It’s Day of the Underdogs in Derby Preps
Scratch that Hollywood story line that there would be an unprecedented total of three undefeated horses in the Kentucky Derby. Favorite Trick, perfect in nine previous races, got by the Ides of March but couldn’t escape the bugbears of April and went down to defeat Saturday in the $500,000 Arkansas Derby.
Bet down to 2-5 at Oaklawn Park, the 1997 horse of the year motored through punishing early fractions against a 131-1 shot for the first three-quarters of a mile and had nothing left for the 1,155 feet that make up the home stretch. Victory Gallop, a Canadian-bred colt who had won the Rebel Stakes here three weeks ago, closed on the outside to win by a head under Alex Solis, the Santa Anita jockey who has been a major streak-stopper before.
Hanuman Highway, an Irish-bred who was 27-1, also came from the rear to finish second, a head behind Victory Gallop and a head in front of Favorite Trick.
The defeat of Favorite Trick, before a crowd of 57,231 left Indian Charlie, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, and Event Of The Year, the Bay Meadows-based colt, as the last of the unbeaten horses that will run in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2. Had Favorite Trick done better Saturday, he would have given the Kentucky Derby its first trio of unbeatens.
Victory Gallop, ridden by Solis for the first time, and Hanuman Highway are both expected to run in Louisville, but trainer Bill Mott preferred to reflect on Saturday’s race before making a decision about Favorite Trick. Joe LaCombe, principal owner of Favorite Trick, indicated that he would like to run in Kentucky, but said Mott would make the ultimate call.
“I was still pleased with the way he ran,” LaCombe said. “What is it, seven of the last eight horses that have won the Derby were beaten in their final prep race?”
LaCombe gets an A-plus for Derby history. In the 1990s, only Strike The Gold, in 1991, won the Derby off a win in his previous race.
Mott had a tough day. Earlier on the card, Ajina, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November in her last start, finished last as the odds-on favorite in the Bayakoa Stakes.
Mott stopped short of criticizing Pat Day for his ride on Favorite Trick, who was at Battle Royale’s throat as punishing fractions of :22 2/5, :46 and 1:10 4/5 lit up the tote board. The opening mile took 1:37 2/5. Favorite Trick edged ahead of Battle Royale on the far turn, led by a length with an eighth of a mile to go, but couldn’t hold off either Victory Gallop or Hanuman Highway in the final strides.
Asked if Day could have avoided the speed duel, Mott said: “I’ll have to watch the rerun. It would be fair to everybody if I did that first. But I was surprised to see him where he was. When they went past the stands the first time, I had a bad feeling.”
Day said that he was left with little choice. Ideally, he and Mott had hoped to be stalking the leaders and behind horses. Instead, Favorite Trick was just off Battle Royale’s right flank, running clear on the outside.
“The first three or four steps out of the gate, he was all right,” Day said. “The next three or four steps, he wasn’t. He refused to settle, and I know this was his undoing. Down the backstretch, I guess I could have thrown out the anchor and dragged him back, but I didn’t want to get in a wrestling match. What do they say, the shorter the margin you get beat, the greater is the room to be second-guessed?”
Victory Gallop, earning $300,000 for his fifth win in seven starts, paid $17.60 to win and a $2 exacta on him and Hanuman Highway was worth $306.60. The $2 trifecta on the first three finishers was $820.20. After Favorite Trick, the order of finish was Hot Wells, Quake, Robinwould, Fight For M’lady, Battle Royale and Post A Note.
A son of Cryptoclearance and Victorious Lil, a Vice Regent mare, Victory Gallop ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49 4/5, the second slowest time for an Arkansas Derby winner in the last 16 years. Victory Gallop is owned by Jack, Art and J.R. Preston, brothers from Houston who also won Saturday’s $200,000 Commonwealth Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Keeneland with Distorted Humor.
Solis was hired to ride Victory Gallop after the jockey in Rebel, Eibar Coa, dropped his whip in a roughly run stretch drive. Victory Gallop still beat Robinwould by a head in that race.
Solis is on his way to a fine career as a personal spoiler for Bill Mott. In 1996, after Mott had led Cigar to 16 consecutive wins and needed one more to go past Citation, Solis rode Dare And Go to an upset win in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Victory Gallop and Solis were next to last after three-quarters of a mile Saturday, but less than six lengths behind Favorite Trick.
“He was laying about where I wanted him midway around the final turn,” Solis said. “We hit a traffic jam at the quarter pole, but he spotted a hole on the outside and headed for it. It makes my job easier when the horse has that kind of natural talent. He has some learning to do, but has a world of talent and should keep on getting better.”
With Captain Bodgit, Solis finished second to Silver Charm in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Solis, who rides at Santa Anita today, was in a hurry late Saturday to reach the Little Rock airport, about 50 miles from here. A long white limousine was waiting at the entrance to Oaklawn Park. Room enough to stretch out after the best stretch run a rider could hope for.