Racing News

Dark horse: Lines of Battle's Dubai domination translates to underdog status in Kentucky Derby

| KentuckyDerby.com | 05/04/2013 #
  • Lines of Battle (photo by: Andrew Watkins / Dubai Racing Club)

It's almost incomprehensible that a horse fresh from a dominating victory in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai would be viewed as a hopeless long shot in the Kentucky Derby, but that apparently will be the case with Lines of Battle, who was 34-1 in Derby advance wagering Saturday morning.

Never mind that Lines of Battle is owned by some of the sport's heaviest hitters – Joseph Allen, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. Allen has owned and bred scores of stakes winners, while the latter three also co-own undefeated Kentucky Derby contender Verrazano. Magnier is the daughter of legendary trainer Vincent O'Brien, and her husband, John Magnier, operates Coolmore, a world-class racing and breeding operation headquartered in Ireland.

And never mind that Lines of Battle is conditioned by Aidan O'Brien, an Englishman who has saddled Group or Grade 1 winners in six countries and continues to burnish his reputation as one of the sport's best trainers. And yet … Lines of Battle could be 40-1 in the Kentucky Derby.

It's almost incomprehensible that a horse fresh from a dominating victory in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai would be viewed as a hopeless long shot in the Kentucky Derby, but that apparently will be the case with Lines of Battle, who was 34-1 in Derby advance wagering Saturday morning.

O'Brien, 43, has won seven Breeders' Cup races in recent years but has yet to finish better than fifth in four cracks at the Derby. In a chat with ESPN.com last week, he was effusive about the Run for the Roses, an indicator he'll continue to chase until the garland is his.

“Everybody knows it's an incredible race; it's a race everyone wants to be a part of,” O'Brien said. “You just hope you have a horse who's good enough to run in it. That's really what our aim is, to compete, and obviously if we compete, we have a chance. It's a great day to be a part of.”

But here's the kicker: O'Brien won't be in attendance at Churchill Downs. He stayed behind at Newmarket to saddle three horses Saturday for one of England's classic races, the 2,000 Guineas. One of those horses is George Vancouver, who soundly defeated Lines of Battle in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last November at Santa Anita.

In O'Brien's stead, his assistant, T.J. Comeford, accompanied Lines of Battle from Ireland to the States. The horse arrived at Churchill Downs early Wednesday and stretched his legs on the track Friday morning after spending 48 hours in quarantine. He will break from post No. 11 under English jockey Ryan Moore.

Lines of Battle might be a horse who demands a second look. He has victories on grass and synthetic surfaces, but his breeding suggests dirt won't be a problem. He has won at distances from six furlongs in Ireland to a mile-and-three-sixteenths in Dubai. He boasts an impeccable pedigree – sire War Front's stud fee is $80,000, and dam Black Speck is a half-sister to Dynaformer, sire of the great Barbaro. What's not to like?

"Everybody knows it's an incredible race; it's a race everyone wants to be a part of. You just hope you have a horse who's good enough to run in it."

"Everybody knows it's an incredible race; it's a race everyone wants to be a part of. You just hope you have a horse who's good enough to run in it."

Even better, his effort in the UAE Derby was superb, coming as it did off a long layoff. O'Brien said the side trip to Dubai was a logical steppingstone to Kentucky, even if O'Brien's plan left Lines of Battle with just one 2013 start heading into the Derby.

“For us, being realistic, it is probably the only trial we can go to,” O'Brien told ESPN.com. “It's a long ways to America. We thought it could be a steppingstone to where he was last year, on the way, rather than going straight into one of your trials. Your trials can be very hard and rapid. [The horses] might be more advanced than our horses would be at that time of the year.”

O'Brien did not alter Lines of Battle's training regimen to accommodate the Derby's unique challenges. What worked in Dubai should work in Louisville. That's the hope, anyway.

“Really, a horse either has it or they haven't, and obviously, if he doesn't have it, you can't give it to him. Really, you're hoping that the horse and the pedigree all comes together and that you have the horse well enough on the day to do himself justice.”

A raft of racing experts have dismissed Lines of Battle as more of a curiosity than a legitimate Derby contender. Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form wrote, “it's hard to get too enthused, considering all of his previous races and his breeding suggest the European invader is best suited to turf or artificial surfaces.” But Brad Free, the DRF's handicapper in Southern California, picked Lines of Battle to finish second in the Derby at boxcar odds.

“Lines of Battle won in Dubai pushing leisurely fractions at 1-3/16 miles on a synthetic surface,” Free wrote. “If the Kentucky Derby pace is soft, Lines of Battle would get a similar trip. And if the U.S. horses turn out ordinary this year, a crazy upset could be in the cards.”

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