The road to the Kentucky Derby can feel like a tricky maze with more starts and stops than rush-hour traffic. There is no one strategy, no sure-fire path.
Trainer Peter Eurton knows this and is feeling pretty good anyway. In fact, he’s making Storm the Court’s first race of his 3-year-old season a non-points race for the Kentucky Derby. The winner of the Eclipse Award for 2-year-old male will start Sunday in the Grade 2 $200,000 San Vicente Stakes, a seven-furlong race at Santa Anita Park.
Making such a move is easier since Storm the Court won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and — combined with a third in the American Pharoah Stakes — already has 22 points. Typically, 40 points will get a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re going to let this race tell us where we are at,” said Eurton, standing outside his barn on the backstretch at Santa Anita. “Preferably [we’ll run again] in six weeks. That will put us at a pretty far distance from the Derby. There’s a chance he could have three races. There’s a chance he could have two.
“We do want to travel with him once just to see how he goes. More than likely, there’s a good chance he’ll run out of state on his second start.”
All of which means Sunday could be his last race at Santa Anita for a while, or if things go exceedingly well, ever. The best option for a top-tier 3-year-old is to go east after the Triple Crown races.
It’s a path similar to that taken by Doug O’Neill with 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Both horses ran in the Del Mar Futurity, American Pharoah (previously called the FrontRunner), Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then the San Vicente. O’Neill waited seven weeks and shipped Nyquist to the Florida Derby, mostly enticed by a $1-million bonus. If Eurton uses a six-week model, it would put the colt in the Louisiana Derby or the lesser Sunland Derby.
Of course, Storm the Court has to do well in Sunday’s race. A loss in a seven-furlong race wouldn’t be horrible, just disappointing. In the Del Mar Futurity, at seven furlongs, the colt lost rider Flavien Prat shortly after leaving the gate.
“In a seven-eighths [of a mile], anything is possible,” Eurton said. “Things happen. The whole point is to try and have yourself ready to be the best you can be in a few months.”
It’s certain that Storm the Court will not be the 45-1 longshot he was in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’ll likely be at least a co-favorite Sunday. It’s not expected to be an easy race because Nadal, winner of his only start by 3 3/4 lengths, is going for trainer Bob Baffert. Nadal was a $700,000 purchase. Storm the Court was bought for $60,000.
Something else Storm the Court must contend with is he can no longer surprise the field. In the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile, he led the entire race, winning by a head.
“They are not going to let him have an easy lead,” Eurton said. “He’s going to have to learn to be tactical. That’s one thing we’ve been working on with him. He’s very comfortable being back there, but he tends to get a little more aggressive when he’s up front.”
In the American Pharoah, Storm the Court underperformed and jockey Prat thought he had the answer.
“He broke well [in the American Pharoah], and then he was kind of looking around,” Prat said after winning the Juvenile. “On the back side he kind of lost his focus and kind of dropped back. So, I thought the blinkers might help him. And, so, actually it did.”
Sunday is the first step to determine how much Storm the Court has improved. And Eurton knows the road to the Kentucky Derby is a long one. But, he’s been down it before, making it to Louisville in 2014 with Dance With Fate, who finished sixth.
Still, running in the Kentucky Derby is one thing, winning it is another.
“We all dream,” Eurton said. “If you don’t dream, what do you have? We dream about making it there. The road to these things is more fun than the actual day. It is for me. Watching them train and seeing them every day [is the fun part].
“There’s a lot more stress on that day. There’s a lot more fun in between. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The road to it is what it’s all about.”
For Storm the Court and Eurton, the road starts Sunday.