Photo: Coady Photography
He’s the horse that stunned handicappers and fans in one of
the final 2014 Kentucky Derby preps of the season – the rare Todd Pletcher long shot that stole a
grade one event at odds of 41-1. But Danza will certainly not be overlooked on Saturday in the Run for the Roses.
Although still doubted by many, his utter brilliance and stunning physique will
keep a fair amount of attention on him as America’s signature race approaches.
Debuting at Belmont Park in July in a maiden special weight
going five and one-half furlongs, Danza pressed the leader under strong asking
from his rider, being ridden vigorously to remain in second. The chestnut took
a slight lead turning for home and after losing his advantage at the top of the
stretch, Danza spent the majority of his rally down the homestretch fighting to
regain the lead. With utter determination, he dug in within the final strides
to edge clear to win by ¾ of a length.
Making his graded stakes debut a month later in the six and one-half-furlong
Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II), Danza raced mid-pack off the rail as a
blazing pace was set by the leaders. Entering the homestretch, he suddenly altered
his path to rally along the rail, passing tiring rivals to finish a
Kept away from the races for nearly seven months, Danza made his three-year-old
debut in an allowance optional claiming event at Gulfstream Park on March 1. Going
seven furlongs, Danza sat just behind the leaders down the backstretch,
galloping a few paths off the rail as he settle into a position mid-pack. Surging on the outside around the far turn, Danza required strong urging from his rider
to keep up with his adversaries, falling behind and fanning out. Too tired to
keep up with the leaders, Danza finished third, beaten 7 ½ lengths.
While his sophomore debut resulted in a disappointing effort, perhaps the colt
simply needed to get a race in, as he would run the race of his life in his next
start, the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) on April 12. Sent off as the second longest
shot in a field of eight, Danza was facing not only the toughest test of his
life in terms of competition, but in distance, as he was extending to the
distance of a mile and one-eighth.
Breaking sharply from the rail, Danza showed good early speed before settling
to comfortable position behind the leaders. Remaining along the inside rail,
the chestnut colt remained a handful of lengths behind the pacesetters down the
backstretch before gaining ground on them nearing the far turn. As jockey Joe
Bravo encouraged the long shot, Danza initially appeared to be making no
progress around the bend, but as Bravo offered his mount stronger urging, the
colt found a new gear. Accelerating impressively, Danza shot through a spot on
the rail and never looked back from there, powerfully drawing away to a 4
While Danza’s sire, Street Boss, was a grade one-winning sprinter, he is a son of Street Cry, winner
of the 2002 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I, 10F). Street Cry is not only the sire of
2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr.
I, 10F), but he has also produced 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense,
Caulfield Stakes (AUS-I, 10F) winner Whobegotyou, Clasico Derby Nacional
(PER-I, 12F) winner Tomcito, Matriarch Stakes (AUS-II, 10F) winner Midnight
Martini, and AAMI Hobart Cup (AUS-I, 12F) winner Hurdy Gurdy Man.
Danza’s dam, Champagne Royal, won four stakes races and placed in a pair of graded
stakes. A winner of up to a mile and one-eighth, Champagne Royal is also the
dam of the Tokyo City Cup Stakes (gr. III, 12F). Champagne Royal is a daughter
of French Deputy, the sire of multiple group stakes-winning group stakes
winners, including Takarazuka Kinen (JPN-I, 11F) winner Eishin Deputy, Nikkei
Shinshun Hai (JPN-II, 12F) winner Meisho Beluga, and Long Island Handicap (gr.
II, 12F) winner Queue. French Deputy is a son of Deputy Minister, a major
stamina influence and the broodmare sire of the likes of the ten-furlong Grand
Prix de Tokyo winner Kane Hekili and Belmont Stakes (gr. I, 12F) winner Sarava.
Interestingly enough, Deputy Minister is the sire of Travers Stakes (gr. I,
10F) winner Will Take Charge’s broodmare sire, Dehere.
The dam of Champagne Royal, All Tanked Up, also produced a black-type winner –
He’s Hammered, who placed in the twelve-furlong Mac Diarmida Stakes – and an additional black-type-placed runner. All Tanked Up is a daughter of Preakness Stakes (gr.
II, 9.5F) winner Tank's Prospect. One of the more interesting aspects of Danza’s
female family is his fifth dam, the Reine de Course mare Brighton View. This
blue hen is also the fifth dam of Secretariat Stakes (gr. I, 10F) winner Paddy
O’Prado and the third dam of American Derby (gr. II, 10F) winner Olympio.
No one knows if Danza’s remarkable performance in the
Arkansas Derby was a fluke or not. He is clearly abounding with natural talent
and seems to be peaking at the right time, but is he truly as good as his
Arkansas Derby victory suggests? Furthermore, while his pedigree is not
overflowing with stamina, it is certainly sufficient and should provide him
with enough stamina to be successful at classic distances. With such a big
performance in his last start, the possibility of a bounce could also be a
concern. Danza has the makings off a top contender, but he is also an uncertain
prospect. He has made quite the impression since arriving at Churchill and if
we’ve learned anything from past editions of the Derby, horses that thrive at
Churchill should always be considered. Make of Danza what you will.