My Man Sam is looking to become the next Palace Malice. Or Street Sense. Or Louis Quatorze. Or Gato del Sol. All four of those horses, like My Man Sam this year, finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland leading up to their Kentucky Derby appearance. All four then went on to win a Triple Crown race - the Derby for Street Sense and Gato del Sol, a Preakness for Louis Quatorze, and the Belmont for Palace Malice. That's not bad - more than I would have guessed would have happened. So, can My Man Sam make it five Blue Grass runner-ups since 1982 to go on to Triple Crown glory? Or is he not quite up to the challenge?
Last race: I already spoiled the surprise - My Man Sam was second in the Blue Grass Stakes last time out. He started in the outside gate in the 14-horse field and was in no hurry to improve his position. He was last through the first call and had only one horse beat entering the final turn. He went wide around the turn and uncorked an impressive move. He was fifth by the top of the stretch and moved up for the place by the finish line. He was in no real risk of catching the winner, Brody's Cause, but it was a solid effort. There were reasons to be critical if you were looking for them, though. It was not a particularly fast race, and the horses were not exactly flying down the stretch. The race set up for his style reasonably well, but if he doesn't get an ideal trip in the Derby - and horses, especially closers, so rarely do in that race - then it is far from a certainty that he is good enough to be a factor.
Prior experience: Prior to the Blue Grass he had run three times, with all races being at Aqueduct. He tried to break his maiden the first time right before Christmas over a six-furlong sprint and it didn't go well - the closer just didn't have enough room to move, and he wound up fifth. He came back in a longer maiden race at the end of January, and he totally dominated in an eight-length win. Despite the huge effort his connections didn't rush him - he came back next in an allowance at the end of March. In that race he finished second behind Matt King Coal, who ran fourth in the Wood Memorial at the same time My Man Sam was in the Blue Grass. In all four of his races he has been far out of it early on. In his three successful results he was in full flight by the final turn.
Trainer: Chad Brown is one heck of a trainer - albeit one not yet proven to be suited to the challenge of the Derby. He was second in the nation last year with more than $20 million in earnings. Three quarters of that was earned on the turf, though - not exactly relevant for the Derby. He's won a whole lot of races, but he has had just one prior Derby runner. He's set to have two this year - Shagaf is his as well. He's not proven here. That would be a concern for a lot of trainers, but it is less of one for a guy who has won so many big races and come through on so many big race days. There are trainers that will be more of an asset to their horses in the Derby than Brown, but he is far from a liability.
Jockey: Julien Leparoux took over the mount from Irad Ortiz Jr. last time out. It's a downgrade in talent, but the move still makes sense - Ortiz is riding several top three year olds, so he wasn't likely to choose My Man Sam for the Derby anyway. Leparoux has not lived up to the massive potential he exhibited seven or eight years ago, but he is still solid enough. He does not have a win in a Triple Crown race, but he has won six Breeders' Cup races so we know he is capable on big days.
Breeding: We are heading towards a Derby that will have three or four sons of red-hot sire Tapit in it. My Man Sam is part of the same party - his sire, Trappe Shot, is a son of Tapit, so that makes My Man Sam a Tapit grandson. This is Trappe Shot's first class of three year old offspring, so we don't know what he will bring to the table yet, but Tapit is reasonably easy to trust for this challenge. My Man Sam's damsire is Arch, who sired Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame, so there are definitely stamina influences there, too. The pedigree is decent for the Derby challenge. Of note, Arch, who just died in January, was the damsire of Uncle Mo. Uncle Mo is a very hot sire who could see three of his sons in the Derby this year as well, including likely favorite Nyquist.
Odds: The final official Kentucky Derby futures pool took place the weekend before the Blue Grass, so it is not a surprise that My Man Sam was not one of the 23 individual horses listed - at that time he was a horse that had never run in a stakes race. He was therefore included in the mutuel field, which went off at 10/1. Only Nyquist and Mohaymen had lower individual odds than the field.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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