Winners, Losers & In-Betweeners Along the Rocky Road to the KY Derby

(Bolt d’Oro, outside, and McKinzie, inside, give it a battle royale in the San Felipe Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

(Correction/Medaglia d’Oro stands at stud at Darley/Lexington. Our apologies.)

A long time, and many horse race memories ago, I got to watch and witness two of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport.

In 1978, I was a rookie reporter at “The Lexington Herald-Leader.” I had joined the organization in the cold, terrible winter of 1977, after graduating from Eastern Kentucky University. And, I was sure glad to get to spring that year, although I think some of the snow from that winter was still on the ground by the time the Kentucky Derby rolled around. That spring, I got to go out to the track in the morning, collect, and then run quotes from the backstretch up to the press box. No cell phones back then, folks. It put me on the front row to watch the great Alydar, the personal and flamboyant pride of Calumet Farm, and Affirmed, a whippet of a horse with a constitution that matched his grit and desire.

It was amazing sport.

In 1987, I was in my 10th year of reporting and writing for the paper, and I had ascended the corporate ladder enough to move to the press box and to second chair in the coverage of horse racing. In November of that year, I pulled up to the rail at the old Hollywood Park, and, I got to see the stress and strain of Alysheba — ironically enough, a son of Alydar — and Ferdinand begin their fights that matched every punch exchanged between the immortal Muhammad Ali and George Frazier. In a battle of the Kentucky Derby winners, Ferdinand – conditioned expertly by the wise Charlie Whittingham – edged Alysheba and Jack Van Berg by a guitar string.

A year later, Alysheba returned the favor in one of the most gut-wrenching, nose-to-nose, flank-to-flank battles I’ve ever witnessed on the racetrack, when he edged his adversary by a nose in the San Bernadino and a half-length in the Santa Anita Handicap. These two made it a habit to hook up at the quarter pole and head bob their way to the finish line. Never giving an inch. Never giving up.

All in all, it was amazing sport.

On Saturday, we may have seen the first of what may – and we can only hope – will be a long, beautiful and notorious showdown between the aspiring McKinzie and the ballyhooed Bolt d’Oro.

Coming out of the final turn, it appeared that Bolt d’Oro – the highly acclaimed and beautiful son of Medaglia d’Oro – crunched down on McKinzie, who was near the rail. Then, the two buttoned down. Dead aim on the finish line. Dead game to whip the other in a match race that the game no longer enjoys.

The two – with Hall of Fame riders on their respective backs – didn’t give an inch. And, they didn’t appear to give a damn. Bump for bump. Stride for stride. Grind for grind. Until the wire.

At the end, McKinzie had held his edge of several important inches. But, in the end, it didn’t matter what those two did on the track. What mattered was what the Stewards decided up in their cozy quarters of the press box, as they immediately flashed the “inquiry” sign on the tote board.

Ultimately, they chose to give the win to Bolt d’Oro, instead. A case could be made for such a decision; a case could be made for not. It would have been nice to see the boys settle the score like men – on the track.

But, ultimately, the two horses will get to settle the score when they are sure to meet again. We can only hope that their rivaly evolves into the same manly battle that Alydar, Affirmed, Ferdinand and Alysheba enjoyed.

If so, it is sure to become amazing sport.

Here is a closer look at this week’s Winners, Losers and In-Betweeners:

The Winners:

  1. Bolt d’Oro! He’s BACK!. The colt, who had not raced since his, er, disappointing third place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November at Del Mar, was coming into the San Felipe off works set out, designed, orchestrated, and planned by his owner, and, relatively speaking, inexperienced trainer, Mick Ruis. The world questioned whether the horse, and the man behind him, could match minds with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and strides with his stellar student, McKinzie. After all, Baffert wins every Stakes race at Santa Anita, right? After all, McKinzie had already won his 2018 debut, capturing the G3 Sham Stakes. For the time being, they can match. Ruis, who was gracious in his remarks while waiting for the Stewards to act, said that the referees decision didn’t really matter to him, because his horse had vindicated both himself with his gutty performance. Don’t know if he was fully forthright or not, but the horse did perform admirably. And, now the game is afoot. Can’t wait to see this one again. Lastly, what a weekend for his sire, Medaglia d’Oro, who stands at Darley Stud near Lexington, right?
  2. McKinzie was the beneficiary of a disqualification in the Cash Call Futurity over at Los Alamitos to close out his 2YO campaign. The fate turned on him Saturday. Probably should have left his decision on the track stand, if truth be known. But this guy won a whole lot of credit and admiration for his gutty performance in that effort. This guy could be a real man. Definitely, a winner.
  3. Quip, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday at significant odds, stamped himself as a legit candidate moving forward on the “Road to the KY Derby.” The son of Distorted Humor won his first two races impressively and with a front-running kick that his daddy would approve of, I’m sure, since that was the name of his game, as well. But his troubled trip in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, which resulted in a 7th place finish, must have convinced the racing public to shy away. Wrong move. This one proved that his performance in his first two starts was the real And, that race at Churchill Downs is now becoming a real “key” race as many of those have come back to perform admirably. Like, Enticed – who won the Gotham Stakes on Saturday. Like, Promises Fulfilled, who won the Fountain of Youth a week ago. Like Reride, who was impressive in the Mind That Bird Stakes at Sunland Park. Don’t know yet where Quip may show up next, but if he takes another stride forward, he could roll into May a real threat. Worth watching now.
  4. Enticed was a rather dull and non-threatening fourth in his 2018 debut when he ran well behind the front-running Audible in the G2 Holy Bull on the speed-favoring Gulfstream Park racetrack on Feb. 3. As a result, the son of Medaglia d’ Oro (what kind of weekend did that sire have, right?) fell in most rankings. But trainer Kiaran McLaughlin decided he had seen enough of the speedsters dominating the South Florida circuit, and decided to skip town and return to New York for Saturday’s Gotham. It was a fine move, indeed. On a more balanced and fair surface, Enticed looked like the guy who stalked and bounced in his first three career starts. On Saturday, he was reunited with his regular rider, Junior Alvarado, too. Whatever the reason, the horse responded. He swooped around the front end speed with a sudden bolt and was so impressive that his rider really let off the gas at the end. The Wood Memorial would appear to be the next stop. He may give his sire a powerful shot going into the Derby.
  5. Medaglia d’Oro. What a weekend, right? Bolt d’Oro and Enticed? Wow.
  6. The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. This year’s key prep race. No doubt. Enticed. Promises Fulfilled. Reride. Quip. Bravazo. Enough written.

In-Betweeners:

  1. Flameaway, who won the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay before running back over the track on Saturday in the Gulf Coast version of the Florida Derby, really showed some moxie and guts against a quality field on Saturday. Unlike the Davis, where he was able to make the lead and carve out all the fractions that led to his win, Flameaway was shuffled back and had to find another racing style while Quip was able to get the jump on him in the earl footing. Instead of spitting the bit and worrying about his running position, though, the son of Scat Daddy settled, and then came running at the end, carving into the front-runner’s lead with every stride. If the race had lasted a bit longer or had been a little farther – which is sure to come – this one may have been battling for the title at the end. The most impressive thing, though, was he showed versatility. And, there is no doubt about this guy’s guts. Game as they come. Has to stick around in the rankings for the next try.
  2. Reride, a son of Candy Ride and owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds (does that sound familiar?), is now being pointed towards his next KY Derby prep race in, of all God’s places, Dubai. That seems like a long way to go to avoid some of the top ranked 3YOs this year, but don’t be too surprised if this guy doesn’t join the top stars on the rankings list soon. To date, he has raced five times. He has won four of them – including the Mine That Bird Stakes at Sunland Park in his last try. The only blemish on his race record is a 6th place finish in the KY Jockey Club Stakes last November. Although he ran 6th in that event, he did beat the likes of Quip, Bravazo and Gotta Go. He may have a bit of jet lag if he world winds his way over to the desert, but he may be the next great Candy Ride to fly the flag for this ownership stable. (Editor’s note: the last one this stable had was a guy by the name of Gun Runner. Remember him?)

Losers:

  1. Firenze Fire. Nice horse. Not a KY Derby horse. No shot in the Gotham. Before the race, trainer Jason Servis said publicly that his Florida-bred son of Poseidon’s Warrior got no respect. Nice horse. Not a Ky Derby horse.
  2. Untamed Domain. I bought into the hype. Ran a game second to highly decorated Mendelssohn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Beat the likes of Catholic Boy, Flameaway, My Boy Jack, and Snapper Sinclair in that effort. But the son of Animal Kingdom, who just so happened to win the Kentucky Derby, was dull and never a threat in the Tampa Bay Derby. Back to the turf.
  3. Vino Rosso. I didn’t buy into the hype on this one. Glad I didn’t. This son of Curlin was the main tout going into the Tampa Bay Derby. Ran fourth on Saturday, but was beaten nearly 6 lengths and never showed a threatening move, and most people wanted to see more since he was bet down to odds of 2-to-1. Drawing board time, for this one.
  4. Tiz Mischief. Another poor performance by this one, as he ran fifth and beaten over 11 lengths in the Tampa Bay Derby for trainer Dale Romans. Ran huge in the KY Jockey Club Stakes, and that gives one hope – considering the sudden success of many of those horses. But…He didn’t fire in the Holy Bull and was never a threat on Saturday. May be time for a confidence builder.

 

 

I was pretty darn excited when we heard the announcement and that’s when I thought it ok to come down to the Winner’s Circle. We could see clearly that there was interference. Mike was hitting left handed, driving them into Bolt.

“His last work was off the chart. We were very excited going into today. Mick is a good trainer. He might be new but he’s not fresh. He’s got some judgment about him and I give him the credit.”

WAYNE HUGHES, Owner of Spendthrift Farm Where Bold D'Oro Will Be Retired To Stud
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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