Sir Barton. That is the horse that Trojan Nation and his connections need to be motivated by. The great Triple Crown winner of 1919 had raced six times before the Kentucky Derby without a win. He wasn't even entered to win the Derby. He was supposed to set a fast pace for a closing stablemate. He got the lead early and never looked back, running away with the win - and then two more to follow. It is a story out of fairy tales.
Now Trojan Nation will attempt the same thing - to earn his first win in his seventh race, which just happens to be the biggest on the planet. Sir Barton wasn't the last maiden to win the Derby - Brokers Tip in 1933 has that honor. Since then just nine maidens have tried - none since Nationalore in 1998 - and all have failed. Can Trojan Nation pull off a miracle and reverse a trend that has lasted for 83 years? Or will his fate match those of others before it?
Last race: Trojan Nation, one of seemingly a hundred deep closers in this Kentucky Derby field, found himself at the back of the field early in the Wood Memorial and almost in a different timezone than the leaders. Given the very low expectations for the horse - he had gone off at 81/1 - it seemed as if his race was already over. He was rolling by the final turn, came into the stretch in second and stayed there, missing the win by just a short head. It was, needless to say, a surprising effort. We have to temper the positivity a bit, though. The field of eight horses was not deep, and favorite Shagaf had run a lousy race. Someone had to finish second. More significantly, the closing fractions of the race were glacially slow. They ran the last three furlongs in well over 40 seconds. That would be slow on a Wednesday at a minor track, never mind in a top Derby prep race. Closing when the horses are practically walking is far less impressive than doing so against a decent pace. The field is much deeper in the Derby, and with so many closers it is unlikely that Trojan Nation would get away with such a slow pace - especially if the track is in better condition than it was for the Wood.
Prior experience: Not only had the horse not won before, but he had only run in maiden races, and he had never been better than third. He made his debut in October at Santa Anita, tried again at Del Mar, and then made his next three appearances back at Santa Anita. There are a lot of nice horses in California, and this horse has lost to several. Most notably, Cupid, who was favored in the Arkansas Derby for Bob Baffert and has enough points to get in the Kentucky Derby but has opted out, won Trojan Nation's fourth race. That fourth race was the only time that Trojan Nation didn't find himself well off the pace early on.
Trainer: Paddy Gallagher doesn't often play at the highest levels of the sport, but he has been around it for a long time. After years as an assistant trainer for other stables, he joined legendary jockey Bill Shoemaker as his assistant when the jockey transitioned to training. He worked with him until the legend retired in 1997 then went out on his own. He has won at least one graded stakes every year since 2004 except for 2014, and he has managed to last this long on the brutally-tough Southern California circuit, so he knows what he is doing. His name won't be familiar to many casual fans, but it would be a mistake to discount what he is capable of.
Jockey: Aaron Gryder had the mount for the first time in the Wood and presumably would have it again. We'll start with the positives - he has won a Dubai World Cup, so he is capable of strong rides on big race days. He is also frustratingly capable of wasting the money of people who bet on him. He has bounced around from circuit to circuit for years now and has struggled to win a lot of races. There are many, many jockeys I would have much more faith in in this race than Gryder. I am shocked, for example, that Gryder is still on this horse with Jose Ortiz not on a mount. Needless to say, I don't view the jockey as an asset here.
Breeding: There are so many reasons to discount this horse, but the breeding is the one thing that has to keep you at least a little bit intrigued. His sire, Street Cry, is the only stud represented here who has already sired a Derby winner - Street Sense in 2007. He also sired the great Zenyatta. He passes along a lot of class. Damsire Summer Squall won the Preakness and sired 1999 Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic. This horse hasn't excelled at winning races, but he is bred for the challenge of the Derby.
Odds: Not surprisingly, oddsmakers are not too fond of this horse. BetOnline has him at +5000 to win the Kentucky Derby. Somewhat surprisingly, that has him ahead of three others horses in the field - Tom's Ready, Oscar Nominated, and Shagaf, who was favored in the Wood Memorial.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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