As the Kentucky Derby trail heads into February, the WinStar team has been as giddy as young Clara receiving the nutcracker from Uncle Drosselmeyer in the opening party scene of “The Nutcracker.”
As if having graded stakes winners Super Saver and Rule in Florida with Todd Pletcher and graded stakes winner American Lion heading into Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) for Eoin Harty isn’t enough of a thrill, WinStar also has the exciting Drosselmeyer, who scored an impressive victory Jan. 31 in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream for Bill Mott.Drosselmeyer, a son of Distorted Humor , was a boy going into Sunday’s race, easily breaking his maiden by six lengths at Churchill Downs in November. But he came out of the race a man. Not only did he make an excellent transition from 2 to 3, he turned in as professional an effort as you want to see from a young 3-year-old, patiently biding his time while boxed in behind horses. When a seam opened outside the leaders, he eased out and went right on by, winning as the rider pleased.
The morning line favorite, Pulsion, was scratched from the race with a cough, so we weren’t able to get as good a gauge on Drosselmeyer as we would have liked, but he did everything the right way and is very close to being a legitimate Derby contender if he can step up one more time in stakes company.
As for WinStar’s fab four, they all come highly recommended, and all have the pedigree and talent to make it all the way.
Donnie Preston, yearling manager at WinStar, remembers all of them, but one in particular.
“Rule was our LeBron James, because of his athleticism and his strength,” he said. “He was muscular, well put together, and well balanced; just what you wanted to see. He was the one yearling everyone looked at. He was a given.
“American Lion probably was the second most impressive. He was a big, long, scopey horse, well balanced and solid, and he had a really good mind. Both Rule and American Lion were fairly easy to work with.
“Super Saver didn’t have the best front end, but it wasn’t bad. He was pretty tough. He wasn’t overly aggressive or mean, but he had that attitude that you want to see that carries over to the racetrack. Whoever he was turned out with, he was always the leader of that group. You had to make sure you had a pretty good guy working with him. When he came back here for a little break, I was in charge of the layup barn, and I noticed that he was a lot easier to handle. He wasn’t a bad horse to handle before that; just a typical teenage boy. Now, he acts like he’s grown up, and is more mature. When he was here, I didn’t let him down all the way. We just let him get out in the round pen, weather permitting, and hand-walked him around the shed as much as possible. They just wanted to give him a break; there was nothing wrong with him physically.
“All three of them were in our top five. They bought Drosselmeyer at the Keeneland September yearling sale, so I wasn’t around him that much when he was being broken. But I remember that the gal who was in charge of the breaking, Jillian Lang, commented that she really liked him; the way he moved and the way he handled himself. I remember him as being a big, strong, fairly correct horse.”
Preston also liked a Tiznow colt, In the Paint, but he could finish no better than seventh in Saturday’s WEBN Stakes for trainer Kellyn Gorder after getting bottled up in traffic early and then having to steady on the far turn. He previously had broken his maiden by 3 3/4 lengths at Turfway.
Richard Budge, who trains WinStar’s young horses at the Highpointe training center before they head to their respective trainers at the racetrack, was particularly high on one of them, and will have great interest in the Feb. 6 Lewis.
“American Lion was my favorite of the group,” Budge said. “Like all of the Tiznows, he is an exceptional mover and covers a lot of ground. A leggy, immature colt early, he needed time to fill into his giant frame. He has breezed over the dirt at Highpointe extremely well, and he reminds me a lot of Colonel John , so the dirt surface will not be a problem for him; he had great tactical speed for a big colt. He was just a pleasure to train.
“Rule was a workmanlike colt from the beginning and did everything right. Super Saver came highly touted, and was a very attractive colt. Drosselmeyer took a while to come around, but he definitely is on the improve, and has great potential.”
WinStar has been well-represented in the Derby in recent years, with 2006 runner-up Bluegrass Cat and top-class stakes winners such as Any Given Saturday , Colonel John , Court Vision, Hold Me Back, Cowtown Cat , and Advice. But never have they been as deep talent-wise as they are this year. We all know anything can happen on the Derby trail, and you can never be too confident, but if WinStar is finally going to break through and take home the roses, this sure looks like it could be their year.