Stickney, IL--Virginia and Rudy Tarra certainly hope so. It’s not often that an Illinois-owned 3-year-old is mentioned among the elite sophomores in the game. It’s far rarer when that runner was foaled in Illinois. Why this might be is a matter of conjecture but, needless to say, four leaf clovers are abundant in comparison.

Rudy Tarra was kind enough to talk about Giant Oak, the Virginia H Tarra Trust, and the state of racing in Illinois. I get a chance to run in a prestigious race like the Illinois Derby, you have to be excited. I consider him to be the best horse that we have ever had. I just hope we can do well Saturday.

We own the mare, Crafty Oak. We bought her from the Calder 2-year-old in training sale. She’s really our foundation mare. She’s thrown out a lot of reasonable horses but Giant Oak is probably the best. He still has to prove it on Saturday. He’s had a couple of questionable races and many excuses can be made but until he goes out and proves himself, they are just excuses. He’s a big, strong colt that trains within himself. He’s a good feeling colt. He never gives you a problem.

“I take care of the breeding. I try to match the right stallions with the right mares but my wife is the head of the show. This is a tough business. With the way the economy is, with dwindling purses and such, sometimes it’s a blessing to just break even. But, we’ve done pretty well. We’ve had some reasonable horses over the years. Too many things can happen. Sometimes you spend money and breed the best and you don’t get anything. Sometimes you have a horse with a ton of potential and they get injured. You do have to get lucky to even get into this position. It takes money, it takes luck, and you have to be good on the right days. We’ve had three champions the last three years. Apple Martini, Linked to My Heart, and Giant Oak.

“This field came up with quite a few more horses that we thought would be here. That could work in our favor. Sometime s the size of the field will help. He’s a big, long striding horse and he likes to come from behind. The long stretch at Hawthorne will help but he does need an honest pace ahead of him and he’s more likely to get that if there are more horses. It’s hard to catch the lone speed.

“We have to see him pull away at the end to even consider sending him to Kentucky. He has to finish up strong. He might need to win the Illinois Derby to get the earnings he needs to even be eligible to enter that race.

“There are a lot of horses out there right now that aren’t in the limelight but that are sitting on big races. I think that he’s one of them. But, he still has to prove that he belongs.

“We’ve changed riders a couple of times but felt that the riders didn’t fit the horse. That wasn’t a knock against the riders. In last, James Graham just happened to catch a bad track. He said Giant Oak didn’t like the surface at all in the Louisiana Derby. That off track was something new to him. Shaun Bridgmohan will be riding this time. We just felt that Shaun would have a little stronger finish.”

Many have asked why Eusebio Razo wouldn’t be riding since this colt ran his eyeballs out the three times that Razo was in the irons. Was he given any consideration?

“If he didn’t already have a mount in this race, Chris (Block) would have probably put him up. We hadn’t made up our minds where Giant Oak would race next. It was only about a week ago that we decided to come here. Eddie’s (Razo) agent called Chris and told him that they already had a mount in the race. Eddie’s an outstanding person, from a great family, and a great rider. He might not have the experience in the big races as some of the riders but every one of them started someplace else. They just got the breaks sooner. There are a lot of great riders around that still ride in the second tier. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the ability. They just were never given the chance.

“Our whole family loves racing. Winning a race has to be the biggest high you can get. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $5,000 claimer or a stakes race, the feeling is incredible.

“We give Chris full rein. He’ll call us and give us the game plan and run it by us but we leave all the major decisions up to him. He’s a good person, a great trainer, and he gives you a fair shake. He’s treats us like royalty. Any of his owners will tell you the same thing. At least they should. He and his family have done a lot for Illinois racing.

“We have a lot of Illinois people rooting for us. We need all the help we can get. With the help of the Lord and a good safe trip, we’re going to have a good performance. We have the opportunity to do something for Illinois racing. Racing in this state has been on a spiral downward and a successful homebred might be able to give it a much-needed boost. It would be great if we could bring renewed interest back to the sport.