Storm the Court's turf debut to determine which Derby is next

Storm the Court's turf debut to determine which Derby is next
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

One way or another, Storm The Court is going to wind up in a derby during Labor Day weekend. But which one?

“No idea,” his trainer Peter Eurton said. “One race at a time. One. Race. At. A. Time.”

The one that is on Eurton’s mind right now will be Storm The Court’s first on the turf. Last year’s juvenile champion will carry top weight Sunday at Del Mar in the La Jolla Handicap (G3).

If Storm The Court’s next stop is either the Del Mar Derby (G2) on the turf or the Kentucky Derby on the dirt, this weekend’s $150,000 race is his fork in the road.

“It’s here, it’s on turf, and I wanted to try him on the grass,” Eurton said by telephone Tuesday morning from Del Mar. “
His daddy was a Breeders’ Cup champion on the turf.

He was referring to Court Vision’s 64-1 upset of Goldikova in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs. After that came a stud career and, six years ago, Storm The Court.

For that reason, Eurton always has thought that his 3-year-old colt, ridden regularly by leading California rider Flavien Prat, would do well on turf. But a funny thing happened on the way to the grass. Storm The Court broke his maiden almost exactly a year ago on the main track at Del Mar. A month and a half later, he finished third in the American Pharoah (G1). Then he carved out his signature win at 45-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, putting him over the top to win the Eclipse Award as 2019’s best 2-year-old male.

“It’s hard to go backward and say what you would have done,” Eurton said. “
If he wasn’t very good on dirt or training very good on dirt, you’re obviously inclined to do something like start him on the turf. But he always worked so well on dirt, you know?”

The Breeders’ Cup victory built most of Storm The Court’s equity in qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Adding this year’s third-place finishes in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) and the Ohio Derby (G3), he is 17th in the points standings.

But another way to look at it is that Storm The Court remains winless in his four starts since he shocked most bettors last fall in the championships at Santa Anita. So it is possible that after the last three points preps this weekend and next, he could be knocked out of an invitation to the Derby.

“I’m not worried about whether I go or not,” Eurton said. “It’s a weird year.”

Or to put it another way, it is all about the pandemic. It led Churchill Downs to tell jockeys Monday that they have to be in Kentucky by Aug. 24 and get tested at least twice to compete during Derby week. That led some riders and their agents to say that it might not be worth the trip if it means giving up lucrative races at Del Mar and Saratoga.

“You won’t get your jock,” Eurton said. “Not too many guys from California are even going to think about going unless they’re Mike Smith. You’d have to send him there two weeks ahead of time, but it’s the Derby. You do things like that.”

Lest anyone believe that that is Eurton leaning one way or another with Storm The Court, he admonished against that.

“I didn’t say that at all,” he said. “If he wins this race, we’ll have to figure out whether we’re going to go to the Del Mar Derby or the Kentucky Derby.”

The La Jolla is an 8 1/2-furlong race for which Storm The Court, going again without blinkers, and two-time stakes winner Smooth Like Straight were assigned 124 pounds each. Conspicuous by his absence is Hit The Road. Last month’s Oceanside Stakes winner suffered a bruised foot but, according to Daily Racing Form, could be back for the Del Mar Derby.

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