Nyquist last year became the eighth undefeated Kentucky Derby winner. Of the 142 Kentucky Derby winners, these are the eight who emerged from the Run for the Roses with an undefeated record:
1969 Majestic Prince
1977 Seattle Slew
2004 Smarty Jones
2008 Big Brown
Will there be another undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby this year? If it does occur, it will be a first. It’s never happened in back-to-back years. But the possibility of another undefeated Kentucky Derby winner this year most definitely does exist at this point inasmuch as there currently are four leading candidates for the 1 1/4-mile classic who have yet to taste defeat. Listed alphabetically, they are Irish War Cry, Mastery, McCraken and One Liner. These four 3-year-olds occupy the top four spots on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week:
- Irish War Cry
- One Liner
- El Areeb
- American Anthem
- Classic Empire
- Mo Town
Irish War Cry is three for three. The Curlin colt won the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4 for trainer Graham Motion.
McCracken is four for four. The Ghostzapper colt won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11 for trainer Ian Wilkes.
Mastery is three for three. The Candy Ride colt won the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 10 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
One Liner is three for three. The Into Mischief colt won the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Monday for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Fourth early in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest after breaking from post 10 in the field of 12, One Liner took the lead soon after passing the eighth pole. He then kicked clear in the final sixteenth to win by 3 1/2 lengths in a crisp 1:41.85. Petrov finished second, while Look At Lee came in third, 11 3/4 lengths behind One Liner. Uncontested, the early leader and the favorite at a little over even money, ended up sixth.
Ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez and trained by Todd Pletcher, One Liner was racing around two turns for the first time in the Southwest. He won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race when unveiled at Saratoga last July 23, then won a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race by 2 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream on Jan. 26 in his initial 2017 appearance under silks.
One Liner was assigned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his Southwest triumph. Suddenbreakingnews recorded a 93 Beyer when he won last year’s Southwest. He later would finish fifth in the Kentucky Derby (96 Beyer).
In the American Racing Manual, Beyer Speed Figures for the Southwest go back to 1992. Smarty Jones posted a 95 Beyer when victorious in the 2004 Southwest. He subsequently won the Rebel Stakes (108 Beyer), Arkansas Derby (107), Kentucky Derby (107) and Preakness (118) before finishing second in the Belmont (100) in what would be the lone defeat in his nine-race career.
The top Beyer Speed Figure in the Southwest going back to 1992 was Big Spur’s 111 in 1992. Finishing third in the 1992 Southwest was Lil E. Tee, who would go on to win the Kentucky Derby in which he recorded a 107 Beyer.
CLASSIC EMPIRE’S FOOT PROBLEM LINGERS
I have moved Eclipse Award winner Classic Empire from No. 5 last week to No. 9 this week because the problem with his right front foot has persisted. A possible start by the Pioneerof the Nile colt in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 4 now has been ruled out due to the foot issue.
Classic Empire finished a well-beaten third as a 1-2 favorite for trainer Mark Casse in Gulfstream’s Grade II Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 4 in his 2017 debut. Less than 48 hours after Classic Empire’s disappointing Holy Bull performance, he popped an abscess in his right front foot.
Immediately after the Holy Bull, Casse said Classic Empire’s next race would not be at Gulfstream, which meant no Fountain of Youth. But after Classic Empire resumed galloping at the Palm Meadows training center, Casse became so optimistic about the colt’s situation that it was tentatively planned to run him in the March 4 Fountain of Youth.
However, Casse then made it known last Sunday that Classic Empire definitely would not be running in the Fountain of Youth after all, though the trainer did add that any subsequent prep race for the Kentucky Derby does remain possible.
A workout this week that had been planned for Classic Empire on Monday was scrapped because of the foot problem.
“He’s not going to miss any training,” Casse was quoted as saying in a Daily Racing Form story posted Monday by Marty McGee. “I just want the foot to heal a little better. Making the Fountain of Youth isn’t that important to us. We still have plenty of time and we want to do the right thing by the horse. We plan to give him another week of galloping and reassess things from there.”
The abscess “still has a touch of drainage,” Casse added.
“We tub it and ice him – everything we’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
But the way I see it, any hiccup like this for Classic Empire with March looming is cause for concern vis-à-vis the Kentucky Derby.
A HALL OF FAME PLEA
This coming Monday will be Rags to Riches’ birthday. She was born in Kentucky on Feb. 27, 2004.
Because Rags to Riches was the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years, a compelling case can be made that she should be in the Hall of Fame. That she has not yet even been put on the ballot for Hall of Fame voters to consider is beyond ridiculous.
Will this be the year that Rags to Riches’ name finally appears on the Hall of Fame ballot? I, for one, certainly hope so.
Rags to Riches first became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013. But she was absent from the ballot that year. She also was not on the ballot in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Soon we will find out if Rags to Riches is on the ballot in 2017.
Hall of Fame voters recently were asked to submit up to four suggestions (any combination of horses, jockeys and trainers) to the Nominating Committee for consideration to be placed on the ballot. This was the first step in the 2017 Hall of Fame election process.
Last year’s finalists who were not elected to the Hall of Fame -- horses English Channel and Kona Gold; jockeys Victor Espinoza, Garrett Gomez and Craig Perret; and trainer David Whitely -- are automatically presented to the Nominating Committee for consideration.
The qualifications for eligibility are as follows:
--Thoroughbreds must have made at least one start in North America and have to be retired for five calendar years. (This has not always been the case. Secretariat, for instance, was retired from racing in 1973. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.)
--Jockeys are required to be licensed in North America for 20 years.
--Trainers are required to be licensed in North America for 25 years.
Owned by Michael Tabor and Derek Smith and trained by Todd Pletcher, Rags to Riches is one of only three fillies to have won the Belmont Stakes. The other two were Ruthless and Tanya. Ruthless won the inaugural Belmont at 1 5/8 miles in 1867. Tanya took the Belmont at 1 1/4 miles in 1905.
Not only did Rags to Riches win the 2007 Belmont, her performance was even more remarkable when you consider she stumbled at the start. Displaying tremendous heart, Rags to Riches prevailed by a head over no less an adversary than Curlin, who would go on to be voted Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008. Rags to Riches was voted a 2007 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
Curlin was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Genuine Risk and Winning Colors, like Rags to Riches, won a Triple Crown race and are both in the Hall of Fame, as they should be. Genuine Risk won the 1980 Kentucky Derby. Winning Colors captured the Run for the Roses in 1988.
Rags to Riches is not in the Hall of Fame even though she won more Grade I races (four) than both Genuine Risk (two) and Winning Colors (three).
Come on, Nominating Committee. It is time to finally put Rags to Riches on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. She richly deserves it.
REMEMBERING ROYAL DELTA AND CHARISMATIC
Royal Delta, who earlier this month died in Ireland at the age of 9 due to foaling complications, received a total of three Eclipse Awards during her racing career. She was voted champion 3-year-old filly in 2011, plus champion older female in both 2012 and 2013.
Royal Delta was a daughter of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess. A.P. Indy, winner of both the Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1992 when voted Horse of the Year, is the sire of Rags to Riches.
Owned by Besilu Stables, Royal Delta won 12 of 22 career starts. Hall of Famer Bill Mott trained the earner of $4,811,126.
Last Saturday at Gulfstream Park, memories of Royal Delta certainly were rekindled.
One of the races on last Saturday’s Gulfstream card was the Grade II Royal Delta Stakes, which was won by Curlin’s Approval, a daughter of the aforementioned Curlin. Gulfstream in 2015 renamed the Sabin Stakes in honor of Royal Delta. Royal Delta had won the Sabin in 2013.
Additionally, in the final race at Gulfstream last Saturday, Stronach Stables’ Delta Prince, a half-brother to Royal Delta, won a one-mile allowance affair on the turf by a neck as the 6-5 favorite.
Delta Prince, a son of Street Cry (sire of the great Zenyatta, who won 19 of 20 career starts and the 2010 Horse of the Year title), now is two for four. After losing his first two starts when racing on the dirt, he has won two in a row on the turf.
Jimmy Jerkens conditions Delta Prince. Jerkens’ late father will forever be remember for twice beating Secretariat in 1973. Allen Jerkens was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975, two years after upsetting Secretariat with Onion in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga and with Prove Out in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont.
Meanwhile, 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic died last weekend at the age of 21 at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Kentucky. Michael Blowen, president of Old Friends, announced Charismatic’s death Sunday.
“Right now, everyone [at Old Friends] is pretty much inconsolable,” Blowen said in a press release.
According to Blowen, Charismatic was fine Saturday night, but then was found dead early Sunday morning.
“He was a really tough horse and he deserved a much longer retirement,” Blowen said. “But none of us, unfortunately, has a magic wand. Everyone at Old Friends takes solace from the few great months that this great champion gave us.”
In a Bloodhorse Daily story Tuesday written by Erin Shea, Dr. Bryan Waldridge was quoted as saying “this was a sudden, catastrophic injury in his own stall.” Waldridge “stressed the level of care that Old Friends takes to ensure the health of the animals.”
A follow-up press release issued Tuesday by Old Friends had this statement from veterinarians Waldridge and Dr. Rhodes P. Bell:
“A necropsy performed at the University of Kentucky University Diagnostic Laboratory revealed that Charismatic suffered a severe catastrophic fracture of his pelvis that resulted in fatal bleeding. Pelvic fractures will in some cases also lacerate the large arteries of the pelvis and cause severe internal bleeding. Fatal pelvic fractures are uncommon and usually unforeseeable. It is not possible to know exactly how the injury happened or any factors.”
Charismatic, a son of 1990 Preakness Stakes winner Summer Squall, lost his first five races before he won a maiden $62,500 claiming contest at the 1998 Hollywood Park fall meet. He then lost seven of his next eight starts, with his only victory during that sequence coming in a $62,500 claiming race in 1999 at Santa Anta when he was elevated to first through disqualification on Feb. 11.
After winning only two of his first 13 starts, all in California, Charismatic was sent to Kentucky. Showing dramatic improvement after leaving the Golden State, he won the Lexington Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths at the Keeneland spring meet.
Prior to the Lexington, Charismatic had never recorded a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 95. He was assigned a 108 Beyer for his Lexington victory.
Just 13 days after the Lexington, Charismatic won the 1999 Kentucky Derby by a neck in a 31-1 upset while recording another 108 Beyer Speed Figure. Two weeks after he won the roses, Charismatic ran in the Preakness.
Unlike many, I did not believe Charismatic’s Kentucky Derby win was a fluke. I loved him in the Preakness (and wagered accordingly). I would not have been so bullish on Charismatic in the Preakness if the Kentucky Derby had been his first race in which he had earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure. But because he had recorded a 108 Beyer in the Lexington AND Kentucky Derby, I concluded that Charismatic had become a vastly improved colt after leaving California.
Charismatic got the job done in the Preakness by 1 1/2 lengths, paying $18.80 for a $2 win ticket. To illustrate how little Charistmatic was respected, it was the highest $2 win payoff in Preakness history by a Kentucky Derby winner.
Following Charismatic’s victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he was sent off as an 8-5 favorite to complete a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont. When he took the lead coming into the stretch, it appeared Charismatic might well be on his way to Triple Crown glory. But unfortunately he came home on only three good legs. He went lame toward the end of the race, finishing third behind Lemon Drop Kid and Vision and Verse.
Shortly after the finish, Charismatic was pulled up by jockey Chris Antley. Antley immediately hopped off and held up the colt’s injured left front leg to keep it from becoming even more damaged. Many believed Antley’s actions probably saved Charismatic’s life, enabling the colt to go on to a career at stud even though he had sustained a displaced lateral condylar fracture and a fracture sesamoid in the ankle joint, according to Richard Sowers in his book, “The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes: A Comprehensive History.”
Throughout Charismatic’s racing career, he was owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis and trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Victorious in five of 17 lifetime starts while amassing earnings of $2,038,064, Charismatic was voted 1999 Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male.
Charismatic began his stud career in 2000 at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky. He stood there for three seasons before being relocated to Japan in 2002. After Charismatic returned to the U.S. from the JBBA Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan on Dec. 3, he was pensioned at Old Friends in Kentucky.
I, like so many others, was saddened by the news of Charismatic’s death. He will always hold a special place in my heart for rewarding my faith in him to win the 1999 Preakness at a delicious 8-1.