Trainer Bret Calhoun admits he would feel worse about his 6-to-5 favorite Mr. Money breaking from the extreme outside in Saturday night's $500,000, Grade 3 Indiana Derby had it not been for the colt's last start.
It wasn't that Mr. Money had a challenging post to overcome in Churchill Downs' Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes a month ago, launching from post 6 in a compact field of seven. Rather, it was how the Goldencents colt reacted to a very moderate pace. Instead of tugging to be on the lead, Mr. Money was content to let Gabriel Saez settle back a length or two off the pace, waiting to get his cues from the jockey. When the time came to kick in, Mr. Money drew off through the stretch for a 6 1/2-length victory over a quality rival in Signalman.
On paper, Mr. Money appears to be a stick-out. His Indiana Derby competitors are hoping that the outside post could be an equalizer for the most-accomplished horse in the field and the only one coming into the 1 1/16-mile stakes off consecutive victories. The thinking is that Mr. Money could get hung way out wide around the first turn, losing ground that could prove the difference at the finish, or be forced to expend too much energy early to get a good position, defusing his finish.
But Calhoun says the last race proved to him that Mr. Money has learned how to race.
“The Pat Day Mile, that's a fast race run down the backside (out of the mile chute) and speed usually carries,” he said. “They run fast and go fast. I didn't think there was a lot of thought process, a lot of worry about so much rating in that race. But I thought coming back in the next race, going on around two turns, he had to prove himself that he could settle, relax and rate. That's where he's showed me he's moved forward, that he mentally learned how to wait on the rider and settle. That was a race that made me realize he was moving forward. It wasn't a talent situation. It was more learning how to race.”
Otherwise, Calhoun would be sweating out Mr. Money's post position.
“You'd worry about getting too cranked up from the 11 hole and then trying to get him to settle,” he acknowledged. “That's not a big concern after his last race and makes me feel a lot more confident.”
All the same, Calhoun would have preferred to be a couple of spots closer to the rail.
“But that being said, he breaks sharp,” he said. “There are a couple of speed horses in there, but he ought to be able to get pretty good position into the first turn. My only real concern is not giving up too much ground on the first turn. I think he looks solid in there. There are few nice horses in there that have been running very well, running some nice (handicapping) numbers. But I think if he runs, he has a very good chance.
“Alwaysmining has been very consistent up there (in the Mid-Atlantic). You've got to respect him. The other horse who looks pretty strong in there is the horse who was second in the Ohio Derby.”
That would be Math Wizard (a son of Algorithms), who lost the Ohio Derby by only a half-length to the well-regarded Owendale. Math Wizard twice was claimed for $16,000 out of maiden-claiming races at Gulfstream Park last winter, winning the second time in a romp, and then was claimed again for $25,000 in his subsequent start in an 18-length victory.
Before dismissing horses who run for as cheap as $16,000 maiden-claiming races, consider that Florida Derby winner and the disqualified Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Maximum Security also started off in a $16,000 maiden-claiming race. In fact, Math Wizard was the third-place finisher that day.
Knowing that anything can happen in a horse race, Calhoun will take his chances if Mr. Money runs his race.
“Either he doesn't bring his race or he gets in some kind of significant traffic trouble,” he said. “I think he's good enough to overcome some problems here and there in this race. I'd be more concerned if he doesn't bring his A game — and I have no reason to think he's going to bring anything other than his A game.”
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