A maiden is a horse that has never won a race. Most horses good enough to be in the Derby get their first win knocked off early in their career. In fact, it's exceptionally rare for a horse to make it all the way to the Derby without a win. Only three maidens have won the race, and none are exactly recent - Buchanan in 1884, Sir Barton, who went on to win the Triple Crown, in 1919, and Brokers Tip in 1933. Since then just 10 horses have even tried - most recently Trojan Nation last year, who was a dismal 16th. Only four of those 10 maidens have been since 1979. It just doesn't happen very often.
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Yet this year we have Sonneteer, who doesn't have a win despite being one of the more experienced runners in the field with 10 starts. He was able to sneak into the field with the late scratches of Malagacy and Battalion Runner from the Todd Pletcher stable. Can he follow in the footsteps of Brokers Tip? Or, improbably, Sir Barton?
Last race: The last we saw him was in the Arkansas Derby, a race that also featured Derby entrants Classic Empire , Lookin at Lee and Untrapped. Sonneteer was far back early on, as he typically is. He made a methodical move through the field into the last turn, came out of the turn very wide, and stayed almost at the grandstand rail down the stretch. He was moving solidly late but had left himself too much work to do and only got up to fourth. While he is a closer, he hurt himself in this one by losing contact early on and not being a factor for six furlongs.
Prior experience: We can save a step here - we don't have to focus on any wins. There wasn't a lot to like early on. He was seventh in his debut in a maiden race at Del Mar at the end of July. He finished off the year with two more maiden races at Del Mar and two at Santa Anita. He was second twice and also had a third and a fourth. Among the horses that beat him is Royal Mo, who is currently the bubble horse hoping to get into the Derby field.
To start his three-year-old campaign, he shifted gears and headed to Northern California for the California Derby. That wasn't the answer - he finished fourth. Then it was third and second in two more tries in Santa Anita maiden races. So, when he was entered in the Rebel Stakes, a Derby prep won by American Pharoah two years back, it seemed ridiculous. Yet he ran his best career race to prove that logic doesn't always win out in horse racing. He was again far back early but moved up late to finish second, though he was no threat to winner Malagacy. In that race he beat Untrapped and Lookin at Lee, who he will face again in the Derby, and Royal Mo, who could get into the field.
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux is coming off a strong year, having won the Preakness with Exaggerator after finishing second in the Derby. He also had Texas Red, the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, who missed out on the 2015 Derby due to injury. He's had a solid touch with three year olds and gets credit for seeing something with this horse heading into the Rebel that pretty much no one else saw.
Jockey: Keith's brother Kent Desormeaux is the jockey. It's not entirely a Disney story about the brothers, though. Kent has had substance abuse issues throughout his career, and he and Keith have a relationship that can't always be described as rosy. Family relationships can be complicated, and this one certainly is. Desormeaux is no stranger to Triple Crown success. He has three Derby wins - Real Quiet in 1998, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, and Big Brown in 2008. The first and last of those horses also won the Preakness, and he was aboard Exaggerator in the Preakness last year, too. And he won the Belmont in 2009 with Summer Bird. Desormeaux was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004 and is far from his peak right now, but he is riding at a pretty solid level this year. The horse could be in worse hands.
Breeding: Sonneteer is sired by one of four sires in this race who was trained by Bob Baffert. Midnight Lute, who was sired by Real Quiet, who was one of Desormeaux's great mounts, won the Breeders' Cup Sprint in 2007 and 2008. He has yet to really establish himself as a prominent sire, and Sonneteer is his most successful active runner. The bloodlines are solid, but the sprint tendencies are a concern here. Damsire Half Ours flirted with the Triple Crown in 2006 but didn't make it. He has had an undistinguished career at stud. He's a son of Unbridled's Song, though, like the great Arrogate, so there is some good stamina in the blood. All in all this isn't the most inspiring Derby breeding you could compile, but it's solid enough.
Odds: BetOnline is not in love with the horse. At +5000 to win the Kentucky Derby he is ahead of just three likely Derby entrants - dismal choices Untrapped and State of Honor, and the hopeless Fast and Accurate.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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