CAN A CALIFORNIA-BRED WIN THE KENTUCKY DERBY AGAIN?
Is it too early to start asking questions about the Kentucky Derby?… I think the answer is an emphatic “it’s never too early to ask about the Kentucky Derby”. A recent stakes race in the Golden State has caused a little head-scratching about the 145th Run for the Roses.
Run every year since 1875, the world’s most famous race has been dominated by horses born in the state of Kentucky. All-in-all, 110 Derby winners had their hooves hit the ground in the bluegrass state. Florida ranks as the next best with 6 and the hotbed for horseracing state of California has had only 4 natives wear the blanket of roses. So why are we asking this question now?
The December 16 King Glorious Stakes at Los Alamitos saw Galilean romp to a 9-length win. The Jerry Hollendorfer trained son of Uncle Mo made his second win in three career starts look awfully easy. The one-mile race restricted to California-breds has spurred these thoughts because the last left-coast born Derby champ also won this same race on his way to the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May. California Chrome took the 2013 edition as he began his incredible journey into the history books. Before Chrome, the California-born Derby champions had been Morvich in 1922, Swaps in 1955, and Decidedly in 1962.
Numbers tell us despite the favorable conditions for year-round running on the West Coast, California-bred horses just do not seem to be prominent on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Because inquiring minds want to know, we turn to a man that has played a role in half of the Cal-born Derby winners. Art Sherman was the exercise rider for Swaps and the trainer for California Chrome. Having been a part of the game in California for over six decades, the Brooklyn-born with over 2100 wins as a trainer knows a little something about getting to the winner’s circle.
“You have to win races to get to the Derby and these days the biggest obstacle in California is Bob Baffert,” jokes Sherman. “Bob always has some talented youngsters and he does such a great job of developing them into Derby horses. He usually has Kentucky-breds and always has them ready for the big ones.”
With the current Derby points system in place to determine the starters for the first Saturday in May, Sherman is on the money with his winning races thoughts. Obviously it is important to make the cut with enough qualifying points, but how you score is where the veteran trainer sees an emphasis.
“I think the path you take with a Cal-bred is the most important thing,” says Sherman. “When Chrome won the King Glorious that was the first time he really looked special. He won impressively, but before we ran him in open company we wanted to get him some more confidence so we ran in another restricted race in January (California Cup Derby). Getting your horse to the Kentucky Derby is about building momentum as the early part of the year unfolds. It takes some calculating and of course some luck too.”
Another factor Sherman cites is the strength of the Kentucky broodmare population. Kentucky is obviously home to many of the top farms in the game with many leading sires, but the number of outstanding moms is up there as well.
“There is no question about all the talented females that call Kentucky home,” says Sherman. “The broodmare crop is always very strong and the numbers are outstanding. It is hard to compete because the talent pool is so deep in Kentucky.”
As the last man to pull off a Cal-bred win in the Kentucky Derby, Sherman has seen it all work. Understanding that it is still five months until the first Saturday in May, it is far too early to stamp this year’s King Glorious winner as a California based contender.
“He looks like a really nice horse,” says Sherman of Galilean. “I told Jerry to take his time with him because I think he has a good colt in his hands. It is hard to compete with the Kentucky-breds, but he has the looks of one that might could get there.”
According to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Galilean will make his next start in a stakes race restricted to California-breds at Santa Anita in January which is the same path used by Sherman….hmmmmm.