KENTUCKY DERBY 136: 19 DAYS TO GO – The names of past winners of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) frequently surface each year in the days leading up to the “Run for the Roses.” But it was interesting that the name that surfaced repeatedly over the past weekend was that of Dust Commander, who pulled a 15-1 surprise in the 1970 Derby and would never win another race.
The first mention Dust Commander came on Friday when trainer Shannon Ritter guided Sunland Derby (GIII) winner Endorsement through a sharp four-furlong workout in :46.80 over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface. The last trainer to regularly work a Kentucky Derby winner was Don Combs, who was frequently in the saddle aboard Dust Commander. Then came the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI), where 40-1 winner Stately Victor became the biggest surprise winner in the 86-year history of the race – supplanting Dust Commander’s previous record odds of 35-1.
That’s not to say that a Dust Commander-style longshot is destined to win this year’s Derby, but it was interesting that name came up a couple of times. Calling Mike Manganello …
Two significant graded stakes preps loom before Kentucky Derby 136. They are Saturday’s $300,000 Coolmore Lexington (GII) at Keeneland and The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII), which carries a record $200,000-added purse when the one-mile race is run on Saturday, April 24, the opening day of Kentucky Derby Week and the Churchill Downs Spring Meet.
KENTUCKY / LONGSHOT STATELY VICTOR A 40-1 SURPRISE IN TOYOTA BLUE GRASS – To find the winner of Saturday’s 86th running of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland, all one had to do was turn the odds board upside down and inside out.
Stately Victor, whose only previous win in seven career races came on grass, swept past Paddy O’Prado in mid-stretch and pulled ay to a stunning 4 1/4-length victory over the synthetic Polytrack surface at the Lexington track. The winner was the longest shot in the field of nine, while second-choice Odysseus struggled home last of nine and morning line choice Pleasant Prince, runner-up in the Florida Derby (GI), finished seventh. Favored Interactif was a non-threatening fourth as the winner covered 1 1/8-miles in 1:48.69 before 33,727 fans.
Alan Garcia was aboard the Mike Maker-trained winner, who earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with his first-place prize of $450,000. The son of Ghostzapper is owned by the father-son team of Thomas and Jack Conway. The younger Conway serves as Kentucky’s attorney general and is running for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Kentucky U.S. Senator Jim Bunning.
"Derby Week just got a whole lot busier,” said Jack Conway.
The week will also be busy for Maker, who also trains a likely Kentucky Derby starter in Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Lane’s End (GII) winner Dean’s Kitten.
"I’ve always been high on this horse,” Maker said of Stately Victor. “After a while when a horse underachieves, you kind of forget about them. But I never quit believing in this horse.”
The top two finishers in the Toyota Blue Grass are expected to run back in the Kentucky Derby, and trainer Dale Romans would like to run third-place finisher First Dude along with runner-up Paddy O’Prado. But it appears unlikely the latter would have sufficient earnings in graded stakes races to make the field.
TEN EXPECTED FOR COOLMORE LEXINGTON – A probable field of 10 is expected to be entered in Saturday’s $300,000 Coolmore Lexington (GII) at Keeneland, a 1 1/16-mile race that is Keeneland’s final major Derby prep. That group includes Uptowncharlybrown, winner of the Pasco and third in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs; Rushaway winner Exhi; and Workin for Hops, winner of the Grindstone at Fair Grounds. Other likely starters include Kettle River, Distorted Dave, Game On Dude, Prince Will I Am, Call Shot, Chief Counsel and Krypton.
SOUTH / LINE OF DAVID GIVES SADLER ANOTHER DERBY HOPE IN ARKANSAS DERBY – Trainer John Sadler, one of Southern California’s hottest conditioners in recent years, suddenly finds himself with a pair of Kentucky Derby hopefuls following a front-running win over traditional dirt by Ike and Dawn Thrash’s 17-1 shot Line of David in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI), the richest U.S. prep for the “Run for the Roses.”
Line of David joined Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Sidney’s Candy in Sadler’s Derby contingent with Saturday’s win before 61,531 fans at Oaklawn Park. Jockey Jon Court, who recently returned to Kentucky after a few years in Southern California, scored the biggest victory of his career as he guided Line of David to an early three-length lead and then held off Super Saver and Dublin to win by a neck. The winning time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:49.37.
“We put him on the front end and rolled into that first turn and he was rolling along pretty good, but he came back to me,” said Court. “He fought very valiantly for the photo.”
It was the third consecutive win for Line of David, a son of Lion Heart who is now three-for-three since Sadler equipped him with blinkers. His previous victories came on grass.
The top three finishers in the Arkansas Derby are all expected to run in the Kentucky Derby, but the immediate future is uncertain for beaten favorite Noble’s Promise. The Ken McPeek-trained colt got away from the gate poorly and finished fifth. Noble’s Promise suffered cuts on both front legs in the race, injuries that could have been inflicted in his difficult start.
CALIFORNIA / BAFFERT STARS LOOKIN AT LUCKY, CONVEYANCE HEAD TO KENTUCKY ON TUESDAY – The major Kentucky Derby contenders for three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert – reigning 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky and once-beaten Southwest (GIII) winner Conveyance – will ship to Churchill Downs on Tuesday, April 13.
Trainer Richard Mandella knows Santa Anita Derby runner-up Setsuko needs some help in terms of graded stakes earnings, but will train the colt as if he is Kentucky Derby-bound.
“For the time being, I’m going to keep going like I’m going to get in,” said Mandella. “But I may have to come up with a Plan B somewhere.”