Victory Gallop, eh?
Not since Sunny's Halo in 1983 has a Canadian-bred won the Kentucky Derby, but Victory Gallop has a chance to become the next north-of-the-border 3-year-old to do it.So far, he's following Sunny's Halo's hoofprints to success.
Victory Gallop, trained by Elliott Walden, is 2-for-2 this year, with wins in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Sunny's Halo won the same two races leading up to his Derby victory.
"We were just playing it one race at a time," Walden, based at Churchill Downs and preparing for his first Derby, said Sunday. "He didn't stamp himself as a Derby horse until he won the Arkansas Derby."
Did he ever. The son of Cryptoclearance (fourth in the '87 Derby), overtook Favorite Trick, the '97 Horse of the Year, and won the Arkansas Derby to end the Bill Mott-trained colt's 9-for-9 career record.
The strong showing at Oaklawn Park also altered Walden's plans for Victory Gallop. The colt was being pointed toward the Queen's Plate, Canada's most prestigious race, on June 20.
"That's changed a little bit," the 35-year old Walden said.
But unless Victory Gallop becomes the third Canadian-bred to win the Derby - Northern Dancer won in 1964 - he won't run in the Preakness on May 16, Walden said.
Don't get the trainer wrong. He says the Prestonwood Farms colt is working well toward the Derby.
"I think he has a shot as things are going," Walden said a day after Victory Gallop worked five-eighths of a mile in 59 seconds.
Hanging out at Churchill Downs for so many years, Walden has been waiting for a chance to move into the Derby picture. But he wanted to make sure he had a bonafide contender.
"This horse has shown me in his last two races that he belongs," said Walden, who has 31 horses at Churchill Downs and 30 others at Keeneland. "I believe he's got a lot more in him. I don't know. But he deserves a chance."
While Victory Gallop took it easy and walked the shedrow on Sunday, Irish-bred Hanuman Highway, second in the Arkansas Derby, worked three-quarters in 1:12 3-5.
Favorite Trick is expected to work either today or Tuesday, but his stablemate, Rock and Roll, also went three-quarters in 1:12 3-5.
Artax, a double stakes winner who was third in the Santa Anita Derby, worked five-eighths in 58 seconds. But the talk of the backstretch Sunday was the blazing 1:09 for three-quarters of a mile by the lightly raced Old Trieste - just two-fifths of a second off the track record for six furlongs.
A field from 17-19 is shaping up for the 124th Derby, including trainer Bob Baffert's two starters - Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie and runner-up Real Quiet. Among other top contenders are Blue Grass Stakes winner Halory Hunter, owned by Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, and D. Wayne Lukas' stretch-runner Cape Town, winner of the Florida Derby after Lil's Lad was disqualified.