Finnick the Fierce, a one-eyed horse that already has overcome plenty to race at the Grade 1 level, is expected to bypass the Belmont Stakes and target the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) in a bid to earn more Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
The gelded son of Dialed In, who had his right eye removed due to a congenital cataract, ranks 20th on the Churchill Downs leaderboard with a significant number of prep races still to come due to the pandemic.
Co-owners Rey Hernandez, the trainer, and Dr. Arnaldo Monge, a veterinarian with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, cited the unusual nature of this year’s re-scheduled Belmont and the desire to avoid again shipping the well-traveled 3-year-old in pointing toward Blue Grass.
“It’s only one turn,” Hernandez said of the Belmont. “I really like my horse going two turns.”
The Belmont, normally contested at a mile and a half as the final leg of the Triple Crown, and Blue Grass are both set for a mile and an eighth. But the massiveness of the Belmont Park oval leads it to be a one-turn race there compared to Keeneland Race Course
Finnick the Fierce, a resolute third behind Nadal and King Guillermo in the second and stiffer division of the May 2 Arkansas Derby in his first Grade 1 try, uses the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington as his home base.
“He’s really improving. The last race was a big race. I think he’ll run a really good race next time,” Hernandez said. “The two in front of me look like really nice 3-year-olds. I was really happy with third place.”
The youngster’s last two races have been impressive because he and jockey Martin Garcia drew the rail both times, depriving the horse of the opportunity to see what is happening outside of him. While that lack of sight clearly troubled him as he craned his head in earlier races, he trusted in Garcia and focused primarily on making his usual late charge.
In his start before the Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park stewards elevated Finnick the Fierce to victory in an allowance optional claiming race when the first-place finisher was found guilty of interference. The courageous gelding's 2-year-old campaign was highlighted by a second-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.
The pandemic has forced Finnick the Fierce to become a road warrior this season. He opened his campaign with two races at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, drawaing the rail and taing fourth in the Jan. 18 Lecomte Stakes (G3) before breaking from post nine and finishing a distant seventh in a field of 12 in the Feb. 15 Risen Star Stakes (G2).
Hernandez cited all of the travel as another reason to skip the Belmont, even if it is the opening leg of this year’s Triple Crown.
“It’s a long year and he’s been running pretty hard,” the trainer said. “A little more time would definitely be better for us.”
Garcia, who played an integral role in helping Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert develop top 3-year-olds, has advised the connections to take their time with Finnick the Fierce, telling them the April 22 foal is still learning the game. The Blue Grass will award Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
Dr. Monge is impressed by the strides the sophomore is making.
“There are special horses out there,” he said, “and if you handle them the right way, they will come through. Despite the cataract, Dr. Monge was impressed by the foal when he examined him hours after his birth.
The horse’s progress is not lost on others. Hernandez and Monge said they and their wives decided to reject a significant offer ahead of the Arkansas Derby.
“We’ve been around the horse since he was a baby," Hernandez said. "He’s part of the family."