I’ve written posts on the topic of top horses side stepping the “major” races for “lower” tier races at less familiar race tracks. In the title of this post I mention the word brilliant. Why? Let me explain.
Last year, I wrote about Bob Baffert sending Prayer for Relief to the Iowa Derby (G3), West Virginia Derby (G2) and the Super Derby (G2). He either knew his colt wasn’t as good as others near the top of the division such as Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Stay Thirsty, Ruler on Ice and others or he just didn’t want to take the chance. If an owner/trainer combination isn’t completely confident their horse won’t win or compete, why not head to other tracks that give out just as much in purse money and less competition. As I said, Brilliant!
Oh sure, it’s nice to say your horse won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational or Travers Stakes, but if you don’t win, does it really matter? Prayer for Relief reeled off three consecutive wins in the above races and accumulated $901,500 in the process. Have I mentioned the word brilliant!
As we’ve come to see since that Super Derby win last year, he wasn’t as good as others from the three year old division. He’s now gone 8 races without a win. He’s been on the board five of those eight races, but the point is he’s not a super star. In hind sight, the decision to run him at Prairie Meadows, Mountaineer Park and Louisiana Downs was perfect.
This year, it’s about two year old male champion Hansen. A front runner who excelled as a two year old going 5 1/2 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles but had some doubt injected into his chances as they progressed on the Derby trail. He lost while leading in the 1 1/8 miles Toyota Bluegrass Stakes (G1) as Dullahan came with a late push to pass the tiring pacesetter. Would they experience the same results in the 1 1/4 miles? Yes. He didn’t even get to the lead due to the intense fractions set by Bodemeister and yet still faded to 9th.
Upon conclusion of the Derby, they decided to bypass the 1 3/16 miles Preakness and of course the enduring 1 1/2 miles Belmont Stakes. In addition to the distance, they would avoid colliding with the top horses in the division. Owner Dr. Kendall Hansen (yes the horse is named after him) and trainer Michael Maker decided to enter the gray Tapit colt in the Iowa Derby. An easy win combined with $150,000 in purse money made the decision look brilliant.
Instead of thinking they could once again tackle the big guns in the $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational last week, they decided once again to bypass the mainstream race for the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (G2) on August 4. The race is also set for 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, like the Haskell. Except in this race he faces nine others who combined have just two graded stakes wins (no Grade 1). This could be part 2 of the “brilliant” decisions for the Hansen-Maker barn. Hansen finished 2nd in his only race at the 1 1/8 miles distance (Bluegrass) and that was on the Keeneland synthetic. He is certainly the favorite to take home his 4th career graded win.
The West Virginia Derby (G2) at Mountaineer Park is set for 5:45pm EST on August 4.