Hype Springs Eternal - By Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the April 7, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds  

By Evan Hammonds Racing hasn’t exactly been portrayed in the most favorable light lately. But while there are plenty of national issues that need to be addressed—and they will be addressed—the upper end of the sport seems to be humming along quite well. As we rev up for a furious run-up to the first Saturday in May, the weekend’s results in seven-figure stakes at Gulfstream Park, Fair Grounds, and Dubai show there is plenty of strength and intrigue in the twisty-turny road that is the Triple Crown trail, where hype—not hope—oftentimes springs eternal.

Such was the case in the March 31 Florida Derby (gr. I) where Union Rags was a huge underlay at 2-5 before finishing third behind Chuck and Maribeth Sandford’s Take Charge Indy and 31-1 shot Reveron. A rivalry between El Padrino and Union Rags failed to materialize as the former finished fourth.

Despite failing to catch the leaders at Gulfstream, Union Rags remains the likely favorite for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He closed out the third and final Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool as the 9-2 favorite of the 24 betting interests.

Union Rags seemingly has it all: the good looks, the pedigree, the storied connections of breeder/owner Phyllis Wyeth…and some excuses. Off his monster comeback effort in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), he may have “bounced” and run a sub-par effort in his second start. Jockey Calvin Borel and Take Charge Indy also were allowed to set a moderate early pace on a track that favored front-runners throughout the day. Lessons to be learned? That’s why they call them preps.

Union Rags also has a trainer who has been down this road before. Michael Matz won the 2006 Florida Derby with Barbaro, who didn’t nearly have the rep Union Rags does at this stage of the game. Many questioned Matz’ ability to train Barbaro up to the Kentucky Derby off a five-week layoff, but not only did he prove them wrong, he perhaps set a new template for getting a horse Derby ready.

Since then, the winner of the Kentucky Derby has had an average of 30 days off before starting in the Run for the Roses.

Let’s not take anything away from Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy. All he did was take the race by the throat from the beginning and never let go. He has a Derby-type pedigree—A.P. Indy out of multiple two-turn grade I winner Take Charge Lady—and a three-time Derby-winning rider.

And, he’s another to come out of last year’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to win a graded stakes this year, joining Hansen, Union Rags, Creative Cause, Alpha, Drill, and Daddy Long Legs.

Daddy Long Legs’ victory March 31 in the $2 million UAE Derby Sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (UAE-II) has his Coolmore interests thinking about visiting the Twin Spires, which would add a nice layer of intrigue to the Derby. He seemed to have plenty in the tank after running 13/16 miles over Meydan’s Tapeta synthetic surface that was labeled as “tiring” by some of the jockeys on the World Cup program.

Few imagined what could, and did, happen the following day at Fair Grounds, where 109-1 shot Hero of Order led the order of finish in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. II). Plucky trainer Gennadi Dorochenko saddled Hero of Order for the ninth time at the New Orleans track this meet but failed to nominate the son of Sharp Humor for the Triple Crown, a slip that may keep him out of the Derby lineup according to the rules.

Despite having the graded earnings to make the starting gate, without being a nominee he has to rank behind those on the list that are nominated. If more than 20 pass the entry box, or 24 for the new also-eligible list, he’s on the outside looking in.

The business figures for the weekend in South Florida were robust to say the least. Gulfstream officials reported a record crowd of approximately 18,000 on hand at the “new” Gulfstream Park on Derby day with total handle of $24.6 million, nearly $5 million more than the mark set a year ago. On-track handle March 31 was $2.98 million, breaking last year’s record by nearly 33%.

A day of quality racing—seven stakes on the card—and the name recognition of a horse like Union Rags is what brings ’em out.
The results of the weekend should continue to bring ’em out…through May 5, and hopefully beyond.

7 Comments

Leave a Comment:

DanC

Will AP Indy finally sire a Kentucky Derby winner?  Not much time left, just this year and next?

03 Apr 2012 10:30 AM
tjconway

This looks like another poor crop of 3-year-olds. It's been this way for 13 of the last 15 years. The Wood contenders have a big chance to change all that with Alpha, Gemologist and My Adonis....these colts rock! Don't be fooled by the "lack" of competition these colts have faced...........the so-called "competition" has been terrible! Would it be a crime to also include "Our Entourage" into the mix?

03 Apr 2012 7:46 PM
furlongs

I was going to write a long drawn out blog but its much to easy to just state... If they move the Derby to August and put it on the grass, Yes. Otherwise, no chance.

03 Apr 2012 8:29 PM
Ranagulzion

Evan,

Hype springs eternal indeed and you proved it again in no uncertain manner with this quote about Take Charge Indy and his sire AP Indy, "He has a Derby-type pedigree—A.P. Indy out of multiple two-turn grade I winner Take Charge Lady".  Please tell us how you came to that conclusion. Seriously.

03 Apr 2012 9:25 PM
Stellar Jayne

Hi Evan,

Good article!  Any one of the aforementioned horses could win the Derby as long as they remain sound and are free of illness.  They are a great group and it will be hard to pick the winner in the cattle drive called the Kentucky Derby.  I do love the way Union Rags runs - smooth, effortless, elegant and full out.  I also have a soft spot for Take Charge Indy - as he is a grandson and great grandson of Secretariat.  It would be wonderful if he added the Derby to AP Indy's roll call.  And, Hansen is marvelous - he is a fighter to the finish.  So, may the best 'man' win, or will some long shot come along and upset everyone's applecart?

05 Apr 2012 8:14 PM
Lee

"Many questioned Matz’ ability to train Barbaro up to the Kentucky Derby off a five-week layoff, but not only did he prove them wrong, he perhaps set a new template for getting a horse Derby ready."

How did he prove them wrong? By training a horse to win the derby and then break down? Thanks for setting that template... maybe soon we'll have the majority of derby horses with 1-2 starts..yay!!

08 Apr 2012 5:16 PM
an ole railbird

i have looked forward to the KD, each year of my life, since as a child i watched swaps do his thing. i have enjoyed it from the time, we listened to it on the radio, in black&white tv , to color tv. the greatest KDs have come to me ,since this computer& blogs have been around. this year ,i think, has been e remarkable year as for as staying sound. there are some good hard knocking 3 yr. olds. & they are still coming out of the wood work. in the form of some lightly raced  colts. ill have another & bodemister. who carrys the stile & class, comparble to some of the greatest, of all times. what is heart breaking 2 me. is watching a stable nurture horses thrugh all sorts of things to end up drawing 1 thru 5 post positions in a 20 horse field, only to see them mashed down inside while all the speed is out side. i said all that to say ,the kentucky derby is no longer a true test of horseflesh. it is reduced to a drawing contest. i would like to make a prediction. i predict that we will never have another triple crown winner ,until the field is cut back to 16 horses or less. 20 horses in a 2 turn race is just not fair to all horses. i have said my peice. now i will go back to being an ole railbird

18 Apr 2012 10:54 PM

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