Visually, the margin of victory for UAE Derby romping winner, Mubtaahij, appeared far more then the official listing of 8-lengths. It didn’t matter he was on his wrong lead through his “stroll in the park” stretch run, he looked dynamite. Probably could have run backwards through the lane and still won for fun. BUT, can the Mike de Kock trained runner finally succeed in doing what previous Dubai horses before him attempted to do? That is, invade Churchill Downs and win the Kentucky Derby without a single American prep? He’s certainly going to get his chance. Maybe he can, or maybe he will be another “Dubai prep only” statistic. That remains to be seen.
Can International Star get another rail riding trip and win the Kentucky Derby? By taking the Louisiana Derby, the Ken & Sarah Ramsey 3-year old swept the Fairgrounds three prep race series. Just like he did in the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes, the son of Kentucky Derby winner, Fusaichi Pegasus, rode the inside path for much of the race before going on to victory. International Star drew the far outside post in his last two preps, but still managed to get over to the rail. Rider Miguel Mena proved that Calvin Borel isn’t the only jockey that can find the winner’s circle by taking the shortest way around a racetrack. What happens if International Star draws a very wide post in Louisville? It’s quite possible he could get hung out the entire journey and not have the safety zone of saving ground. Can he win if he’s anywhere other than the inside? Come May 2nd, that question gets answered.
As for Florida Derby winner, Materiality, talk begins regarding the 133-year long dreaded “Apollo Curse.” You know the drill. No horse since Apollo (1882) has won the Kentucky Derby with out racing as a 2-year old. I wouldn’t really call it a curse, but rather it’s a statistical oddity. Since 1937, the record of horses in the Derby without a race at age two is 0 for 58. The word curse has nothing to do as to why they have failed, foundation and maturity are the key words. Materiality began his racing career this past January, and now just two races later, he’s a Grade 1 winner.
Unraced 2-year-olds on the Derby trail are becoming more common, but the situation is blasé for Todd Pletcher, Materiality’s trainer. Pletcher seems to have one or two each season. As a matter of fact, Materiality is Pletcher’s second unraced juvenile this year. The other was Khozan, who after two straight wins to kick-off his 3-year old campaign to begin a possible path toward Louisville, suffered an injury. Last March, after earning his way into the “Run for the Roses” with a win in Florida Derby, Constitution, was knocked out with an injury. And as far as unraced juveniles that have competed in the Derby, that area isn’t anything new for Pletcher either. Two years ago, many racing fans thought Verrazano would be the horse to break the curse. The colt finished 14th. In 2009, another promising, but unraced Pletcher juvenile, Dunkirk, checked in 11th in Kentucky.
The “all but impossible for a 2-year old that didn’t race to win the Derby” adage is still deeply embedded in horseplayers brains and for some, that “rule” may never get released. However, as the Bob Dylan song goes “Times, They Are A Changin.” When it comes to 3-year-olds with the first Saturday in May as the target, training and prepping has evolved over the last two decades. In our current day and age with the way things are done now with Derby aspirants, I truly believe one year an unraced 2-year old will become a Kentucky Derby winner.
Materiality certainly has the breeding to be a Derby winner. His sire, Afleet Alex, was 3rd in the 2005 running before taking the next two legs of the Triple Crown. The colt is vastly improving, his Beyer speed figure from his Florida Derby win was 110. That’s tops among all current prospects and it’s a solid and good enough number to win America’s most prestigious race. But do two easy wins by wide margins, coupled with a long, hard fought stretch battle after being pressed on the front-end have Materiality mentally ready to take on more seasoned rivals? Are three races enough foundation to propel him into the Churchill Downs winners circle, get draped in roses and end the drought? Is 2015 the year the so-called “curse” is vanquished? Like so many questions, we’ll just have to wait it out.
This coming weekend, three more 100-point win races are on the slate. I’m sure, just like last weekend, the winning trio will pose additional questions for me