Photo: Coady Photography
And that’s why they run the race. Ignored at odds of 41-1, Danza made the most of his maiden opportunity around two-turns, and ran away with the $1 million Arkansas Derby by an impressive 4 3/4 lengths. In so doing, the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners owned son of Street Boss galloped his way into the 2014 Kentucky Derby picture.
Making only the fourth start of his life, and his second of 2014, Danza took advantage of his inside post position. He stalked the pace setting duo of favorite Bayern, and longshot, Thundergram, from the inside, in third, through fractions of :23.72 and :47.71. With veteran rider Jersey Joe Bravo giving him a heady ride, the chestnut sat comfortably until a seam opened up on the inside in the latter stages of the far turn. The inexperienced colt went for the hole along the rail like a pro, and struck the lead early in the stretch. As most eyes panned for one of several more highly regarded horses going in, it would be the longshot, on the rail, who had all the answers.
Striding out to the wire, Danza won the centerpiece of the Oaklawn Park meet with authority, and in style. His final time of 1:49.68 for the nine furlongs of the Arkansas Derby was solid, and by comparison, less than a fifth of a second slower than the top older horse, Will Take Charge, needed to complete the Oaklawn Handicap one race earlier on the card. Of the rest, only the experienced son of Curlin, Ride On Curlin had much punch at all, as he rallied well on the outside to get up for second.
The winning rider was understandable excited after the stunning win.
"That was a pretty great effort. It was textbook, just textbook," said Bravo. "Everything unfolded like a dream. That was pretty cool down the lane. It's really fun to have a special horse like that and have him run like that. I'm not a fortune teller, but hopefully, in a couple of weeks we can do that again. I'm crossing my fingers, he's my Derby horse. This is what dreams are made of."
While the performance of Danza was a revelation, the result marked a serious disappointment for the connections of a number of horses, including Bayern (3rd), Tapiture (4th), Conquest Titan (5th), Commissioner (6th), and Strong Mandate (8th). Of that bunch, only Tapiture has likely earned enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
With the big victory, Danza raised his lifetime record to 2 wins and 2 thirds out of 4 starts, for trainer Todd Pletcher. A first-out winner last summer at Belmont Park, Danza finished fast to be third in a three-horse photo in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in his next start. Off until the first of March, he returned to finish a well beaten third in a fast allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Suddenly he’s a grade 1 winner, and in with a shot in the Run for the Roses in three weeks time. Hold me closer, Tony Danza.