The Kentucky Derby trail is a long and arduous one of which it is true that "only the strong survive". Even those that do survive usually don't end up with the ultimate goal. After all, if 20 horses are entered in the Kentucky Derby, 19 of them have to lose (unless you have the unlikely event of a dead-heat, which has not happened in 135 previous runnings). Every year there are tremendous runners that suffer minor injuries, major injuries, or any number of problems that cause them to be detoured off the Road To The Roses.
Devil's Bag (pictured) was the champion two-year-old of 1983. He was supposed to win the Kentucky Derby and maybe even challenge the great Secretariat's time of 1:59.2 in doing it. He went 5 for 5 in 1983 and was perfect at the start of 1984, but he then suffered a loss in Florida and was retired after winning the Derby Trial with an injury. Devil's Bag never made it to the starting gate in the 1984 Derby, which was won impressively by Swale. He did, however, contribute wholeheartedly to his Thoroughbred legacy by siring 43 different stakes winners.
In 2002, Repent had all the makings of a Kentucky Derby winner. At the conclusion of his two-year-old season, he finished second behind Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at long odds. He had won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and ran 2nd in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby at the old Sportsman's Park in what was to be his final tune-up before the Kentucky Derby. However, Repent suffered an injury in the Illinois Derby and while he did come back to run 2nd in the Travers that summer to Medaglia D'Oro, his racing career was essentially finished. By the way, the horse that Repent ran behind in the Illinois Derby was none other than 2002 Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem. Repent is now considered a most useful sire in the world of Thoroughbred racing.
This week, two horses that some had given consideration to as potential Derby winners, Maximus Ruler and Dryfly, have been removed from the Kentucky Derby trail. Maximus Ruler ran 2nd in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in what was to be a prep for the Louisiana Derby. His trainer, Clark Hanna, has said that the colt will be given time off now to deal with a bruised hoof and won't return to the races until the summer. Dryfly ran 9th in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. He has been sidelined with a knee injury, which trainer Lynn Whiting expects to keep the gelding away from the races until the autumn.
The lesson here is that just because a three-year-old doesn't have the stamina to make it all the way to the biggest stage in Thoroughbred racing doesn't necessarily mean that the horse's usefulness is over or that the quality of the animal should be questioned in any way. Whether Maximus Ruler or Dryfly ever race again, they may still exert some influence as a part of this three-year-old crop down the road.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of bloodhorse.com