In September, if you were to poll writers and horsemen on who they thought the best 2-year-old Kentucky Derby prospect was, there is a good chance Dublin would have been at the top of the list. A couple of sound defeats and four months later, the son of Afleet Alex seems to have fallen off the radars of many of those same people.
According to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Kentucky Derby winner, forgetting about Dublin would be a big mistake.
"If he's fallen off the radar, well, that's fine with me. He's going to take up the whole screen this spring," Lukas said confidently on Jan. 29.
Dublin, a $525,000 yearling that Lukas picked out for Robert Baker and William Mack at Keeneland, burst onto the scene when rolling to a convincing two-length win in the grade I Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga on Sept. 7. But a fifth-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the Oct. 1 Champagne (gr. I) at Belmont and an even worse seventh-place effort in the Nov. 1 Iroquois (gr. III) at Churchill Downs followed. That's when many started forgetting about Dublin.
But Lukas found out what the problem was: An entrapped epiglottis that severely affected the colt's breathing. Dublin was sent to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital near Lexington to have surgery to correct the problem.
"The vet who operated on him, Rolf Embertson, told me it was one of his better jobs with this kind of surgery. I told him he picked the right horse to do it on," Lukas laughed.
"We didn't realize until the last race how much it was compromising his breathing. There is no way to tell until you stress the horse. It's something that deteriorates over time and you can't do much about it early on. Once we realized he wasn't getting enough air, we knew we had to have surgery."
Since the surgery, Lukas said Dublin is not only back to normal, but he is even better than he was when winning the Hopeful.
"He's 100% now," Lukas said. "He's a whole different horse now. He was probably only getting 60 or 70% of his air before. Both riders (in the Champagne and Iroquois) came off and said he wasn't getting enough air. The surgery made a huge difference for him and he's better than ever.
"His works have indicated how much better he is now too. We have a deep track (at Oaklawn Park); it's been embarrassingly slow in races. In stakes, they are averaging 13 and change. Dublin worked (five furlongs in) a minute and two-fifths, which is much better."
In Dublin's last work on Jan. 26, he was clocked in a solid :48.40 for four furlongs.
Lukas, 74, who last won the Derby in 1999 with Charismatic, has said since last summer that Dublin is his best chance at winning another Classic in many years. He said the colt has a rare combination of size and agility.
"He's about 16-3 and change (hands), which he was last winter, but he's put on some weight. He's probably about 1,300 pounds now. He's a man. When people see him on the track they are like, ‘Who the hell is that'. He's really strong in the hip, too.
"But for being such a big horse he is very agile. He was one of the most balanced yearlings I ever bought and that has helped immensely. He's very athletic and has good tactical speed. Terry Thompson, who usually works him in the morning, commented the other day about how light on his feet he is."
Speaking of riders, Dublin has had four different jockeys in five races. Lukas has not yet committed to anyone for his next race, which will be the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) on Feb. 15 at Oaklawn, but he said several agents from high-profile jockeys have been calling.
"I don't like to be totally committed to a rider because sometimes they ride the horse once and it's not a great fit," Lukas said. "I like to have them ride once and see what happens. In other words, we'll date, but not get married just yet."
Lukas said he plans on racing Dublin in all three Oaklawn preps, with the March 13 Rebel (gr. II) and April 10 Arkansas Derby (gr. I) to follow the Southwest. And after that, hopefully it's on to Churchill Downs.
"I wouldn't trade places with anyone," Lukas said.