Breeders’ Cup
Juvenile winner
out of Derby again

Feb 21, 2006 9:54 AM

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner hasn’t lost the Kentucky Derby more times than Andrew Dice Clay has dropped the "F" bomb. It just seems that way.

Actually, no Juvenile winner has won the Derby since the inception of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, a string that reached 23 years when it was announced on Feb. 6 that Stevie Wonderboy, last year’s Juvenile winner and male 2-year-old champion, injured his right front ankle and would miss the 132nd Run for the Roses on May 6.

Theories on this negative phenomenon range from fragility to an out-and-out jinx, but jinx, schminx or whatever it is, opinions as to the cause of this ongoing drought are more common than cell phone users in an LA mall (or on an LA freeway; choose one).

"I think the horse that wins the Juvenile just shoots his bolt," said trainer Eoin Harty, who conditioned Ruler’s Court to win the 2003 Norfolk by a stakes record 14 lengths, only to skip the Juvenile ("That decision wasn’t mine," Harty says). "Good horses win at two but horses that win the Derby historically develop later in the year," Harty said. "That’s not set in stone, but it seems to be the trend over the last 20 years."

Ah, the last 20 years. Before that, there was no Breeders’ Cup and horses like Secretariat in 1973 and Affirmed in 1978, each a Triple Crown winner with Affirmed being the last one, validated stellar 2-year-old campaigns with Derby triumphs.

Bob Baffert is no stranger to smelling the roses at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. He has three Derby victories and missed a fourth by a nose when Cavonnier was nailed in the last jump by Grindstone in 1996. It still sticks in Baffert’s craw that Vindication, the talented 2002 Juvenile champion, didn’t make it to the Derby.

"I thought he would be the horse to break that jinx, but he got hurt in a workout," Baffert said. "I don’t think it’s a matter of running a horse too much at two, because you look back at Affirmed and Secretariat, they ran the s”” out of them. I think the best horse doesn’t always win the Juvenile. Sometimes they just get hurt. Maybe it’s racing luck. All it takes is one little deal and you’re out."

International horseman Patrick Biancone has never won a Triple Crown race but captured the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1983 with champion filly All Along. The 53-year-old Frenchman dismisses any kind of whammy.

"I don’t think it’s a jinx," he said. "I think there are plenty of good horses that show up later than those that do when they are two. I think it’s more that than anything else."

Gary Stevens graced winners’ circles around the globe before retiring recently to become a racing analyst for NBC and TVG. A winner of 5,005 races during a career of nearly three decades, the Hall of Fame rider who turns 43 on March 6 is beginning to think there could be something to this jinx thing.

"For years I thought it was a coincidence," he said, "but now I think we’re putting far too much stress on these horses as 2-year-olds, and they’ve been through a lot of battles to reach the upper echelon of their division. Basically, they’ve been used up, physically and mentally.

"They’ve been trained hard to get to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and after that they’ve got to go even harder to go on the Triple Crown trail. It’s a grueling ordeal. I don’t know if we’re breeding as strong a horse as we did in the past but we used to be a lot more patient with our 2-year-olds. Secretariat and Affirmed ran a lot at two but they weren’t as demanding on them as they are now."

Baffert says he has one thing going for him this year. "None of my Derby prospects won the Juvenile."

THE HOMESTRETCH

”¡ In what took more turns than a Grand Prix course before reaching the finish, Ron Anderson, former agent for Jerry Bailey, is returning to California to represent Garrett Gomez, who fired agent Jim Pegram, who will now be agent for Kent Desormeaux. Corey Nakatani, who had been expected to join with Anderson, remains with agent Bob Meldahl, while Tommy Ball, who had Desormeaux’s book, reportedly received an undisclosed amount of cash and a player to be named later.

”¡ Unless Del Mar, Hollywood, Santa Anita, Golden Gate and Bay Meadows install Polytrack by the end of next year, the California Horse Racing Board will not issue those tracks a license to race, according to a rule proposed by CHRB Chairman Richard Shapiro. "As a condition to license, any track that operates four weeks (or more) of continuous thoroughbred racing in any calendar year must install a polymer, synthetic-type racing surface by no later than Dec. 31, 2007," Shapiro said at a Feb. 16 CHRB meeting at Santa Anita.

”¡ Whatever happened to Pete Rose and Terrell Owens? Furthermore, who cares?