Finnick the Fierce has his good eye on the 2020 Kentucky Derby

By Tom Pedulla/Special to HRN
January 14, 2020 03:00pm
Finnick the Fierce has his good eye on the 2020 Kentucky Derby
Photo: Coady Photography

When Dr. Arnaldo Monge was called to examine a Kentucky-bred foal a few hours after it entered the world, he was excited by its unusually robust appearance. Then, upon closer inspection, he was dismayed.

The youngster that would be named Finnick the Fierce had a congenital cataract in his right eye, a condition Monge knew would be costly and problematic. It became so difficult to treat that the eye was ultimately surgically removed to relieve the horse of constant discomfort.

Still, Monge was so convinced of the sturdy prospect’s potential that he purchased the son of Dialed In for $3,000 from breeder Paige Jillian Gilster of Blu Sky Stables while also agreeing to house the mare, Southern Classic, at his Nicholasville, Ky., farm for a year while providing veterinary care.

Trainer Rey Hernandez also bought into Finnick the Fierce, becoming an equal partner with Monge and his wife, Thena. And now they suddenly find themselves on the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail.

The one-eyed gelding is poised to make his 3-year-old debut in the Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds after earning his first Derby points with a second-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G3) on Nov. 30 at Churchill Downs.

Monge, a veterinarian for 30 years who is part of the team at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, is grateful he listened to his instincts.

“There is something about the look of a horse. I think it’s in the eye,” he said. “In the good eye -- Finnick had a good eye.”

Finnick the Fierce has shown ability in all three of his starts while providing a quick return on investment with $82,890 in earnings. He made an auspicious debut last June 14, winning by a length and a quarter at five furlongs at Indiana Grand.

He ran out of ground in finishing fourth in a 6 ½-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs last Nov. 9, leading to a major decision for the connections. Should they play it safe by entering him in an allowance contest or go with their conviction that he would shine at a greater distance in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club?

“We took a shot,” Hernandez said, “and he ran a big race.”

Finnick the Fierce possesses a strong closing kick and responded to jockey Sonny Leon’s cue by launching a five-wide rally to be second, three-quarters of a length behind Silver Prospector. He finished a head in front of bottled-up Tiz the Law, winner of the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.

(Finnick the Fierce as a foal in Kentucky. Courtesy of  Dr. Arnaldo Monge.)
In addition to his desire for distance, Finnick the Fierce has shown a willingness to rate. Both qualities would be of immense value if he is good enough to remain on the Road to the Derby.

“He’s been a very smart horse from Day One. He’s a nice horse to get along with,” said Hernandez, a former jockey who conditions approximately 35 horses at the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington.

Finnick the Fierce has been kept outside in his races to help him feel at ease despite the absence of his right eye. Still, he can be seen straining to get a glimpse of the action around him.

“I think it could be a little issue that will always bother him because he always wants to see with his good eye,” Hernandez said. “I think he tries to see with his left eye what is going on outside.”

The Lecomte should be a major test of Finnick’s ferocity. He and Leon drew the rail in a bulky field of 14 that includes well-regarded Scabbard, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and other promising sophomores.

Monge is careful not to look too far down the road, understanding the treacherous path that leads to the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. Of course, just three years ago Patch overcome his own ailment to reach the Kentucky Derby while lacking a left eye. He, too, prepped at Fair Grounds.

“We try not to get our hopes too high because anything can happen in this business,” he said. “We’ll keep it low key and, if God wants to give us that opportunity, that’s great.”

Hernandez is in his fourth full season as a trainer. He hopes Finnick will provide him with his first graded stakes victory, whether or not that comes in a Derby prep.

“I live in the moment,” he said, “and will go whichever way he takes us.”

The certainty is that Monge and Hernandez did well by continuing to believe in a horse it was easy to lose faith in.

2020 Lecomte (G3)


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