Saturday at JACK Thistledown Racing, one horse finally caught a much-needed break.
Core Beliefs broke awkwardly from the gate, bumping into O'Kratos from the 10-hole, then was forced to sit four-wide for much of the 1 1/8-mile Ohio Derby. The Peter Eurton-trained son of Quality Road's stride went from home run trot to a bases-clearing triple push down the stretch, rallying past the front of the pack and clipping Lone Sailor in a magnificent head bob finish.
“He's a tenacious horse, this one,” said jockey Joe Talamo after the race. “Definitely a fighter. Not much quit in him, and he showed that in this race, finishing the way that he did.”
From Eurton's vantage point, the California-based trainer thought he was on the back end of yet another bad beat for the 3-year-old.
“I didn't think we had it,” said an elated Eurton speaking with a small media scrum post-race.
“Upstairs, I'm watching it live and I thought I won. I get down and see the replay and I asked, 'Did I get by [Lone Sailor,] or what?'”
Cautious optimism is understandable when you travel the tough path of Core Beliefs.
The Santa Anita-based colt had a baptism by fire when jumping from a maiden win to facing Justify and Bolt d'Oro in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), in which he finished an understandable third, 9 1/2 lengths off the eventual Triple Crown winner.
"I'm trying to avoid him," Eurton said of Justify moving forward.
Core Beliefs then packed his bags and shipped to New York a month later to face a group of six in Belmont Park's Peter Pan (G1).
“That was just a tough race and a tough spot to be in from the beginning,” said Eurton, with Core Belief swallowed up in the stretch by previous graded stakes winner Blended Citizen.
“I thought I got beat with the draw, getting stuck in the 1 hole,” the trainer said, “and sure enough, he stumbled [out of the gate,] and they were on him all the way. It still looked like he was going to win it but he just lost his focus.”
Eurton noted that the effort in early May was “just to figure out what kind of horse he is.”
With just 10 races entered for Eurton trainees outside of Santa Anita — nine of those graded races — in 2018, Core Beliefs' supremacy on the outskirts of Cleveland proved Saturday this colt may have some next-level talent.
“It was all timing, and it turned out that the timing was really well for him to fit in this race,” said Eurton of shipping Core Beliefs eastward a second time. “To not come back two weeks ago in the Affirmed (at Santa Anita) was wise, because to ship, it would have only been four weeks. We had roughly six weeks before this race and, especially after a ship like that, you have to give them enough time.
"This was a tough one for this horse. The travel, the humidity and the race itself, it was a tough one and he proved himself capable out there."
Now, Eurton's figuring out what is next for the horse on the rise among the 3-year-old division.
“We know every single 3-year-old that there is, pretty much," he said. "We know what's available. From two weeks at the [Indiana Derby,] the [Los Alamitos Derby.] You got the Pennsylvania Derby, the Jim Dandy and the Haskell, the Travers. There's so many options out there right now.”
Eurton then began to discuss the West Virginia Derby. The early August race day at Mountaineer Park is “definitely one that he would fit in."
“Theoretically, we could make the Jim Dandy or the Haskell,” the trainer continued, “or bypass both of those and get to the West Virginia Derby.”
Eurton last went down that road in 2012 with Called to Serve. It's not an easy task getting a horse from Southern California to New Cumberland, WV.
“We went in the morning to Ontario — that's where we fly out of," he said. "We get there for two hours and wait for the plane to take off for Cincinnati, where that's a 10-hour flight. Pittsburgh would have been ideal, but the plane didn't do that. So, you're making the drive from Cincinnati to (New Cumberland), which is brutal. The race suits (Core Beliefs) quite well, but it's all about getting there.”
Whether it be West Virginia, Indiana or New York, the career earner of $585,360 has cut a path as a highlighter-worthy name to keep track of as the 3-year-old schedule heats up this summer.