Desormeaux's Derby horse doesn't do daintys - HORSE RACING, – On April 21, 1951, Counterpoint, who began the year as a maiden, finished second in the Ben Ali Handicap. Five days later he was fourth in the Blue Grass, then, on May 5, he finished 11th of 20 in the Kentucky Derby. Things got better, and by the end of the season he was Horse of the Year.
In a 19-day period between April 13 and May 2, 1942, Alsab, the reigning 2-year-old champ, finished second in the Chesapeake Trial, second in the Chesapeake Stakes, third in the Derby Trial, and second in the Kentucky Derby. One week later he won the Preakness.
The above notations were not lifted from back issues of “Prehistoric Times.” Such animals actually existed in American racing history, although their remembrance today seems more like the stuff of fairy tales, when the final weeks before the Kentucky Derby were filled with last-minute preps that whetted the appetite for the big dance on the first Saturday in May.
Now, three weeks out, the deal is sealed, the field is set, and only the rare training injury has any impact on the final Derby cast. Threshold races like the Forerunner, the Stepping Stone, the Derby Trial, the Wood Memorial, and the Blue Grass have been either shifted on the calendar, minimized, or eliminated.
The Saturday two weeks out from the Derby once belonged heart and soul to New York’s Wood. Hill Prince, Native Dancer, Nashua, Carry Back, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Bold Forbes, Foolish Pleasure, Genuine Risk, Pleasant Colony, and Easy Goer all used the Wood to get to the Derby.
The modern era has reduced the third Saturday in April to a ghost town. Derby hopefuls are still bubble-wrapped from earlier qualifying races, their people afraid to make eye contact lest they break the spell. Just like that, a 2015 U.S. foal crop of 21,421 has been reduced to the 20 primed to run at Churchill Downs on May 5.
The last of the 20 is My Boy Jack, a son of Creative Cause who landed solidly in the Derby field with a Hail Mary win in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland last Saturday. His victory, by a head over the up-and-coming Telekinesis, puts trainer Keith Desormeaux in his third consecutive Derby, with hopes of improving the second-place finish of Exaggerator in 2016.
My Boy Jack, a stakes winner on grass at 2, won the Southwest Stakes in February and finished a close third in the subsequent Louisiana Derby. The Kentucky Derby will be his 10th start, more than anything else in the likely field.
By modern standards, such a record could be grounds for animal cruelty. Ten starts has become a career. A colleague even has floated the very real possibility of an all-Apollo Derby exacta, if Justify and Magnum Moon can defy history’s edict that 2-year-old racing is required to win America’s most famous horse race.
“We’re certainly the antithesis of that,” Desormeaux said with a laugh.
Still, 10 starts for My Boy Jack over a span of 11 months is hardly squeezing the lemon dry. Round Table made his 18th start in the Kentucky Derby, Sword Dancer his 19th. Carry Back came to the Derby with 28 starts to his name. Alsab had 29. The Hall of Fame would be less without them.
The only qualm suffered by Desormeaux is the idea of running back in a tough race three weeks after a tough race.
“I’m not a 45, 60 days between races kind of guy,” he said. “I like to run ’em. I use races to build fitness. This isn’t exactly what I’d like to have in a perfect world, though. But I put that feeling aside as long as he’s come back in good shape. Good appetite, good vigor, nice and sound. Why can’t I look at the Lexington as a building block? Besides, none of these dudes have seen mile and a quarter. And guess what? I’ll have the fittest horse.”
Desormeaux, who is based in California, has assistant Julie Clark handling My Boy Jack in Kentucky.
“He’ll get a couple of weeks of light work, keeping him limber and happy,” Desormeaux said. “Maybe we’ll get him a nice massage, and a nice breeze over the track at Churchill.”
There are just enough parallels between Exaggerator, winner of the 2016 Preakness, and My Boy Jack. The man on board, Kent Desormeaux, is the trainer’s Hall of Fame brother, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby. Exaggerator had nine starts going into the Derby. And they have similar finishing styles.
“It seems like most of my horses run that way,” Desormeaux said. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I can sure take the speed out of one. But, yes, he’s very much Exaggerator-esque.
“I’m like everybody else. I’ve seen the Mendelssohns, the Justifys, the Magnum Moons, and their huge, awesome performances. I’m impressed myself, and I have to accept that those horses are outstanding.
“The factor that keeps us optimistic is that all those horses seem to have one way of going,” Desormeaux said. “We’ll see if they can take back, because if they try to go to the lead and go around there in forty-five, forty-six, I don’t care if they’re the next coming of Secretariat. If their speedy ways continue, My Boy Jack will eat ’em up.”