Halfway through the second week between the Preakness and the Belmont we suddenly got word that Trojan Nation was being aimed at the Belmont. It was, to say the least, bizarre news. It's not uncommon to see a horse that has no business in the Triple Crown show up for a race. It is very rare, though, for that horse to return for a second shot after being shown just how out of place he was the first time.
Trojan Nation, who has never won a race in his life, was just a disaster in the Kentucky Derby. Since then he has returned to California - to be forgotten forever, I assumed. Now he's about to get on a plane across the country again. Is it going to be worth the trip? Can this horse suddenly learn how to contend at this level? Or is this just a really, really bad idea?
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Last race: Pretty much the only positive thing I can say about his race in the Kentucky Derby is that he didn't die. His start was lousy - he was slow out of the gate, so horses broke into his path before he could claim it and he was forced to check his progress. He just quit when that happened - in his mind the race was over. He trailed the whole field for the first half of the race and moved up to 16th by the wire - only because he hadn't exerted himself at all so he could maintain his pace while others ran into problems. It was a really bad trip. I guess the one positive you can take out of it is that he didn't have to dig deep for the result, so he should have plenty left to give here.
Career highlights: When you have run seven times without a win, you are pretty short on highlights. He has only finished second once, too. That came in his biggest race up to that point, though - the Wood Memorial. Even that race is easy to discount, though. The track was muddy, and it was his only start on an off track, so that could have contributed. More significantly, it was just a lousy race. He was beaten by Outwork, and that horse was basically walking down the stretch - the final fractions were beyond pedestrian. It was an underwhelming effort against an underwhelming field. Before that he had raced in maiden races in California five times and had finished third three times along with a fourth and a sixth. California racing is good but not good enough that we can get excited about such lousy results.
Jockey: Aaron Gryder has ridden the horse in his last two outings, and at this point it seems like he will ride him again. That doesn't get me excited. There are some extremely good riders in this race - the best in the country. Gryder is not among them. In fact, I just don't think he's very good. I would welcome an upgrade here. In the Derby preview for this horse I lamented that it was insane that Gryder had the mount when Jose Ortiz was without a horse. Ortiz is available here, too, and now we are at his home track. He's the best option for an upgrade, but there are plenty of others.
Trainer: Paddy Gallagher earned his stripes as the long-time assistant to the legendary jockey-turned-trainer Bill Shoemaker. He worked for him until he retired in 1997, then he went out on his own. He hasn't often had top-level horses, but he has won a graded stakes every year but one since 2004. That's a solid record for a smaller stable. He's not the best trainer in this field, but he knows his stuff. He obviously has some rose-colored glasses, though - a lot of trainers wouldn't point this horse to this spot.
Pedigree: Finally something I can be positive about. His breeding is actually pretty solid - which is probably why his connections keep pushing him. His sire, Street Cry, also sired 2007 Derby winner Street Sense, and he is best known for siring the legendary Zenyatta. He's the real deal. Damsire Summer Squall won the Preakness himself and sired Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic. This is a well-bred horse reasonably well suited to the Belmont challenge. Of course, he hasn't run up to his pedigree so far, so it's a leap of faith to assume it will matter now.
Running style: In a field full of closers, we have yet another one. In his last three races he has been dead last early on. Once in his seven races he pressed the pace, but it certainly doesn't seem to be his preference. Of course, with so little to lose, and no real early speed, we could see the connections take a risk and try something different because what they have always done hasn't worked.
Belmont outlook: Can you tell I don't really love this horse in this spot? He will be at long odds but not long enough for me to include him in my exotics. It would be a serious upset for this horse to wind up in the top half of the field at the wire.
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