It is no secret that the growing trend over the past few years is for connections to take a cautious approach to the Kentucky Derby, especially with top-rated contenders. A win in a lucrative 2-year-old race often dictates a lightly-raced schedule as a 3-year-old leading up to the first Saturday in May. Having three starts leading up to the Derby is a lot by today's standards.
In addition, more than ever we see late-bloomers pop up on the Derby trail, sometimes many of them not making their first start until late into their 2-year-old season or even early as a sophomore. The high cost of owning/buying horses, risk of injury, potential value of a lucrative stud deal, and the current economic climate all factor into this new, guarded approach to handling Derby contenders. Old-school racing fans don't like it, but it is what it is.
If you are one of those from the old-school that values a battle-tested Derby horse, you are probably going to want to take a long look at one of the most consistent and experienced horses in this year's group--Prospective. Trained by Mark Casse for Derby-winning owner John Oxley, Prospective is still considered by many as a fringe contender on this year's trail. The main knock against him is that his "numbers" are too low, which puts him a cut below the top contenders. There may be some truth to that, but numbers aside, Prospective has a lot going for him.
Fresh off his March 10 Tampa Bay Derby win, the son of Malibu Moon has already punched his ticket to the Derby. He showed a new dimension in that win, as Casse added blinkers in order to keep him more involved early in the race. It worked too, as he took the lead before a half-mile was run and gamely held off Golden Ticket in the stretch.
That was already the third start of the season for Prospective. All of them came at Tampa Bay Downs, which is known for its deep track that many trainers like preparing Derby horses on. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, since 2006 two Kentucky Derby winners have come out of the Tampa Bay Derby and another horse finished third. Prospective began his season by winning the Pasco Stakes at seven furlongs and then finished a closing second to Battle Hardened in the Sam Davis.
Prospective, who is out of the Awesome Again mare Spirited Away and was a $250,000 yearling, still has one Derby prep left. It will either come in the April 7 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the April 14 Blue Grass. The results of that final prep remain to be seen, but up until now you won't find many other Derby contenders with as much experience or consistency as Prospective.
Overall he is 4-2-0 from seven starts. As a juvenile, he finished second in his debut on the Woodbine turf, which came way back in July. Then Casse moved him to the Polytrack where he broke his maiden at seven furlongs and followed it up with a two-turn score in the Grey Stakes (Can-III) on the same surface. That last win propelled him to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which resulted in the only bad start of his career. It came at Churchill Downs, but the track was cuppy and tiring that weekend. It likely won't be the same Churchill track we see on Derby Day.
Regardless of what he does in his last prep, handicappers are likely to see that Breeders' Cup result and automatically think Prospective does not like Churchill. That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the colt is already there and training over it--and doing quite well, just as he was leading up to the Breeders' Cup.
"I think you can toss that race out completely," said Norman Casse Jr., top assistant to his father Mark. "I don't have any real reason to say why he ran bad that day, but if you watched any of the TVG or HRTV coverage leading up to the Breeders' Cup, a lot of people were kind of picking Prospective as the longshot because of how well he was training over there. And he's already here and loves it again. He's been here since Sunday morning. The race was a throw out.
"He's gotten faster and fitter from last year, but ultimately I think it was adding the blinkers and having him closer to the pace last time has been the big change that moved him forward. That's so important because he didn't have to go weave through traffic and was able to stay out of the trouble he had in his previous starts.
While Oxley won the Kentucky Derby in 2001 with Monarchos, Team Casse has only been in the gate once--in 2006 when Seaside Retreat finished 10th. They are eager to not just show up again, but believe Prospective--if everything continues to go well--will have a legitimate shot to win. They are also hoping that Stealcase, who runs in the Spiral Stakes this weekend at Turfway, can join them in Louisville.
"It's exciting right now, but you learn to have reservations," Casse said. "I fully expect him to make the Derby but you don't get really excited until you get close to the race; we all know things happen that you can't control.
"We think he's really fit from his races at Tampa, so wherever he goes (for his final prep), we're not going to be looking to do too much in his last race anyway.
"We were talking earlier about it and we think, if we make it there and he's healthy and doing well going into it, we wouldn't be surprised if he was right there inside the sixteenth-pole. We think he's a pretty talented horse."