Trainer Tim Martin’s plan for Tuesday was to load up a van with five of his horses and make the 10-hour drive from Prairie Meadows to Keeneland. It’s a drive he made on Sunday, too, with another five horses.
But Tuesday’s van carried a horse unlike any that Martin has trained in his 30-plus years of training: a Breeders’ Cup contender. That would be Tyler’s Tribe, the undefeated 2-year-old whom he and Tom Lepic bought for $34,000 last year, and who likely is headed for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Five starts, five wins for Tyler’s Tribe, all at Prairie Meadows. He won his first start by 16 3/4 lengths, and his winning margin averages about 12 lengths.
Iowa-bred colts and Iowa racing might not be the most prestigious in the land, but Martin pointed out that in his second start, the July 9 Prairie Gold Juvenile Stakes, Tyler’s Tribe beat the odds-on favorite, Top Recruit, by 12 lengths. Top Recruit then beat Curly Jack in the Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes. And Curly Jack just picked up Kentucky Derby qualifying points with a win in the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs.
Tyler's Tribe holds four spots on Daily Racing Form’s Beyer Speed Figure leaderboard, topping out with a 94 for the Prairie Meadows Freshman Stakes in August, and he’s tied with Cave Rock and Speed Boat Beach for the highest TimeformUS Speed figures for 2-year-olds this year at 120.
The back story
Lepic is a Quarter Horse guy: president of the Iowa Quarter Horse Racing Association, two American Quarter Horse Association champions, including a three-time champion. Tyler’s Tribe is the only Thoroughbred he owns who is currently in training, although he and Martin bought a yearling this year.
It was Lepic who spotted the horse who is now Tyler’s Tribe.
“I was just sitting in my living room one night, knew the Thoroughbred sale was coming up. And I knew all the horses were online, so I thought I'd just kill some time and look at it. And when I saw who is now Tyler's Tribe, I went over to my wife and I said, Oh, my God, this is the best looking Thoroughbred I've ever seen.”
Lepic also chose the colt’s name after his 8-year-old grandson, who is fighting leukemia.
“The day after we bought him, I was trying to think of a name, and our grandson's named Tyler. And his Facebook following is Tyler's Tribe, through all of the things that are going on with him to the children's hospitals at University of Iowa, and he's got a big following. And I thought, what a great name.”
Tyler is doing well, Lepic said. “When we bought the horse, he had had a lot of ups and downs. And, and since then, he's had a few also, but this past Wednesday, he had his last major hospital visit. … But everything went great. And they took out his port. And then one more month of oral medications. And hopefully that goes fantastic. And he'll be 100 percent sound and hopefully we'll never have to go back to the hospital for that purpose again.”
‘Who’d ever dream?’
Martin finished third in the trainer's standings for the Prairie Meadows meet that ended Sunday, with 34 wins from 197 starts and a 53 percent in-the-money rate. He’s having the best earnings year of his 37-year career, at $1.5 million and counting.
And he knows Tyler’s Tribe is not a typical horse for his barn.
“Who’d ever dream? You get out and buy an Iowa-bred for $34,000 that would turn out like this.”
One fact that might raise eyebrows: Martin had him castrated early on.
“I don’t like studs around,” he said. “They always get hurt or are trying to hurt something. … A lot of people ridicule me about it. I’m like, hey, I've been in this business for 30 years or 40. And I never had another horse like this, so what's my chances?”
Tyler’s Tribe is nominated for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles as well as the Juvenile Turf Sprint 5 1/2 furlongs. All of his races and works so far have been on dirt.
Martin likes his chances on turf better than stretching out against horses who already have gone long.
“I didn't get to run him a mile or anything – I wanted to – because we wanted to stay right here” at Prairie Meadows.
Also, Martin said, Tyler’s Tribe’s sire, Sharp Azteca, won $2.4 million and was “really good on the turf. And he's got some siblings who are running good on the turf.”
So turf it is. Most likely. But first, Martin plans to breeze him on turf at Keeneland.
“I think if he likes the turf, he's going to be dangerous, because he's fast. I mean, he goes in the last few races in 21, 44. And that's in a gallop, and then he draws off. So if he likes the turf, he's really going to be tough.”
Another factor that Martin considers to be in his favor is Tyler Tribe’s regular rider, Kylee Jordan, who started her jockey career last year and won the jockey title at Prairie Meadows with 81 wins from 402 starts, edging veteran rider Alex Birzer (winner the last two years) by four wins.
“She's rode that horse good, sets gently on him,” Martin says of Jordan and Tyler’s Tribe. “She’s just kind of a natural … She rode him every time and rode a perfect race.”
As for Tyler’s Tribe himself, “he’s not an idiot,” Martin said.
“You can walk this horse out of his stall and stop and start talking to somebody, and he’ll just stand there for however long he wants to. He’s just so laid back, and he’ll love on you. And he’s smart. He'd make a good pony. He's so laid back and so calm.”
But his best quality, of course, is his speed. Remember, five races and a total winning margin of 59 3/4 lengths.
“Every time when a horse tries to go with him, they just don't last. And he's galloping. He's not even run yet. The announcer said the other day, he's cantering. The rider, every time, said I got a lot of horse. I don't know how fast this horse is. So that's kind of where we're at on it. I think he'll be one of the top horses for the Breeders’ Cup.”