When the Experimental Handicap committee ranked 2-year-olds in the United States at the end of 1992, Corby was tied for 32nd on the list.
When owner Allen Paulson's racing staff, including jockey Pat Valenzuela, ranked his young horses early last year, Corby was given a "B" grade.
Corby probably moved up from 32nd to first on one list and from a "B" to an "A" on the other by virtue of his 2 3/4-length victory in the $211,100 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Sunday over perhaps the best group of 3-year-olds to run in the same race this year.
Among the horses Corby defeated were River Special, who had earned more purse money than the rest of the San Felipe field combined; Personal Hope, the 7-5 favorite who was on a three-race winning streak; and Devoted Brass, who gained prominence with a late-running victory in the San Rafael Stakes two weeks ago.
Personal Hope ran second Sunday, one length ahead of Devoted Brass, but River Special, in his first start in almost three months, faded badly after battling with Personal Hope for the early lead and finished fifth. River Special was more than 11 lengths behind the winner and ahead of only Big Way, a 71-1 shot who was last.
With a pedigree that favorably projects the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby, Corby is a Paulson-bred son of Dahar with a female line that comes from Europe. It's the kind of family that might also be expected to produce grass runners, and one of Corby's three victories before Sunday was on the turf in a minor stake at Santa Anita in November. At the end of that month, he was third in another grass race, the Hoist the Flag at Hollywood Park.
Corby's 3-year-old debut was to be on grass, on Feb. 10 at Santa Anita, but rain forced a switch to the main track. Trainer John Sadler ran him anyway, and Corby won the mile race by five lengths.
"He's been in the shadows of Mr. Paulson's other 3-year-olds, Stuka and Yappy, but our main objective all along was running him on dirt and in the Kentucky Derby," Sadler said. "This is the first classic-distance horse that I've had the chance to train. No. 1 in the country? Well, I'd say that he's at least in the top five."
Corby was ridden by Chris McCarron for the first time because Pat Valenzuela, Paulson's contract rider, was sidelined for the third consecutive day. Valenzuela, who has sat out 16 of the first 58 days of the Santa Anita meeting, has been complaining about a sore back. Pete Pedersen, a Santa Anita steward, said that when he talked to Valenzuela on the phone Sunday, the jockey also sounded like was suffering from a virus. Sadler didn't learn that Valenzuela wouldn't ride until shortly before Sunday's first race, in which Valenzuela had a mount on another Sadler horse.
"I considered (Laffit) Pincay or McCarron to replace Pat," Sadler said. "They're both fine riders, and I was lucky to have that choice. I chose Chris because he's a good big-race rider."
Because of Valenzuela's history of drug problems--while he was suspended, McCarron replaced him to ride Sunday Silence to victory in the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park in 1989--the Santa Anita stewards sent California Horse Racing Board investigators to the jockey's home Sunday to take a urine sample, which tested negative for drugs.
"He's a long-striding colt, has no wasted action and is very efficient, which is why he doesn't tire much," McCarron said of Corby. "It's always hard to say about them getting the classic distance, but he didn't show me anything that would leave any doubt in my mind, and he galloped out very strong, which is always a good sign."
The San Felipe is a prep for the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby on April 3, but Sadler said that another possibility for Corby is the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 10. The decision will depend on how well Corby rebounds from Sunday's performance.
"(The Santa Anita Derby) might come up kind of quick for a horse like this," Sadler said.
Paulson and Sadler declined to comment on whether Valenzuela would resume riding Corby in his next race, but Paulson emphasized in the winner's circle that Valenzuela is under a year-long retainer to ride all of the Paulson horses.
Corby scored his fourth victory, to go with two seconds and one third, in eight starts, and earned $121,100. He paid $11.80, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:42 and carrying 116 pounds, the same as Personal Hope and six fewer than Personal Hope and Devoted Brass.
River Special's 3-year-old debut was delayed until Sunday because of a fever.
"He was very, very comfortable until the half-mile pole," jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "He felt like his old self. Then the lungs took their toll. He was really winded."