“Babysitter” isn’t normally the kind of experience listed on the resume of a Kentucky Derby (G1) contender, but that was the reason why Like the King was purchased as a weanling.
Like the King was bred by Roddy and Perry Harrison’s Horseshoe Racing. The small-scale stable has one stakes star, turf sprinter Change of Control, who is set for the $150,000 Unbridled Sidney S. on Thursday’s “Thurby” card at Churchill Downs.
Roddy Harrison also raced Like the King’s dam, turf performer Like a Queen, in the twilight of her career. Originally trained by Antonio Sano, Like a Queen was just denied in the 2014 Our Dear Peggy at Gulfstream Park. She spent time in the allowance ranks but eventually dipped into claiming company. Claimed for $30,000 out of a win at Gulfstream in February 2016, Like a Queen resurfaced in Harrison’s silks on the Midwest circuit. She made her final three starts in Kentucky that fall before retiring.
Like a Queen visited Palace Malice, hero of the 2013 Belmont (G1) and 2014 Metropolitan H. (G1), and produced her first foal on February 13, 2018. The chestnut colt was raised at Sparks View, the family farm of Jody and Heather Sparks. The Paris, Kentucky, nursery is also the birthplace of two-time champion filly Songbird.
As a weanling, the colt was offered at Keeneland November under the Vinery Sales banner.
“Sparks View brought him to us in great shape,” said Derek MacKenzie of Vinery, which also sold Derby rival Hidden Stash for breeder Rhineshire Farm.
“He was a big weanling. A bit awkward and immature at the time, but you could see he had a big walk and had plenty of potential.”
Cataloged in the midst of the seventh session, on a Sunday, he happened to be in the right place at the right time for Lyn and Bill Rainbow.
The Rainbows were in the market for a specific purpose. The lone weanling colt at their Ocala farm, The Acorn, needed a buddy. In later reports in the Blood Horse and Thoroughbred Daily News, Lyn described the role as “babysitter.”
Out of luck at their price point for several days, and with snow impending, they had to find one and head home. That one finally meeting their criteria, in the nick of time, was Like the King. Bought for $28,000, he headed down to his task in Florida.
What the Rainbows couldn’t have foreseen was just how well their recruit would develop as a yearling. The babysitter was not just a useful paddock companion; he became a profitable venture when his job was done.
“Like the King was a very straightforward yearling,” Lyn recalled. “He did everything right and just grew into this handsome, very athletic colt.”
That athleticism manifested itself at the OBS October Yearling Sale, where you can see him strut his stuff in a walking video
. The yet-unnamed colt sold for $170,000, the third-highest price of the auction.
New owner Mickey Gonzalez, whose nom de course is M Racing Group, sent Like the King to trainer Wesley Ward. Celebrated for his successes invading Royal Ascot, especially with speedy juveniles, Ward has not had a Derby runner – until now.
Unlike Ward’s characteristic sprinters, Like the King excelled around two turns. He crushed a turf maiden on the front end at Belterra Park, wired an allowance on Turfway’s Tapeta, and checked in a troubled second in the John Battaglia Memorial before driving to victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). The runner-up, Sainthood, ironically was a graduate of the same OBS October session
. Only Sainthood fetched less, bringing the gavel down at $62,000 later in the day.
The main question mark over Like the King is his dirt aptitude. Although placed in his debut at Belterra and in a Keeneland allowance last fall, he was well adrift of the winner both times. On the other hand, Like the King has progressed in the interim, he’s training forwardly on the Keeneland dirt, and his pedigree is filled with classic dirt influences
“I think he has a big shot to win the Derby,” MacKenzie offered, “as Wesley has done a great job with him, and it’s the same route that Animal Kingdom (the 2011 Derby winner) took. Like the King has enough speed to be tactical and distance should not be an issue.
“This is a great story for us as the Harrisons, the Rainbows, Jody and Heather Sparks and Mickey and Sonia Gonzalez are all clients of ours as far as consigning goes. We are so excited for this horse because of all the connections.
“We are definitely cheering him on, as well as our other graduate, Hidden Stash.”
As Lyn Rainbow says, “Anything can happen in the Kentucky Derby!”
Maybe even a coronation of a former babysitter.
Photo by Sparks View Farm