Drosselmeyer’s first foal and the retirement of Redeemed have many throughout the industry discussing speed versus stamina and the implications of both. With everything revolving around money, instant gratification becomes the norm. The problem with that, however, is that early winners who break their maidens in sprints often cannot carry their abilities into route races; therefore, winning past 8.5 furlongs often becomes more about which horse can survive rather than which horse truly wins. The true distance horse more often than not needs a little more time to develop, but with the need for instant returns, many owners and breeders do not have the time or money to put into a horse that is not going to return that investment until later in their career.
After reading and taking part in these discussions, I took the time to peruse the charts of the Gulfstream meet thus far, and I found several horses that needed a route of ground in order to win and did so early on, thus proving that it is possible to see instant returns on distance loving runners.
Northern Lion—This Mark Casse trained son of Lion Heart needed three tries to break his maiden, and in each start, Casse tested him at a longer distance. His debut came in a 6 furlong affair, and he finished third, 3 ¼ lengths behind the winner. In his second start, he finished 3 lengths behind that day’s winner when going 7 furlongs. The third try was the charm. Casse sent out his charge in a 8.5 furlong MSW in his third attempt at breaking his maiden, and Northern Lion absolutely dominated. He set all the pace and drew away to a 5 ½ length victory.
Gustavia—The chestnut daughter of Pulpit is a rare find these days. It took her four attempts to break her maiden, but that is only half the story. In her first three starts, trainer Chad Brown sent her out in 8.5 furlong contests. It was not until he stretched her out even more—9 furlongs—that she finally found the winner’s circle. Under Jose Lezcano, she closed from off the pace and drew away to a 1 ¾ length victory going 1 1/8 mile on the turf.
Private Ensign—A daughter of A. P. Indy, Private Ensign broke her maiden at second asking after being stretched out from 7 furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth. After pressing the pace through the opening stages of the race, Private Ensign took over at the top of the stretch and drew clear to a convincing 3 ½ length victory over an experienced field.
Play It Loud—A son of Unbridled’s Song, Play It Loud’s pedigree also holds A. P. Indy through his damsire Pulpit and Triple Crown winner Affirmed, the sire of his second dam. This nicely bred colt was an impressive first out winner not only over a route of ground but against a field that already had racing experience. Under John Velazquez, Play It Loud pressed the pace from second before taking over turning for home and drawing away to a 4 length victory in a one mile MSW on the turf.
Jadira—Another Casse trainee, Jadira debuted a winner in a one mile affair on the turf. Allowed to settle early, Jadira closed from off the pace to cruise home by a 1 ¾ lengths in a perfect twelve clip. Sent off as a 20-1 longshot, like Play It Loud, she also defeated an experienced field.
Eton Blue—This Nick Zito trained son of Giant’s Causeway was sent out in 6.5 furlong race in his first time out. After putting in a late run to fall less than a length short of winning, Zito sent his charge out in a one mile race next out. The extra distance paid off. Though he did not blow the field away, the added furlong and a half enabled Eton Blue to edge past his rivals late.
Majestic River—Another daughter of A. P. Indy, Majestic River raced in second through a quick first half. Coming out of the turn and into the stretch, she vied with the pacesetter for the lead before kicking clear and drawing away to a 2 ¼ length victory.
These seven 3-YO colts and fillies give me hope for the future of route racing. Winning in route races at such an early stage gives owners immediate returns and sets a good foundation for continuing to stretch out in subsequent races. Factor in the new Kentucky Derby points system which does not include races less than a mile long, and you can begin to see a positive trend in terms of emphasis on stamina rather than speed. The change in what it takes to qualify for the Kentucky Derby appears to have set in motion a change in some training tactics. Winning a high dollar sprint will no longer get a horse in the starting gate on the first Saturday of May. Now trainers are forced to stretch out their charges in order to accumulate points, meaning that though the Kentucky Derby will be the first time most see 10 furlongs, it will not be the first time any of them have to stretch out. Hopefully these changes will continue to create more emphasis on stamina and durability rather than simple speed so that we see more distance loving specialists like Drosselmeyer and Redeemed.