What jinx?
Ruler’s Court eyeing Derby victory

Dec 2, 2003 12:18 AM

Webster defines a trend as "a direction of movement; a course; flow; a general inclination or tendency." The lexicographer says a jinx is "something or someone believed to bring bad luck."

Trend or a jinx, the fact is this: in 19 runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, no winner has ever gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.

In fact, almost half the Juvenile winners didn’t make it to the Derby. None has run as close as second. Only two have finished third.

Starting in 1984 with the Juvenile, here’s how the 2-year-old winners of the Juvenile have fared in the Run for the Roses as 3-year-olds the following year: Chief’s Crown, 1984, third; Tasso (1985), did not run; Capote (1986), eased to 16th in a field of 17; Success Express (1987), did not run; Is It True (1988), did not run; Rhythm (1989), did not run; Fly So Free (1990), fifth; Arazi (1991), eighth as the 9-10 favorite; Gilded Time (1992), did not run; Brocco (1993), fourth; Timber Country (1994), third; Unbridled’s Song (1995), fifth; Boston Harbor (1996), did not run; Favorite Trick (1997), eighth; Answer Lively (1998), 10th; Anees (1999), 13th; Macho Uno (2000), did not run; Johannesburg (2001), eighth; and Vindication (2002), did not run.

After pondering that labyrinth of losers, one could hardly blame Eoin Harty and the stable for which he trains, Darley Stud, for keeping Ruler’s Court in the barn instead of running in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last Oct. 25.

Still, jaws in the racing world dropped precipitously when the decision was announced not to run, because Ruler’s Court had just won an important prep to the Juvenile, the Grade II Norfolk Stakes, by an astonishing 14 lengths in stakes record time of 1:41.27 for 11/16 miles. It broke the record of 1:433/5 set by Roving Boy in 1982. In 34 previous runnings of the Norfolk, 29 were contested at the current distance of 11/16 miles; five were run at one mile.

"I would say the fact that no Juvenile winner has ever won the Derby had a lot to do with our decision, yeah," said the 41-year-old Harty, a former assistant to Bob Baffert before joining Godolphin Racing/Darley Stud in its quest for a Kentucky Derby winner. "It just hasn’t been done yet and we probably erred on the side of caution (in not running in the Juvenile)."

It turned out that a 26-1 shot, Action This Day, won the Juvenile, placing Eclipse Award voters in a quandary. Who to choose? Eoin (pronounced Owen) does not anticipate a championship for Ruler’s Court.

"Realistically, he would have needed to win a Group (Grade) 1 (stakes race) to be considered," said Harty, a native of Dublin. "I think the race is wide open for champion 2-year-old colt. But I don’t think you’re going to see a performance by any 2-year-old again this year that will stand up to what Ruler’s Court did in the Norfolk, beating Roving Boy’s record the way he did and winning so convincingly. But on performance, he probably needed to win a Group 1 race to be champion. I think his performance in the Norfolk speaks for itself. I think he’s the best 2-year-old in the country."

Harty admits that joining Godolphin has put him on the map and enabled him to keep the wolf away from his door. Godolphin and Darley essentially are one and the same, he says. "It’s a matter of color (silk colors), basically. That’s it. The move has gone very well for me. In the space of three years I’ve trained some good horses-E Dubai, Street Cry, Tempera (2002 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion), Imperial Gesture, Essence of Dubai, Tiz Dubai and Ruler’s Court."

Ruler’s Court is but one of Harty’s 2-year-old blue bloods scheduled to return on a 20-hour trip to their home base of Dubai on Dec. 1 to prepare for the Derby on May 1.

But the fact remains there have been no victories in the Kentucky Derby or a Triple Crown race for Godolphin/Darley. Street Cry missed the 2001 Derby with an injury shortly before the race, while Worldly Manner and Essence of Dubai, flying the solid blue silks of Godolphin, finished seventh in 1999 and ninth in 2002, respectively.

"I’d say Ruler’s Court gives us the best chance to win the Derby since Street Cry," Harty said. "Ruler’s Court is the Derby favorite at this time, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. But I wouldn’t trade horses with anybody right now."

THE HOMESTRETCH: Here’s one reason racing is in trouble. The two biggest news radio stations in Los Angeles, KFWB and KNX, have stopped giving race results. The former did at one time, but hasn’t in ages. Until recently, KNX gave stretch calls, which tracks provided free. Now KNX not only doesn’t provide stretch calls, it gives no results at all. There is no reason verified losers like the Los Angeles Clippers, and non-mainstream sports such as women’s basketball, tennis, swimming, golf and auto racing should receive more coverage than they deserve while horse racing gets none, unless, of course, it’s the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup or a scandal . . . There was a claim in for Skippy’s Goldenboy, galloping eight-length winner of the fourth race at Hollywood Park on Thanksgiving Day, but the horse remains with trainer Mike Mitchell.

"Carla Gaines put in a claim slip for him (for $50,000)," Mitchell said, "but instead of marking it for the fourth race, she marked it for the second, so it was voided." All claim slips must be filled out correctly, including spelling.

"I’ve done the same kind of thing myself," said Mitchell, one of the most successful claiming trainers on the circuit. "Once I put in a claim for a horse in April, but instead of putting down that day’s date, I put in my birthday (April 25)."

. . . Last Sunday, Hollywood gave away a Julie Krone bobble head doll, perhaps the closest in height to a life-sized doll that’s ever been issued. What wasn’t close to the 4-10 Krone was the facial likeness, which resembles the late, great country singer, Patsy Cline. Crazy.