Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Louisiana Derby Winners
Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa at Gulfstream Park along with other major developments during a huge weekend of racing:
ROOM TO IMPROVE: Although Cyberknife repelled ultra-consistent Barber Road by 2 ¾ lengths in the Arkansas Derby to ensure his place in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, he can be even more formidable if trainer Brad Cox can work out some kinks in the next five weeks. Jockey Florent Geroux is hoping to climb aboard a more finished product at Churchill Downs. “We always thought he was very talented,” Geroux said. “Looks like he finally put it together and he was probably not even l00 percent as he was zig-zagging down the lane. I hope he is going to be a little straighter on the first Saturday in May. But a very talented horse.”
EMOTIONAL TRIUMPH: Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr.’s Florida Derby victory with White Abarrio was charged with emotion because he was able to celebrate it with his father, who was gravely ill with COVID in January. The elder Joseph also suffers from diabetes. With that complication, doctors gave him only a 50-50 chance to live. He survived but was only able to return to the barn in March as a confidant to his son. “It puts it into perspective. Sometimes with these races you get disappointed, but I almost lost him. Thank God he’s here,” Joseph, Jr. said.
PROUD SECOND: Under the circumstances, Charge It’s second-place finish in the Florida Derby was special. The Tapit colt, unraced at 2, was making only his third lifetime start after two maiden races. “It was very encouraging. He got a little green down the lane,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I felt if he could have just run straight that last 100 yards, he was going to be right there. I thought it was a huge effort considering everything. He overcame some adversity, took some dirt, and did a lot of things right. Just didn’t quite polish it off.” With 40 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, Charge It ensured a Kentucky Derby berth. He will be formidable if he moves forward based on his Florida Derby education.
STILL UNDEFEATED: Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey won the prestigious Longines Kentucky Oaks with Dispute in 1993. The Lexington native has been waiting since then to return to the Oaks with a big shot. He will finally do that with Kathleen O., who extended her perfection to 4 for 4 when she easily ran down Goddess of Fire in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks. “Obviously, the Kentucky Oaks is a big spot for me. I really like the Oaks,” McGaughey said. “I’ve won it one time. I remember the thrill, and I’d like to have it again. The long stretch at Churchill Downs, maybe it will be for her.”
NOT HER DAY: Star filly Secret Oath was more unfortunate than overmatched when she finished third in the Arkansas Derby. “The race didn’t unfold like you’d hope it to. It just didn’t come together,” said legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas. “We got bumped at the start. That got her back too far. And then she made that monster move (on the second turn). It’s hard to sustain it. She might have run that quarter pretty damn fast.” The good news for the connections is that, with 60 qualifying points, Secret Oath already had secured her place in the May 6 Kentucky Oaks. She should be a keen contender in that spot.