontrollable – but devastating when unleashed.  Rather like the wind of a hurricane.

Odysseus (#7) and the field for the Tampa Bay Derby pass the stands on Saturday 3/13. Photo by Natalie Keller Reinert: http://retiredracehorseblog.wordpress.com/

“And sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live.  When you were young.” 

I’m sure that no matter where the winds of fate may blow Odysseus (his namesake in Greek literature having been unable to reach the shores of Ithaca following the Trojan War for 10 full years), that in the back of his mind he’ll always be able to picture the winner’s circle at Tampa Bay Downs.  He might’ve broken his maiden at Gulfstream Park, but Tampa Bay is where he put it all together and announced to the world that he was a 3-year-old worth watching.  Much like Curlin did at Oaklawn Park in the spring of 2007.

Up next is reportedly a possible entry in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on Saturday, April 3.  His graded stakes earnings now stand at $180,000, enough to put him inside the top 20 overall, but probably still in need of additional money if he wants to secure a starting spot for the Derby.

Personally, while I’d obviously love to see my “Derby horse” actually make the Kentucky Derby field, I’ll admit that the race I really want to see him in is the Preakness, since I’ll be there for that one live.

If he does get into the Derby though, then he might need to close his eyes and remember that most recent performance at Tampa Bay.  He showed he can navigate traffic, which will be crucial in the 20 horse field at Churchill Downs.  He also showed he’s got heart to go along with his natural abilities, and based on what I’ve seen from this colt, I have no trouble making him my top dog.

I haven’t been this excited about a big red 3-year-old since, well, you know who.

Go get ‘em Big Red!  You’re my boy, Odysseus!

And in true Jerry McGuire style, I’ve got to ask…

Who’s coming with us?

Who’s hopping aboard the Odysseus bandwagon with me?  Our next station stop is Chruchill Downs, by way of Aqueduct (or so it seems for the moment).  There’s room for everyone where we’re going.

Coincidentally, if you are with me on this horse, I’ve started a fan group for him over on Facebook.  It seemed like the right time to do so.  Come join us if you are so inclined.

All aboard!

(Author’s Note: Special Thanks to Natalie Keller Reinert for the amazing photographs of Odysseus from the Tampa Bay Derby. If you like the photos, please give her blog a visit at: http://retiredracehorseblog.wordpress.com/)

Recent Posts

Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance

Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance RSS Feed

More Blogs