Trainer Dallas Stewart has yet to saddle a winner of the Kentucky Derby, but a pair of long-shot runner-up performances by two of his horses in the Run for the Roses and a Kentucky Oaks triumph that remains the biggest surprise in the history of that race have made racing fans wary when Stewart-trained runners show up at Churchill Downs on the first weekend in May.
Near-misses in the Kentucky Derby with Golden Soul, a 34-1 runner-up to Orb in 2013, and Commanding Curve, second at 37-1 to California Chrome in 2014, have effectively put blinking lights on the names of any Stewart trainees who make their way into the Derby starting gate.
Earlier evidence that Stewart-trained horses must be respected during Derby Week at Churchill Downs came in 2006 when the Mississippi-born trainer saddled 47-1 shot Lemons Forever to win the Oaks. On that day, Lemons Forever became, and remains today, the longest shot to win Americaâ€™s top race for 3-year-old fillies.
With fewer than 40 days remaining on the Kentucky Derby 142 countdown clock, the Churchill Downs-based Stewart has another candidate that could delight long-shot players on Derby Day in Tomâ€™s Ready, who rallied last Saturday to finish second to Gun Runner in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) at New Orleansâ€™ Fair Grounds.
Tomâ€™s Ready entered the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby off a poor seventh-place run in the Risen Star (GII) over the same track. The poor run in his previous outing lifted his odds in the Louisiana Derby to 30-1.
Stewart is obviously comfortable when working in that territory.
The 40 points earned in last weekâ€™s runner-up finish at Fair Grounds boosted Tomâ€™s Readyâ€™s â€œRoad to the Kentucky Derbyâ€ point total to 44, which should ensure his participation in the big race on May 7. In his previous Derby runs with Golden Soul and Commanding Curve, Stewart had to endure some anxiety about whether point totals for those horses would be enough to claim a spot in the starting gate.
This time around, the trainer can focus on the horse and the steps heâ€™ll need to make over the next five weeks.
â€œItâ€™s a comfort level, for sure, to have â€™em,â€ Stewart said of the points. â€œHeâ€™s spent a lot of time here at Churchill already, so he knows the track. Heâ€™s had a couple of really good races here.â€
A trio of Churchill Downs races for Tomâ€™s Ready include his first career victory and a runner-up finish in the Street Sense Stakes. His only poor local outing was an eighth-place run over a sloppy track in Novemberâ€™s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII).
Tomâ€™s Readyâ€™s overall record stands a 1-4-0 in nine races with earnings of $302,220. He arrived at Churchill Downs from his winter base in Louisiana early Tuesday morning.
â€œHeâ€™s had some good works here and seems to like the track,â€ Stewart said. â€œWeâ€™re just going to hope that the added distance [in the Kentucky Derby] will help him out. I think it will. I think heâ€™ll like the mile and a quarter.â€
Tomâ€™s Ready is one of two Kentucky Derby 142 hopefuls owned by GMB Racing, which is owned by the family of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. The other is Mo Tom, who finished fourth as the favorite in the Louisiana Derby for Churchill Downs-based trainer Tom Amoss. Mo Tom also has 44 Kentucky Derby points.
Before his personal runner-up finishes in the Kentucky Derby, Stewart had plenty of experience in Americaâ€™s greatest race while working for a Derby legend. He served 12 years as an assistant to four-time Kentucky Derby-winner and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
While working for Lukas, Stewart led Winning Colors to the Churchill Downs paddock prior to the great gray fillyâ€™s win in the 1988 Run for the Roses â€“ the third and most recent Derby win by a female over the boys. He was also in the barn and Winnerâ€™s Circle for Lukas Derby triumphs by Thunder Gulch (1995) and Grindstone (1996).
When the Derby runs by both Golden Soul and Commanding Curve neared, Stewart told virtually anyone who would listen that his colts were training beautifully and were ready for powerful efforts â€“ if the points worked out and each got into the Derby starting gate.
This time around, the scenario is a little different. Tomâ€™s Ready has the needed points to compete in the Derby. But Stewart said Bensonâ€™s colt has work to do over the next five weeks if he is to come close to the Derby Day runs by Golden Soul and Commanding Curve.
â€œI think heâ€™s got to move up some,â€ Stewart said of Tomâ€™s Ready. â€œHeâ€™s got to train solid. Itâ€™s a tough race. I like to see some improvement in his daily routine gallops â€“ heâ€™s kind of a playboy and just needs to get his head right.â€
â€œI think if he does all that, he grows up a little bit, everything stays good and he stays happy and healthy, heâ€™ll be one-two-three.â€
While he has been very happy with his pair of twos on Derby Day, Stewart â€“ like anyone in Thoroughbred racing â€“ dreams of a first-place run. With a little luck both before and during Kentucky Derby 142, itâ€™s not a long shot to believe Tomâ€™s Ready might finally be the one for Dallas Stewart.
Tomâ€™s Ready will be one of the betting interests in the fourth and final pool of the 2016 Kentucky Derby Future Wager. He is betting interest #20 with morning line odds of 30-1.
For the first time in several years, the two Future Wager favorites â€“ unbeaten stars Mohaymen (#14, 7-2) and Nyquist (#16, 8-1) â€“ will face each otherÂ in Saturdayâ€™s $1 million Florida Derby (GI) Gulfstream Park. VT
Betting in the final pool of the Derby Future Wager opens at noon on Friday and will conclude at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 14. The Future Wager will be offered at Churchill Downsâ€™ Trackside and online at twinspires.com. More information is available at the Kentucky Derby web site at kentuckyderby.com.