He's not a Kentucky Derby contender but Normandy Invasion, seen here in his return on Saturday, is one of the things racing needs to keep excitement up past the Triple Crown (Photo courtesy of Coglinese Photos).
At this time of year, all things involving the Kentucky Derby tend to get magnified. So it’s hardly surprising that Gulfstream Park’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a stepping stone race to the Run for the Roses, was the headline event of the day on Saturday.
Yet a racing season needs more than just a grand first Saturday in May to sustain excitement, and two other races on Saturday gave us a pair of horses bred by Tapit that appear ready to assume starring roles.
Normandy Invasion and Untapable may not have won Grade 1 tests on Saturday, but their efforts certainly were promising enough to envision them in the winner’s circle after a major race in the not too distant future.
Normandy Invasion, for the most part, has been a great tease. He was painted as top contender for last year’s Kentucky Derby after showing some class and talent while running second by a nose at two in the Remsen. But in his two Derby preps, he finished fifth in the Risen Star and then second in the Wood Memorial.
Though winless at three, Normandy Invasion was a popular topic of conversation during Derby Week and was sent off at 9-1 odds. He gave his backers a thrill, forging to the front in the stretch, but in the end what may have been a premature move to the front caught up with him and he weakened to finish fourth.
After sitting out the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, there was thought that Normandy Invasion would return for the Travers or a fall campaign.
A foot abscess ended those thoughts and he did not make his comeback until Saturday when he shook off the rust of nearly 10 months on the sidelines and won an allowance race at Gulfstream by 7 3/4 lengths in the track-record time of 1:33.13 for a flat mile.
There are certainly far more demanding tests ahead for Normandy Invasion – if he can stay healthy – but Saturday’s race proved he has not lost a step despite his inactivity and that he could be poised to become a major factor in the handicap division.
“It was a long wait, but it was worth it,” owner Rick Porter said. “We thought giving him the year off after the injury was the right thing to do. It’s hard to give them that much time off, but it turned out better than we thought it could. You can see how much weight he put on. We couldn’t ask for anything better than what we got today.”
Trainer Chad Brown did not detail his exact plans for the 4-year-old son of Tapit, but if all continues to go well it should not be long before Normandy Invasion makes up for lost time by running in some of the year’s biggest races.
“Hopefully this is a start to a great year for this horse,” Brown said.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Untapable enjoyed an equally promising start to 2014.
In the filly’s first start since running third in the Hollywood Starlet, she opened up her 3-year-old campaign with a 9 ½-length victory in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds over a field that included Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia, who was a distant fifth.
Even more noteworthy than the horses who finished behind her, was the final time of 1:43.64 for the mile and a sixteenth, which became even more stellar when matched against other races on the card.
UNTAPABLE'S ROMP WAS EVEN MORE EXCITING WHEN COMPARED TO THE REST OF THE CARD
Photo courtesy Lou Hodges
In the Risen Star, a Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-old males contested two races after the Rachel Alexandra, Intense Holiday needed a slower 1:43.86 to complete the same mile and a sixteenth. In the following race, Bradester, a 4-year-old colt, also failed to match Untapable’s clocking as he won the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap in 1:43.80.
Aside from future wagering on the Kentucky Derby this coming weekend, there will also be future wagering on the Kentucky Oaks. After Untapable’s performance in the Rachel Alexandra, and a mark of two wins in two starts at Churchill Downs, she figures to attract heavy action in the wagering – especially considering her planned route to Louisville. Trainer Steve Asmussen said the daughter of Tapit will race next in the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 29. If something sounds familiar about that race, in the last nine years it has been won by five fillies that have gone to capture the Kentucky Oaks.
It may be February and some parts of the country are still mired with snow banks, but on Saturday the heat was turned up a notch thanks to Normandy Invasion and Untapable.