Departing gallops at Churchill Downs. (Photo courtesy of Dell Hancock)
On the backroads of Lexington, an endless expanse of bluegrass is stitched with fences. Near and far the horses roam. One darling foal grazes beside a mother’s hip; another dashes over the hillside to greet you. Admire the small, velvet nostrils and curious, expressive eyes - could this colt before you, innocent enough now, go on to be a ferocious competitor, a top racehorse, in the years to come? Or that other one there? Maybe both?
It could happen – two colts of the same pasture at Claiborne Farm achieved graded stakes glory in 2013. Orb wore the roses after winning the Kentucky Derby, while Departing won the Illinois and the West Virginia Derbys.
CLAIBORNE FARM: PASTURE TO PREAKNESS
The pedigree of Departing bespoke future greatness: the gelded 3-year-old hails from the prestigious broodmare line of Myrtlewood. By War Front and out of a Pulpit mare, he is clearly marked by the likes of Danzig, Fappiano, and Mr. Prospector – a combination that could yield a middle-distance horse.
DEPARTING IN SEPTEMBER 2013
Photo courtesy of Dell Hancock
Carrying the silks of Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, he has composed a consistent résumé in seven career starts. His only finish out of the top three was a sixth in this year’s Preakness Stakes, winning five times and finishing third once in his other six starts.
Only starting once at two, Departing won his first three outings. After getting his first stakes win in his third race, he crossed the finish line third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. He finished 3 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Revolutionary, but he was the only horse in the field competing without the race-day, anti-bleeding medication Lasix (furosemide).
In his next outing, Departing came flying from ninth to triumph in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby by 3 ¼ lengths with a finishing time of 1:50.78. He was considered among the leading contenders in the 3-year old division that spring. Despite this impressive ability, Departing did not compete in the Kentucky Derby, in part because the Illinois Derby was not a points-scoring race in the new format to determine the Derby field.
After his sixth in the Preakness, he had several workouts at Churchill Downs before shipping to Saratoga, where he would turn in the fastest workout on July 22 for five furlongs on the Oklahoma Training Track.
On the first weekend of August, he kicked off the second half of his season with the West Virginia Derby.
DEPARTING GALLOPS AT CHURCHILL
Photo courtesy of Dell Hancock
Departing broke uneventfully from the fifth gate. He settled well, seventh of nine after the opening quarter-mile, with mild restraint from jockey Robby Albarado. Behind an average pace, the War Front gelding moved up eagerly on the backstretch. He seemed to settle in this position comfortably but pursued a higher position nearing the turn. With only a few more strides, Departing established himself as the clear leader. Coming out of the turn, the striking bay drew away dominantly and his jockey had just started to push him.
Departing would eventually separate himself from his opponents by 8 ¾ lengths. As the 7-5 favorite, he completed the race in 1:51.47 on a fast track.
His trainer Al Stall Jr. said, “That's his race right there. It was similar to his race [in the Illinois Derby]. Once he gets his legs underneath him early, he has a good, strong finish. If we could get him to level off early, he'd really run.”
Later, Stall told Claire Novak of The Blood-Horse: “He came out of the West Virginia Derby really well. He's trained great; he's acted like a horse that's improved from that race. That's exciting. He showed us the same thing coming out of the Preakness to the West Virginia Derby, which turned out well.”
His connections decided to enter the rising gelding in the Grade 2 Super Derby on Saturday at Louisiana Downs. Breaking from the outside post with Robby Albarado scheduled to ride, Departing is the even-money, morning-line favorite.