If you’ve been waiting for the promising young horse, Departing, to make it back to the races, your wait is just about over.
When Al Stall watched Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred, Blame hold off the mighty, and previously undefeated, Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, it was the culmination of a long and patient road for the champion older male. The son of Arch was never rushed. Racing only twice as a juvenile, Blame did not make his stakes debut until August of his three-year-old season. By the end of that season he was defeating a full field of top older horses in the Clark Handicap. Even at four, Stall gave Blame time. He did not race until May, and by the time America’s richest race rolled around, he had not squeezed the lemon dry and had a horse ready to fire a huge shot. Three years later, Stall has another talented homebred for Claiborne and Dilschneider, and once again, he is in no hurry to push the talented gelding into too much, too soon.
A dominant winner of the Illinois Derby back in April, Departing could have been thrust into the Kentucky Derby a few weeks later, but it wasn’t going to happen with these connections. Rather, he was held out of the Louisville melee to be ready for his first big swing for the fences in the Preakness. Despite making a menacing move on the turn, Departing faded down the lane to lose a three-way photo for fourth to Orb and Goldencents. Running in racing’s middle jewel in only his sixth lifetime start may seem like asking a lot, but it made sense considering his impressive progression this spring. It also demonstrated how much Stall thought about his new stable star. Since then, the New Orleans native has taken a much more Blame like approach with Departing.
Freshened after the Preakness, Stall has given Departing a half-dozen foundation building workouts at Churchill Downs and Saratoga, and now feels that the son of War Front is fit, happy, and ready to return to the races. The occasion will be tomorrow’s $750,000 West Virginia Derby. Installed as the 5-2 co-second choice in the Grade 2 affair at Mountaineer Park, Departing will face eight other three-year-old males going nine furlongs. Among the ones to beat tomorrow include the Arkansas Derby winner, and 7-5 morning line favorite, Overanalyze, who represents the red-hot Todd Pletcher barn, and Betweenhereandcool, a narrow loser of the Iowa Derby in his most recent start.
While that pair is no easy pickings, if the horse I saw look so impressive in the Illinois Derby is indeed fresh and ready to flourish, they might all be running for second money. To be ridden for the first time by Robby Albarado, while regular rider, Brian Hernandez Jr., has pressing Fort Larned business in the Whitney, I consider Departing to be strictly the one to beat in the West Virginia Derby.
It would be a win that many might expect to set him up for the Travers. No, Al Stall will be taking a much more deliberate path back to the bigtime with Departing. After all, it worked out pretty well for Blame.