Gemologist puts 5-0 mark on the line in Kentucky Derby

Some coaches don’t like to have their teams undefeated headed into the big game of the year. Too much pressure.

Some fighters are said to be so obsessed with the zero at the end of their record they are reluctant to take the super fight. Damaged legacy.

And then there are horses, who really don’t lounge around the stables whinnying about such things.

So that leaves all the talk about Gemologist’s undefeated record to his owners.

“We were at the Wood [Memorial] and [Kenny Troutt, owner of WinStar Farm] says, ‘The only undefeated horse I’ve had this time of year is the one that hasn’t started,’ ” said Elliott Walden, racing manager of WinStar.

“I don’t think there’s any added pressure [being undefeated],” Walden said, “because to win the Derby is pressure enough.”

Seven horses have won the Kentucky Derby undefeated. Gemologist will be the 23rd to try since 1900. The last to do it was Big Brown in 2008. He also won the Preakness before losing in the Belmont Stakes.

Gemologist has run five times, winning twice over the Churchill Downs track. His biggest win came April 7 in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. It was a race he almost had to win because he had little graded earnings and would need the purse money to qualify for the Derby.

“Our original plan was to go in either the Tampa Derby or the Rebel [at Oaklawn in Arkansas], but we kind of ran out of time on the Tampa Derby,’ said trainer Todd Pletcher. “We were zeroed in on the Rebel when the allowance race became an option at Gulfstream and we decided to go that way as opposed to somewhat difficult travel arrangements.”

Those arrangements would have meant vanning the horse from South Florida to Ocala and then flying him to Arkansas. Then the only option would have been to van the horse back to Florida. “It was a risk that we decided on taking,” Pletcher said.

So with only a little over $100,000 in graded earnings, Gemologist’s connections decided to bank it all on the Wood.

His win in New York was by only a neck over a hard-charging Alpha, but he rallied after being caught, a sign of a strong and competitive horse. Gemologist also didn’t appear to be extended.

“I was concerned [when I saw Alpha coming] because my horse was still looking around at the crowd,” jockey Javier Castellano said after the race. “When he saw the horse coming, he took off again.”

Pletcher agreed.

“So far, it would be hard to be unhappy with anything he’s done so far his whole career.”

WinStar and Pletcher are familiar with the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. They were just there in 2010 with Super Saver. For Pletcher it broke an 0-for-24 streak, an ignominious Derby record.

“They have a lot of similarities,” Pletcher said. “They both won the major 2-year-old stake at Churchill in the fall. And the fact that Gemologist is two for two at Churchill is a huge asset.

“Gemologist is a bigger and stouter, heavier horse than Super Saver. But at the same time Super Saver was a very athletic, smooth-moving, efficient kind of horse… but their racing backgrounds and preparation are almost identical.”

So it’s time for all the talking to end as everyone awaits the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Gemologist probably will not be the favorite, but he won’t be far off.

“We’ve had a lot of good horses at WinStar, but none of them had been undefeated,” Walden said. “Obviously, he’s going to have to make that next step to be talked about in the realms of Super Saver and Drosselmeyer [winner of the Belmont in 2010 and the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year]. But to be undefeated at this point, he’s definitely showing himself to be special.”

Cherwa reported from Los Angeles.

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