Among his many credentials, Nick Esler is a licensed trainer who this week served an advance man for his “best mate,” Tom Morley, and frequent employer Christophe Clement by bringing Carrick and Have At It in to Del Mar for Saturday's Grade I, $300,000 Hollywood Derby.
Carrick, trained by Morley for Donegal Racing, won the Grade I Secretariat Stakes on Million Day at Arlington Race Course in Chicago on August 11 and has three wins in five career starts and earnings of $310,300. Have At It, trained by Clement for Robert S. Evans, won the Grade II Hill Prince at Belmont Park in October, his third victory in nine career starts with earnings of $464,240.
Esler galloped Carrick Tuesday morning then accompanied the two colts as they traveled from Belmont Park to Del Mar later Tuesday to run in the Hollywood Derby, a rare Grade I for 3-year-olds on turf that 14 will contest Saturday at 1 1/8 miles.
“It was a bit of a rough trip,” Esler said Friday morning. “Seventeen hours from stall to stall. We got delayed in Kentucky. But they both shipped well and went out for a jog on Wednesday and were feeling good with themselves.
“(Thursday) wasn't ideal to have the track closed and have to just tack walk them, but it was the same for everybody.”
Carrick, a son of Giant's Causeway, was a $75,000 purchase at the Keeneland September sale in 2016 by the Donegal Racing partnership headed by Jerry Crawford. Donegal's big triumph at Del Mar was Dullahan winning the 2012 $1 million TVG Pacific Classic.
Unraced at two, Carrick won his first two starts in a maiden and allowance, and has been at the graded stakes level since. He finished third in the Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park in July, shocked the racing world with the Secretariat victory at odds of 38-1 on turf rated “good.” His last start was the 1 ½ mile Turf Classic Invitational on September 29 at Belmont Park, on a “soft” course against older, more accomplished rivals. The result was a sixth of seven, beaten 27 ½ lengths by million dollar earner Channel Maker.
“Put a line through it,” Esler said. “He didn't like the ground and when that became obvious (jockey John Velazquez) wrapped up and protected him. I think this (Hollywood Derby) was the target all along. There are not that many grade I spots for 3-year-olds this time of year.”
Esler didn't think the rains of Thursday and Friday, which might result in the turf course being rated something other than “firm”, would compromise the chances of either Carrick or Have At It. “I walked the course on Wednesday before the rains came and it was extremely firm,” Esler said. “I think the rains will soften it just nicely and that will be good for everybody.”
Have At It, an Evans homebred son of Kitten's Joy, drew the No. 1 post for the third race in a row. After winning the Hill Prince, he was second in the Grade II Twilight Derby – beaten a half-length by Hollywood Derby favorite River Boyne – from the No. 1 stall.
Carrick, who will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux for the first time, will break from No. 11 in the field of 14. “I know (Morley) likes the post position,” Esler said. “It's better to be a little outside because Kent can keep him in the clear and ease him over to the inside as opportunity presents. If (Carrick) runs back to his Arlington form, he's the best horse in the race.”
Morley, born into an English racing family, came to the U.S. in 2010 and worked for Eddie Kenneally before taking out his training license in 2013. He recorded his first Grade I and Grade II wins in 2016 with Haveyougoneaway in the Ballerina and Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga.
Morley was due at Del Mar on Friday to saddle Carrick. Esler will stand in for Clement with Have At It.
The Hollywood Derby field from the rail: Have At It (David Cohen, 6-1), Kazan (Brice Blanc, 20-1), Risky Proposition (Joe Talamo, 20-1), River Boyne (Flavien Prat, 5-2), Fight On (Alonso Quinonez, 20-1), Raging Bull (Joel Rosario, 7-2), Instilled Regard (Florent Geroux, 12-1), Desert Stone (Tyler Baze, 8-1), Platinum Warrior, 12-1), Way Early, (Angel Cruz, 30-1), Carrick (Kent Desormeaux, 8-1), Pubilius Syrus (Edwin Maldonado, 30-1), Prince Earl (Tiago Pereira, 20-1) and Californiagoldrush (Rafael Bejarano, 12-1).
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