1998 Triple Crown Preview

April 30, 1998

by Peter Jenkins

Saturday May 2 sees the running of the first leg of US racing's Triple Crown - the 124th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

As of Tuesday the connections of at least 17 Triple Crown contenders had indicated their intention to race their charges in "The Run For The Roses". Here is a brief preview of their backgrounds:

Current favourite following his runaway win at his last outing in the Gr 1 Santa Anita Derby is the unbeaten INDIAN CHARLIE, owned by his breeder, former rodeo rider and now Phoenix car dealer Hal Earnhardt and top horseman John Gaines (who bought into the colt after winning his first 3 starts) and conditioned by the charismatic Bob Baffert, trainer of last year's winner SILVER CHARM. A bay California-bred son of the Caro-line stallion IN EXCESS and the multiple Graded Stakeswinning LEO CASTELLI mare SOVIET SOJOURN, INDIAN CHARLIE broke his maiden at Del Mar last August. He was spelled, and then resumed with a brace of allowance wins at Santa Anita in February before his Stakes Record equalling Santa Anita Derby win for top jockey Gary Stevens who is chasing his 4th "Run For The Roses" victory after successes on WINNING COLORS, THUNDER GULCH and SILVER CHARM. The last horse to complete the Santa Anita Derby - Kentucky Derby double was SUNDAY SILENCE in 1989 and the last unbeaten horse to win the Derby was SEATTLE SLEW.

Asked whether his colt was seasoned enough to win the "Big One" on just 4 career starts Baffert replied - "he doesn't need any seasoning; we're not going to eat him!".

Nick Zito will be attempting to train his 3rd Kentucky Derby winner in 7 years when he saddles up HALORY HUNTER on May 2. STRIKE THE GOLD in '91 and GO FOR GIN in '94 did him proud and the New York-based Zito, another character never lost for words, will be hoping the Elmendorf Farm-bred HALORY HUNTER will complete his hat-trick. Winner of the Grade 1 Moet Champagne Stakes over 8.5f at 2 HALORY HUNTER boasted placings this season in the Fountain of Youth (Gr2) and Florida Derby (Gr1) (behind Lil's Lad and Cape Town) before turning the tables on that pair in the Keeneland Blue Grass Stakes (Gr2) by 2 1/2 lengths. The last winner of that race to win the Kentucky Derby was - Nick Zito's STRIKE THE GOLD; an omen perhaps ? Gary Stevens is the regular rider of HALORY HUNTER but has opted for Indian Charlie in the big race leaving the chance ride of the year for Corey Nakatani. A US$135,000 2YO Sale purchase HALORY HUNTER is a chestnut colt by the MR. PROSPECTOR sire JADE HUNTER (who served one shuttle season in New Zealand in 1988 at Redoubt Park in South Auckland) from a HALO daughter of the NORTHERN DANCER mare COLD REPLY.

Last year FAVORITE TRICK could do no wrong though plenty was asked of him. He lined up for a total of 8 juvenile starts (all bar his first were stakes races) and won them all including the Gr1 pair - the Saratoga Hopeful Stakes and the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Hollywood Park (by over 5 lengths). He was rewarded with the crown of not only Champion US Juvenile but also Horse Of The Year - the first 2YO accorded that honour since SECRETARIAT. All looked well when FAVORITE TRICK resumed with a win for new trainer Bill Mott in the Gr3 Swale Stakes in Florida but he came undone in the Arkansas Derby (Gr2) last time out running 3rd, beaten two heads, when he tried to hard to reach the lead early on. In the space of one race FAVORITE TRICK went from being rated the best horse in America to only 3rd favourite in the Derby. Veteran rider Pat Day (successful 6 years ago on LIL E. TEE) knows much depends on the run he gives the PHONE TRICK colt on Saturday when CIGAR's trainer Mott tries to win his first Kentucky Derby.

Derby specialist (3 wins since 1987) D. Wayne Lukas' best prospect this year is the royally-bred CAPE TOWN. A winner three times from 6 starts at 2 including the Gr3 B & W Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in December, CAPE TOWN has mixed his form this year scoring in the Holy Bull (Gr3) and Florida Derby (Gr1) at Gulfstream Park but failing in the Fountain of Youth (4th) and 5 lengths adrift of HALORY HUNTER in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes when forced wide. Raced by his breeder William T. Young's Overbrook Farm, CAPE TOWN is surely the richest bred runner in this year's race. His sire is Claiborne's outstanding MR. PROSPECTOR sire SEEKING THE GOLD while the bay colt's first 3 dams were all Grade 1 winners and Champions - SEASIDE ATTRACTION (by SEATTLE SLEW), KAMAR (by KEY TO THE MINT) and SQUARE ANGEL. Hot jock Jerry Bailey chases his 3rd win in 6 renewals of the Derby on CAPE TOWN in the wake of victories on GRINDSTONE and SEA HERO.

Bob Baffert's second string in the Derby is the QUIET AMERICAN (by FAPPIANO) colt REAL QUIET. But it didn't look that way 8 months ago when Baffert banished the modest US$17,000 yearling purchase to Santa Fe Downs in New Mexico just to try and win a race with him. Since then the big gangly bay has done nothing but improve. He broke his maiden in October and just 9 weeks later took out the Hollywood Futurity (Gr1). After a wet track failure in the Golden Gate Derby REAL QUIET has run ARTAX to a nose in the Gr2 San Felipe Stakes and then trailed stablemate INDIAN CHARLIE home in the Santa Anita Derby. REAL QUIET, the mount of Kent Desormeaux, has the pedigree to make it too. His dam (by BELIEVE IT) is from an unraced full sister to the 1969 Derby winner MAJESTIC PRINCE. Considering INDIAN CHARLIE broke a 33 year old Stakes Record time in the Santa Anita Derby and REAL QUIET made up 10 lengths on his stablemate in the run home the extra furlong at Churchill Downs will be just to his liking.

Ernie Paragallo missed out when his UNBRIDLED'S SONG failed as Derby favourite two years ago but he's back for another crack this year with ARTAX, a colt by a first season sire and conditioned by a trainer who has never had a Derby runner. ARTAX, a US$82,000 weanling, first grabbed the limelight when running REAL QUIET to a length in the Hollywood Futurity and then turned the tables on him 3 months later in the San Felipe. Victory in the Gr3 Santa Catalina Stakes in January and a sound 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby behind Bob Baffert's pair give this blaze-faced flashy son of MARQUETRY (by CONQUISTADOR CIELO) a solid Derby chance for trainer Randy Bradshaw (a former Lukas employee). Chris McCarron, a two time Derby winner with ALYSHEBA and GO FOR GIN will attempt to make it 3 aboard ARTAX.

Determined to make up for his heartbreak photofinish defeat on CAPTAIN BODGIT in last year's Derby is Panamanian Alex Solis. This year he has secured the ride on FAVORITE TRICK'sconquerorr in the Arkansas Derby - VICTORY GALLOP. After running 5th on his maiden debut at 2 VICTORY GALLOP has only once failed to win in his remaining 6 starts to date and that was when 2nd in a Grade 3 at Laurel on a sloppy track. This Canadian-bred CRYPTOCLEARANCE (by FAPPIANO) colt from a VICE REGENT mare has amassed 4 stakes victories to date for local Louisville trainer Elliott Walden, the most important being his last two - the Gr3 Rebel Stakes and the Gr1 Arkansas Derby - both at Oaklawn Park - the same two leadup wins annexed by SUNNY'S HALO en route to his 1983 Derby triumph.

The only European-bred runner in the Derby field is the Irish-bred HANUMAN HIGHWAY, a gelding by the LYPHARD stallion ALZAO who previously shuttled to Australia, and from a Stakeswinning mare by 1972 Ky. Derby winner RIVA RIDGE who is herself a 1/2 sister to former Ra Ora sire RED GLOW. Trained by Californian Kathy Walsh who has never saddled a Derby runner and to be ridden by Mexican David Flores who so nearly won on FREE HOUSE last year, HANUMAN HIGHWAY began his career with a win on an all weather surface at Lingfield in England at 2 last year before a private sale to the US where he backed up a Santa Anita mile allowance success with a head defeat by VICTORY GALLOP in the Gr2 Arkansas Derby, just heading FAVORITE TRICK.

Hoping to go one better this time is trainer Neil Howard whose last and only Derby runner to date - SUMMER SQUALL - had to be content with the runner-up berth behind UNBRIDLED in 1990. Howard's main Derby chance (following the demise of Lil's Lad with bone chips) is the consistent KINGMAMBO (by MR. PROSPECTOR) colt PARADE GROUND. A 1/2 brother to 4 SW and a US$525,000 yearling PARADE GROUND is, like DANEHILL and STARK SOUTH, from a daughter of HIS MAJESTY and hails from the family of DEVIL'S BAG, SINGSPIEL and RAHY. Never further back than 3rd in 9 starts to date PARADE GROUND only cleared maidens at his 5th and final 2yo start but showed his class with a victory in the Tampa Bay Derby in March and placed 3rd to CORONADO'S QUEST in the Wood Memorial in New York last time out. Shane Sellers is confirmed to ride.

Robbie Albarado will be the likely rider for Cobra Farms OLD TRIESTE, a son of HONOR GRADES' 1/2 brother A.P. INDY who missed the '92 Derby through injury when hot favorite. Out of the Grade 1 winning mare LOVLIER LINDA (by VIGORS) OLD TRIESTE broke his maiden in a Del Mar juvenile mile before a 2nd placing in the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes. A Santa Anita allowance winner at his second run in '98 OLD TRIESTE has yet to face stakes company this year, the first Derby starter in 7 years to make his 3yo Stakes debut in the Derby. OLD TRIESTE was the talk of Churchill Downs on Monday when he sizzled 6 furlongs in 1.09 flat considered by many onlookers to be the fastest 6f pre-Derby workout in memory. One veteran reporter remarked "OLD TRIESTE should proceed straight to the after-race dinner as he's been cooked already!"

The only Kentucky Derby contender this year to feature a NZ-bred ancestor within 3 generations is the US$62,000 yearling sale purchase CHILITO whose sire the late STRAWBERRY ROAD, winner of 6 Group One races (including a W.S. Cox Plate) all over the world, is from the NZ-bred mare GIFTISA (by RICH GIFT) who was bred by Alistair and Garth Scown in Taranaki. CHILITO has won half of his 8 starts to date for former English jumps trainer H. Graham Motion. His best form has come in his two latest victories in the Paradise Creek Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Gr3 Hialeah Flamingo Stakes, a race won by NORTHERN DANCER, SEATTLE SLEW and SPECTACULAR BID on their way to Derby success.

The Michael Tabor silks are carried to victory in Group 1 races all over the world with great regularity these days and he has already enjoyed success in the Kentucky Derby with THUNDER GULCH in 1995 however this year his only runner will be the outsider (and doubtful starter) YARROW BRAE, a DEPUTY MINISTER colt (from a MISWAKI mare) purchased in partnership with Susan Magnier for US$310,000 at California's top 2YO In Training Sale. Racing from D. Wayne Lukas' barn YARROW BRAE failed to win more than a debut maiden in 7 juvenile appearances but was placed in the Gr3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. His best runs at 3 has been his two most recent when 2nd to EVENT OF THE YEAR in the Gr2 Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park and a 2nd in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs last weekend.

Myung Kwon Cho came close as an owner when VIDEO RANGER was 4th in UNBRIDLED's 1990 Derby renewal. Now he's back as a trainer with a son of VIDEO RANGER (by COX'S RIDGE) in NATIONALORE. Attempting to become the first maiden to win the Derby since BROKER'S TIP in 1933, California-bred NATIONALORE has nevertheless shown good form in 15 career starts to date including 3rds in FAVORITE TRICK's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and REAL QUIET's Hollywood Futurity - both Grade 1 events.

If ROBINWOULD takes his place in the Derby field, engaged veteran Midwest jockey Earlie Fires will set a remarkable record of 24 years between Derby mounts, his last ride in the race dating back to 1974! ROBINWOULD, a son of ROBIN DES PINS (by NUREYEV) and a DAMASCUS mare won a maiden on his 3yo debut in January but despite a 2nd in the Gr3 Rebel Stakes, his last start 6th in the Arkansas Derby does not represent great form.

It's 14 years since the great Claiborne Farm celebrated their sole Derby success as breeders with SWALE. This year they have an outside chance as the breeders of BASIC TRAINEE, a son of their evergreen veteran MAJESTIC LIGHT and out of a daughter of a former Derby Winner SPECTACULAR BID. BASIC TRAINEE has won 3 of 8 starts to date including the Aqueduct Whirlaway Stakes. The US$3000 yearling and US$12,500 2YO in training graduate and earner of over US$146,000 will prove a fairytale come true if he can pull off a huge upset.

Diet Queen Jenny Craig is rarely without a runner in any major US contest and the Derby is no exception although she had to buy her way into the race. She shares with Madeleine Paulson (wife of CIGAR'S owner Allen Paulson) in the ownership of ROCK AND ROLL, a CURE THE BLUES colt from a HALO daughter of SECRETARIAT. The Derby will be his first start in their ownership after their acquisition of ROCK AND ROLL following his 3rd place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby behind Parade Ground. A winner of just US$46,390 he is an outside hope in the big race and a second string chance for trainer Bill Mott.

A Maryland-bred grey colt by the MR. PROSPECTOR horse TWO PUNCH, SMOLDERIN HEART arrives with handy form boasting 3 wins in his last 4 outings, the best being his last start victory in the slowly-run Lone Star Derby in Texas, his first stakes race. To be ridden by Tim Doocy, this US$132,000 2YO Sale purchase is a doubtful starter and will actually only be a 2yo in real terms if he takes his place in the Derby field being a May foal.

A final intriguing observation of this Derby field is that 7 of the 17 potential runners descend in sireline from MR. PROSPECTOR who is still alive (and in fine shape too) and serving mares at Claiborne Farm. In fact 5 of the 7 best favoured runners are by his sons or grandsons, his dirt track dominance evident. The NORTHERN DANCER sireline is represented by only 4 runners and lastly all 17 descend from the Phalaris sireline and not one current shuttle sire is represented by a runner.

Peter Jenkins's selections: REAL QUIET to win with a "KIWI" style stretch run; CAPE TOWN looks sure to be in the finish and HANUMAN HIGHWAY for a longshot chance.

Peter Jenkins is with the Auckland-based Eclipse International bloodstock agency