Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The Filly Factor
Los Angeles, February 10, 2009--The Kentucky Derby is not necessarily a beauty contest, not even when a filly takes on the colts at Churchill Downs. Winning Colors, the third and last filly to win the Derby, in 1988, was no looker. "She can really run," said Joyce Klein, the wife of the man who owned her. "I just wish she were a little prettier."
Stardom Bound is not as big as Winning Colors, few horses are, and not as quick on her feet, but she might be the next of her kind to try treading where only Gene Klein's filly, Genuine Risk (1980) and Regret (1915) have succeeded. After Stardom Bound's win at Santa Anita on February 7, her first as a 3-year-old and her fourth straight in a Grade I race, Michael Iavarone, the front man for the syndicate that owns her, sounded like someone who couldn't wait for May 2 to get here. There's a race at Churchill on May 1 as well, a trifle called the Kentucky Oaks, but a $5.7 million filly would seem to be more destined for a run at the gold ring.
Iavarone's IEAH Stables, which won the Derby last year with Big Brown, sent Stardom Bound to Bobby Frankel in California instead of their lead trainer, Rick Dutrow. But Dutrow, who is based in Florida and New York, is expected to take over Stardom Bound in time, probably before she runs at Churchill Downs. Frankel is in the Racing Hall of Fame. Not a bad horseman to have as a babysitter.
There were reports out of Frankel's barn after Stardom Bound's latest win that he might suggest that the filly stay within her own division for one more race, the Santa Anita Oaks on March 7. The Santa Anita Derby is on April 4. Winning Colors won both the Oaks and the Santa Anita Derby before her Kentucky Derby win.
Iavarone will not want for input before these decisions are made. Frankel and Dutrow, who are good friends, are not known for withholding opinions. However, it may be a horse, rather than a trainer, who determines Stardom Bound's first weekend in May. In January, IEAH bought a controlling interest in Patena, a promising 3-year-old colt now with Dutrow. If Patena pans out, he and Stardom Bound would give IEAH a salty back-to-back punch in both the Derby and the Oaks. There's not a horseman around who wouldn't salivate over the chance to win both baubles in the same year.
Unlike Winning Colors, that rarity who won the Derby on the front end, Stardom Bound is an off-the-pace type who came from the next county to win her final three races last year. That's a style not conducive to winning in 20-horse Derby fields. But unraced for more than three months, Stardom Bound was fresh in her most recent start, and closer to the front than when Christopher Paasch trained her for Cono. Students of time have scoffed over her ordinary clocking, and others point out that she will never have run over a dirt track by the time she gets to Louisville. The likely trainer switch from Frankel to Dutrow just before Kentucky might seem odd, but it usually takes a steamshovel to find fresh nuggets at the Derby. In 2002, War Emblem won the Illinois Derby for Bobby Springer in early April, and a few days later was sold and sent to a new trainer. Bob Baffert hardly knew the colt when he saddled him at Churchill Downs. Hollywood casting would have tapped Gary Cooper to play Springer, and hired Jerry Lewis to do Baffert. War Emblem didn't slow down for either one of them.