Early last week, someone asked Neil Drysdale if he had any plans for dinner Friday night.
“I’ll be at home,” the trainer of A.P. Indy said. “I never go out the night before a big race.”
That big race, the 118th Kentucky Derby, was taken away from Drysdale when A.P. Indy, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby and one of the favorites at Churchill Downs Saturday, suffered a bruised right front hoof and was scratched several hours before the race.
The second choice on the morning line at 7-2, A.P. Indy was 9-1, the third choice, after preliminary Derby betting Friday.
Friday wouldn’t have worked for dinner for Drysdale, anyway. He and veterinarian Alex Harthill were up most of the night, trying to treat an injury that had left A.P. Indy lame in the early afternoon.
Saturday morning, a couple of hours after A.P. Indy’s scratch, the phone rang at the apartment that Drysdale and his wife, Inger, had leased about three weeks ago.
“Neil’s taking a nap,” Inger Drysdale said. “He’s got a horse in the fifth race and is resting before we go back to the track.”
Drysdale won that race, saddling Quilma in the $50,000 Capital Holding Stakes. A.P. Indy’s regular jockey, Eddie Delahoussaye, rode the winner, but the victory was hollow in comparison to having a good shot at the Derby.
After Drysdale’s nap, he and Inger made their way from the apartment out to the track.
“Timing is everything, isn’t it?” he said while waiting for the elevator. “Three weeks down the drain.”
“Three weeks?” Inger Drysdale said.
“That’s right, a lot more than three weeks,” Neil Drysdale said. “We’ve been planning this race for this horse since way back last year.”
Drysdale, 44, has never saddled a horse in the Kentucky Derby. And A.P. Indy’s fate here was Drysdale’s second bout with bad luck for the Derby.
In 1986, Drysdale had a Derby contender in Tasso, the champion 2-year-old colt from the year before. But just prior to the Wood Memorial in New York, Tasso was spooked when a pipe fell off a truck. He reared up and kicked himself in the leg. Tasso ran in the Wood, but not well, and never made it to the Derby.
Drysdale said that there was some sensitivity in A.P. Indy’s left front foot Friday morning. An adjustment was made on his shoe and the colt, a $2.9-million yearling purchased by Japanese developer Tomonori Tsurumaki, went out for a scheduled morning gallop.
“He galloped very well, as anyone who saw the gallop would (say),” Drysdale said.
Drysdale said that A.P. Indy was returned to his stall. But in early afternoon, he came out of the stall and the trouble was discovered.
“He just went like this,” Drysdale said, lunging to one side to describe A.P. Indy’s lameness.
Sunday Silence, the Derby winner in 1989, developed a similar problem before he won the Preakness two weeks later.
“With A.P. Indy, we had less time than Sunday Silence to overcome it,” said Harthill, who also treated Sunday Silence. “We only had one day here, whereas we had a week in Baltimore. This injury appears to be a bruise. . . . and we have taken radiographs of every conceivable angle and they didn’t demonstrate any signs of a fracture.”
Drysdale said that there was no doubt about scratching. “This was not a black-and-white situation,” he said. “The recovery period depends. I think if it is an abscess situation, then obviously it will come to a head and break, and there would be instant relief and he could resume training. It is a day-to-day thing. We will continuing poulticing it, and giving it hot-and- cold treatment.”
Asked about the Preakness on May 16, Drysdale said: “It just depends on recovery time.”
A.P. Indy is the third consecutive winner of the Santa Anita Derby to have bad luck before the Kentucky Derby. In 1990, Mister Frisky ran unsuccessfully in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then almost died from an abscess in his throat. Last year, Dinard, the probable Derby favorite, was injured several days before the race and didn’t run.