The Brock Talk

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Super Derby Not Super But Sometimes Surpising

This Saturday seven 3-year-olds will be racing at Louisiana Downs in the $750,000 Super Derby. Despite it's aspirational name, grade 2 status and large purse, the marquee event for the Bossier City track has long struggled to find a place among the elite Summer races for 3-year-olds such as the Jim Dandy, Travers and Haskell Invitational. And it is seldom mentioned among the key races trainers consider when preparing their sophomores for the Breeders' Cup Classic some two months later.

But every once in a while a perceived second-stringer, lesser known late bloomer, or a supposed spent Triple Crown contender wins the Super Derby on their way to bigger and better things.

The trend began 1984 when Jack Van Berg brought Gate Dancer (photo) to Louisiana Downs. After starting the year in California, Gate Dancer finished third in the Arkansas Derby behind the filly Althea, who went into the Derby as the favorite. In Kentucky, Gate Dancer finished a tiring fourth behind Swale, but was placed fifth for interference down the stretch. A trait that along with his bright white hooded earmuffs, would become his trademark.

At times, Gate Dancer seemed more fond of running over his competition than outrunning them. In perhaps the best Super Derby ever run, the great Bill Shoemaker had West Coast star Precisionist apparently cruising through blistering fractions of :46-2/5 for the half, a mile in 1:35 and alone on the lead the entire time. Meanwhile, Gate Dancer and Laffit Pincay lanquished as far as 20 lengths back down the backside. At the top of the stretch, Precisionist was still four lengths ahead of Big Pistol in second while Gate Dancer was still eight lengths behind in fifth but now moving. As Precisionist moved away from the field, Gate Dancer had by now done the same, but looked destined for second. Although he was making up ground on Precisionist, Pincay looked more like a chuck wagon pilot than a jockey as it appeared Gate Dancer was looking more for someone to run into than catch Precisionist. At the wire Gate Dancer was in front by a nose and had sliced more than two seconds off of the track record. But in his final strides, he seemingly made a point to veer harmlessly toward Precisionist. It was harmless in that he did not interfere with Precisionist, but close enough to get smacked across the chest by Shoemaker's whip.

Gate Dancer went on to finish second in the now famous inaurgural Breeders' Cup Classic won by Wild Again, but was placed third behind Slew o' Gold for interference - again running over another good 3-year-old.

Van Berg also used the Super Derby to rejuvenate Alysheba, who had lost in the Belmont, Haskell and Travers after taking the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Alysheba won the Super Derby, then finished second to Ferdinand in the Breeders' Cup Classic by a scant nose. A year later Seeking the Gold used his Super Derby victory to prepare for a close second behind Alysheba in the Classic.

In 1989, Louisiana Downs officials raised the purse of the Super Derby to $2 million in an effort to feature the rematch if both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer ran. Sunday Silence went to Bossier City and won the $1 million Super Derby while Easy Goer stayed in New York to win the then 1-1/2 mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. They both met next in another stirring stretch in the Breeders' Cup Classic with Sunday Silence holding off another furious challenge from Easy Goer to win and take a 3-1 edge in the rivalry.

In 1990, Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled had finished second in the Preakness behind Summer Squall and finished fourth in the Belmont won by Go and Go. He reversed the trend a bit when he only managed to finish second in the Super Derby behind Home at Last, then win in the Breeders' Cup Classic in his next start.

Ten years later, trainer Jay Robbins brought a relatively obsure Tiznow to Louisiana off of two second-place finishes in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He took the Super Derby then went on to suprise a stellar field that included European Champion Giant's Causeway, Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid and Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

Since the Super Derby was changed from a 1-1/4 mile race to 1-1/8 miles in 2002, the race has been less impactful on the Breeders' Cup, but it has still had some very nice winners including Essence of Dubai in 2002, Ten Most Wanted a year later.

This year's Super Derby would have certainly been helped if hometown hero Summer Bird were running, but Soul Warrior and Regal Ransom certainly make the race a credibe one. Soul Warrior defeated Mine That Bird in the West Virginia Derby in his last start and is trained by national leader Steve Asmussen and ridden by John Velazquez.

Regal Ransom won the grade 2, $2 million UAE Derby March before finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby. Although he has not started since the Derby, Regal Ransom is owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, the team that won the Super Derby with Essence of Dubai.

This year's Super Derby field will do little to change the grade 2 status to a grade 1 once again, but it has a good chance to resume it's place as a race with some surprises.


Lisa devidowich said...

not to be critical but this article has a few mistakes. Home at last won the 1990 super derby. Sunday silence defeated easy goer in the 89 classic not alysheba and soul warrior defeated mine that bird in the west virginia derby.

Anonymous said...

I love reading your stuff.I hope we have alot of people at Churchill with the Football game Louisville and Kentucky. Go Super Derbyyyyyy

Brock said...

Great catches. I thought I had made those corrections in my edit but must not have saved correctly. I'll fess up on the Penn Derby though. thanks.

ReneC said...

I understand the point, but this group doesn't seem to have that next star.

Steve Munday said...

Rene, not the most stellar group, but I think Regal Ransom is a star. He was the Dubai Derby winner and a logical contender in the KY Derby. He didn't excel but that race is always a crapshoot anyway with 20 runners. Plus, he may not have liked the wet track. He's a legitmate stakes winner. Blame is another horse that might have bigger and better things in his future.

Brock said...

I think you may be right about Regal Ransom. His UAE Derby win over Desert Party puts him just a bit above the rest of these. The long lay-off might be a question here, but if I remember right, he's a really nice looking horse too.