The opening weekend of racing in â€œRoad to the Kentucky Derbyâ€ Championship Series â€“ races in which the rewards offered for success grew significantly in the new point system to determine Kentucky Derby eligibility â€“ was tough to analyze, but easy to summarize.
In a word, it was wild.
The results of the two Championship Series events â€“ the Fountain of Youth at Miamiâ€™s Gulfstream Park and Risen Star at New Orleansâ€™ Fair Grounds â€“ could not have been more different.
In Florida the late-running Orb â€“ a rare Kentucky Derby candidate for highly-respected Lexington-born trainer Shug McGaughey â€“ benefited from a withering pace duel to run down heavily favored Violence in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.
The top two in the race were clearly the best and the latter lost nothing in defeat. But Violence lost all chance to compete in the Derby when veterinarians found the talented Todd Pletcher trainee had suffered a career-ending fracture of the medial sesamoid in his right foreleg during the race.
That news delivered crushing heartbreak to the coltâ€™s owners and to Pletcher, who has a barn filled with Derby 139 candidates headed the reigning 2-year-old champion, Shanghai Bobby. But Violence offered hints that he could be very special, and that makes his defection a disappointment to everyone.
But, under any circumstances, the race provided the looming 139th Kentucky Derby with a potential new star from the barn of the trainer best-known to many Derby fans as the conditioner of the star-crossed Easy Goer, who fell short to rival Sunday Silence on Kentucky Derby Day and a few other big days.
In New Orleans, a city that has long been legendary for unpredictability and an ever-present potential for mayhem, the Risen Star provided a New Orleans-style finish. The winner was a Louisiana-bred 135-1 longshot named Ive Struck A Nerve, a name that will be self-fulfilling prophecy over the next few weeks for English teachers and grammarians everywhere.
Irish-born James Graham piloted the winner from last to beat a tightly-packed group in which its first eight finishers could be covered by about four lengths. Veteran Louisiana trainer Keith Desormeaux scored the first graded stakes victory of his career in beating a parade of horses trained by present and possibly future Hall of Famers in runner-up Code West (Bob Baffert), Palace Malice (Pletcher), Oxbow (D. Wayne Lukas), Normandy Invasion (Chad Brown), Golden Soul (Dallas Stewart), Mylute (Tom Amoss) and Proud Strike (Steve Asmussen) in the Risen Starâ€™s top eight.
Desormeaux is the older brother of three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Kent Desormeaux, who rode the colt to a fourth-place finish to Oxbow in his previous outing in the Lecomte over the same track. That effort looks much better today than it might have appeared prior to the Risen Star.
â€œI called my wife and told her to get fitted for (Kentucky) Derby hat,â€ said Matt Ryan of Big Chief Racing, the stable that owns Ive Struck A Nerve.Â â€œAs long as I live, I will re-live this race over and over.
Talk about mayhem in the Crescent City. The win by the 135-1 shot followed a similar shocker less than a year ago at Fair Grounds in which 109-1 shot Hero of Order won the Louisiana Derby. That race will likely be the next start for Ive Struck A Nerve, who figures to go off at considerably lower odds in that outing.
With last weekendâ€™s results, the top of the â€œRoad to the Kentucky Derbyâ€ points leaderboard with well over 60 days to go before Derby 139 reads:
- Ive Struck A Nerve (51 points)
- Orb (50)
- Violence (out of Derby, 30)
- Shanghai Bobby (24)
- Goldencents (24)
- Code West (20)
- Oxbow (16)
- Speak Logistics (11)
- Itsmyluckyday, Overanalyze, Uncaptured, Denâ€™s Legacy, Power Broker, Super Ninety Nine, Will Take Charge, Falling Sky, Flashback, Revolutionary and Palace Malice (all tied at 10 points)
This weekâ€™s scoring race is Saturdayâ€™s $400,000 Grade III Gotham at New Yorkâ€™s Aqueduct, which is expected to attract Overanalyze, who hails from the Mike Repole/Pletcher team that brought us Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty; unbeaten Vyjack, the only gelding among this yearâ€™s major players; and Honorable Dillon, who won the Hutcheson at Gulfstrearm Park. In the third race of the first leg of the Championship Series, a win in the Gotham is worth 50 points on the â€œRoadâ€ eligibility system.
The second of three pools of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager and the lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager pool of 2013 are also set for this weekend. Both the Derby and Oaks pools open on Friday, March 1 at noon (all times Eastern). The Derby pool closes on Sunday, March 3 at 6 p.m., and Oaks Future betting concludes 30 minutes later.
With the disappointing loss of Violence, hereâ€™s this weekâ€™s version of the personal Kentucky Derby 139 Top 10 at www.KentuckyDerby.com:
- Shanghai Bobby
- Super Ninety Nine
- Normandy Invasion
- Titletown Five
Super Ninety Nine makes the biggest jump after a romp in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.Â Thereâ€™s much to like about this improving son of the late sire Pulpit. And, with any luck, Titletown Five, co-owned by Louisville-born football icon Paul Hornung, will make his 2013 debut within the next few days at the Arkansas track. Heâ€™s been away since a sizzling win last fall at Churchill Downs, but has trained well for Lukas after time on the sidelines to recover from surgery to remove a bone chip.