The past two Saturdays, WinStar Farm has seen its most accomplished Kentucky Derby contenders finish third (Rule in the Florida Derby and Super Saver in the Tampa Bay Derby) and fourth (American Lion in the San Felipe).
This weekend, however, more prospects could surface for the Versailles farm, which has Drosselmeyer in Saturday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby, Doubles Partner and Chief Counsel in Turfway's $500,000 Lane's End and Endorsement in Sunday's $800,000 Sunland Park Derby.
Drosselmeyer, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, hasn't received the public attention of Rule, Super Saver or American Lion, all graded stakes-winners. But he could after Saturday. Drosselmeyer is one of 13 horses entered Monday for the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby, for which the 7-2 favorite is Discreetly Mine, front-running winner of the track's Feb.20 Risen Star.
The Fair Grounds this year moved the Louisiana Derby from early March to closing weekend, extended its distance a sixteenth-mile and bumped up the purse from $600,000. If the changes didn't land the Grade II stakes one of the favorites for the May 1 Kentucky Derby, it certainly attracted the numbers. If everyone starts, it will be the largest field since 13 ran in 1993.
In fact, after drawing the No.13 post, the Drosselmeyer camp fleetingly looked into alternative races, such as Sunday's Sunland Park Derby or the April 4 Illinois Derby. But Walden said he talked to trainer Al Stall, who literally grew up at the Fair Grounds, and was assured the outside post wasn't really bad, given the relatively long run into the first turn.
“There were some options that could keep us from having to run out of the 13 if we weren't comfortable with it,” Walden said. “But Kent is really comfortable with it. Billy is comfortable with it, so I got more comfortable with it, especially after talking to Al.”
Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux is among those happy with the decision to run Drosselmeyer, who after winning a 11/8-mile allowance at Gulfstream was fourth as the favorite in the 11/16-mile Risen Star.
“I am thrilled he's running at the Fair Grounds, because I think he is a stayer,” Desormeaux said. “That long, forever stretch they have will be helpful to his style. Unfortunately, the last race I got bottled up and we turned it into a sprint going home. I was starting to make up ground on the three that were in front of me, but I didn't have enough time to catch them.”
Discreetly Mine and runner-up Tempted to Tapit (who is running at Sunland) ran 1-2 the entire way in the Risen Star through a pedestrian pace that included a dawdling 1:13 2/5 for six furlongs. Drosselmeyer lost by a total of two lengths.
“It looked like there were a couple of horses who would set really a pretty good pace. And they broke and slowed it down,” Mott said. “He's a horse who kind of keeps coming. Does he have a real, real quick move? I mean, he accelerates, but he only had about a quarter mile to make his run the other day. It just wasn't enough time for the way the pace was, because they sprinted in front of him as well. Another sixteenth of a mile, I think he would have been closer than two lengths.”
Drosselmeyer, a $600,000 yearling purchase by WinStar's stallion Distorted Humor and out of Santa Anita Oaks winner Golden Ballet, made his first three starts on grass and Polytrack as Mott sought out a two-turn race. He ran well but didn't win until his fourth start, a six-length score on a Churchill race taken off the turf and put on dirt at a mile.
“I know he's still growing,” said Desormeaux, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner. “My feet are getting wider apart every time I get on him. I see him getting stronger, and hopefully that will make him faster. … Since his first start, he's made dramatic improvement. I originally was not thinking roses. But his last two starts have made me think roses.”