Saturday, March 28, 2009

‘Giant’ Question Mark

Will he or won’t he?

That’s the question circulating around the Chicago racing community regarding Giant Oak, the Illinois-bred chestnut colt, who might make his next start in the $500,000 Grade 2 Illinois Derby, on Saturday April 4. Might? What gives?

“We’re gonna enter him on Monday,” said Chris Block, Giant Oak’s locally-based trainer. “After that, several factors will determine whether to run him here or in the Bluegrass.”

First, a little bit about the horse: Giant Oak began the year firmly on the Triple Crown trail by virtue of a narrow defeat as a 2-year-old in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. That was Giant Oak’s first start on dirt, and had the connections thinking about the Kentucky Derby all winter.

The powerful looking son of Giant’s Causeway has since returned as a 3-year-old only to run fifth and fourth in the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby, both at the Fair Grounds. Most racing observers will point out that Giant Oak never really had much chance in either race due to either traffic troubles (Risen Star) or slop (Louisiana Derby). His trainer feels the same way.

“He had a horrible trip in the Risen Star and then the race track just kept deteriorating more and more in the Louisiana Derby. You can just kind of tell that the horse just didn’t appear to be handling the track. We weren’t gonna beat Friesan Fire even with our best race, but I think he could have been second if he handled the slop or had a little more pace to run at.”

Slop, huh. So that seems to suggest that the weather will also play a role in whether Giant Oak stays home.

“Yep, the weather will play a major role. If it rains, I can tell you we won’t run…for sure. But hey I’m at Hawthorne Race Course and to be honest with you I want to run here. The Illinois Derby is probably coming up a race that we figure he’ll be one of the top couple choices. I think in the Bluegrass he’ll probably be about the fifth choice.

“We’re still not sure what kind of horse he is on the dirt. We’d like to see if he is legitimate on the dirt so we can kind of plan things out for the summer and the fall. And heck, this is a Grade 2 $500,000 race; who wouldn’t want to run in it?

Let’s take the leap of faith and assume Giant Oak runs in the Illinois Derby? What, Mr. Block, will it take to run in Kentucky?

“I think this horse hasn’t done enough for me, not his fault, to warrant going to Churchill in May. I think he has to do something really spectacular next weekend to even think about it, and I also think some things have to change as far as the competition to even consider going to the Kentucky Derby.

“Right now our main focus is the Illinois Derby, and we’d love to win that. I can tell you this much; I’ve lost no confidence in the horse, whatsoever. He’s doing very well and we’ll just see where we are after the entries are drawn”

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