Orb rallies past heavily favored Violence to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. (Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese/Gulfstream)
Another series of Kentucky Derby preps entered the record books this weekend, with all of the prerequisite mayhem that accompanies life on the Road to the Triple Crown.
The $400,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and $400,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds highlighted Saturday’s action, with a total of 170 points divvied up during the first weekend of the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series” phase that determines starting spots in the Run for the Roses.
The completely diverse Orb and Ive Struck a Nerve won the two races, opening eyes for distinctly different reasons.
Meanwhile, the Triple Crown chase lost one of its main players when it was announced Sunday that Fountain of Youth runner-up and heavy 3-5 favorite Violence came out of the race with a fractured sesamoid bone in his ankle that may sadly end his racing career.
GRADE 1 WINNER IS OFF THE DERBY TRAIL DUE TO INJRY
Photo courtesy Benoit & Associates
And so as one consensus Top 10 Derby favorite departed the scene, in the typical flow of events two new hopefuls arrived to help fill the void.
Orb was impressive in rallying to take the Fountain of Youth by a half-length as the 5-1 second choice, while Ive Struck a Nerve followed a different path to the Triple Crown spotlight. He short-circuited the toteboard at Fair Grounds in capturing the Risen Star by a nose as a 135-1 shot who wasn’t even the longest-priced runner in the race. Imagine that.
Through those $12.80 and $272.40 mutuels, the leaderboard for starting spots in the Kentucky Derby now has a new look to it with Ive Struck a Nerve atop the heap with 51 points and Orb the runner-up with 50 points. Both horses probably clinched spots in the Kentucky Derby field through their victories, though of the two Orb seems the more likely candidate to be a factor in the race.
Ive Struck a Nerve has reasonable credentials for a Derby contender. He’s won only 2 of 9 starts but has run in five stakes with Saturday’s Grade 2 win, a second and two fourths to his credit. But chances are that the son of Yankee Gentleman will be a one-hit wonder, much like Hero of Order who faded into oblivion is and still winless after prevailing in the Louisiana Derby at 109-1 odds last year.
IVE STRUCK A NERVE SHOCKED THE RACING WORLD WITH HIS VICTORY
Photo courtesy Hodges Photography
Orb’s victory was more reflective of the qualities found in top shelf Kentucky Derby candidates. The Fountain of Youth marked Orb’s stake debut and it was a smashing success. In winning a third straight race, the Shug McGaughey-trained colt showed the type of late run that bodes well for his chances at a mile and a quarter. A half-length winner, his final time for the mile and a sixteenth was drastically superior to Ive Struck a Nerve’s as he crossed the wire more than two seconds quicker than the Risen Star winner (1:42.24 compared to 1:44.52).
Granted, ludicrous fractions of 45.45 seconds and a Grade 1 sprint-like 1:08.85 for six furlongs helped add some glitter to Orb’s performance. Yet in the final furlong, he and Violence were the only ones doing any serious running.
Conversely, Ive Struck a Nerve was far from the best Derby prospect in the Risen Star. Code West, Palace Malice and Oxbow, who were second through fourth, picked up a smattering of points in the race for starting spots and are darkhorse Derby prospects, but the horse who might move forward the most off the mile and a sixteenth race is Normandy Invasion.
Unfortunately, due to a shortened path to the Derby, for all of his potential, he could also just as easily wind up being left on the outside looking in on the first Saturday in May.
In making his first start since finishing a promising second in last November’s Remsen, Normandy Invasion ran into trouble at the start of the Risen Star as he broke slowly and then bobbled. After a half-mile, he was last in the field of 12, with Ive Struck a Nerve just ahead of him in 11th.
But while Ive Struck a Nerve was able to save ground along the inside before swinging wide in the stretch, Normandy Invasion was wide throughout and lost significant ground while racing in the six and seven paths on the final turn and in the stretch. Despite that adventurous trip, Normandy Invasion was charging at the end and finished fifth, just 1 ½ lengths behind the long shot winner.
From a conditioning standpoint, the Risen Star was a good seasonal debut and could propel him to much better things in the longer and richer races awaiting him. Yet in terms of points, the race was a goose egg. It left Normandy Invasion with just 4 points, putting him in a tie for 25th.
He’ll probably return in one of the seven 100-40-20-10-point preps in late March or April and a victory will be enough to put a bow on a spot in the Derby. A second probably will get him to Louisville. But if he runs into trouble again, closes like a rocket in the stretch and finishes third by a pair of noses, trainer Chad Brown may have to change his colt’s spring itinerary and point to the Preakness or Belmont Stakes.
Interestingly, Normandy Invasion would be facing the same situation under the previous rules for determining spots in the Derby field. With only $58,000 in graded stakes earnings, he would need to win or place in a $1 million prep to lock up a spot.
Funny, isn’t it, that as much as the manes change on the Triple Crown trail, the developments can often remain the same.