First Impressions (Part II): Kentucky Derby 145

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Plus Que Parfait as a foal | Calloway Stables

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With the First Saturday in May quickly approaching, TDN Senior Editor Steve Sherack caught up with the connections of leading GI Kentucky Derby contenders to get some of their ‘First Impressions.’ In part two of this series, we check in with Juddmonte Farm’s U.S. manager Garrett O’Rourke, Taylor Made’s Frank Taylor, Reynolds Bell Jr., advisor to Jon Clay’s Alpha Delta Stables, and bloodstock agent Josh Stevens. Click here for the first installment.

Streaking Juddmonte Farms homebred Tacitus (Tapit) topped the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ leaderboard with 150 points off the strength of impressive come-from-behind wins in the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and GII Wood Memorial S. The handsome gray is the first foal out of Juddmonte’s 2014 champion older mare Close Hatches (First Defence).

Last term’s GI Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity S. winner and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Improbable (City Zip) was purchased by Taylor Made for $110,000 as a KEENOV weanling and re-sold for $200,000 as a KEESEP yearling. The chestnut, owned in partnership by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was second-best in the GI Arkansas Derby. Taylor Made’s Bloodstock Investments banner also pinhooked GIII Sunland Derby winner Cutting Humor (First Samurai), a $135,000 KEEJAN short yearling turned $400,000 FTSAUG yearling.

Vekoma (Candy Ride {Arg}), an authoritative winner of the GII Toyota Blue Grass S., was bred in Kentucky by Clay’s Alpha Delta Stables. He was a $135,000 KEESEP yearling graduate. The chestnut’s late dam GI Humana Distaff S. heroine Mona de Momma (Speightstown) was acquired by Bell on Clay’s behalf for $1.55 million while in foal to Malibu Moon at the 2011 FTKNOV Sale. Vekoma is owned by R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables and trained by George Weaver.

Stevens will have two rooting interests in the Derby. He purchased GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby upsetter By My Standards (Goldencents) on behalf of Allied Racing Stable for $150,000 at the OBS April 2-Year-Old Sale after a :10 3/5 breeze. Stevens also selected the Awesome Again mare Belvedera–the dam of Imperial Racing’s G2 UAE Derby hero Plus Que Parfait (Point of Entry)-for $20,000 on behalf of breeder Calloway Stables while in foal to Fort Larned at the 2014 KEENOV Sale. Plus Que Parfait brought $135,000 as a KEESEP yearling.

TACITUS:

“His size was probably the original impression. He’s inbred to Unbridled and I think we were expecting either Close Hatches or Tapit’s physical type, and I think we got something nearly more along the lines of Unbridled. He stayed in that mold all the way through and I think his style of running even resembles that. I just hope the result on Derby day will be the same as Unbridled as well.

We have a yearling colt by Tapit [out of Close Hatches] and I think that shows the confidence we had in the cross. We were happy enough with what Tacitus looked like to go back to the well and the mare actually was bred the other week back to Tapit for a third time. If you get a mare of her caliber, breeding the best to the best is obviously going to Tapit.

Prince Khalid has not won the Derby and would love to win one, and with that goal in sight, Tapit is a very obvious choice of mate for Close Hatches. When you do get a horse to the Derby the first time you try it, it’s worth going back to the well again.” —Garrett O’Rourke

IMPROBABLE:

“Improbable was always a very well-balanced colt. Medium-sized, real pretty head and just a really nice colt. We liked him from day one and when we bought him, he just continued to get a little better every day. Obviously, he’s done everything we hoped he would do.

He always had a good mind–I was kind of surprised when he acted up in that gate [before the Arkansas Derby]. I don’t know if it was the [first-time] blinkers, but he was always a pretty smart horse to be around.

We usually buy about 20 weanlings a year with our Bloodstock Investments group for the past six years or so now. Last year we had Flameaway in the Derby and he ran 13th. This year out of that partnership we’ve got Improbable and Cutting Humor. I think there were 17 yearlings in that group, so we’re pretty lucky to have two of them in the Derby.” –Frank Taylor

VEKOMA:

“He was Mona de Momma’s last foal. We lost her because of some chronic stifles–she couldn’t get around in a way that was humane.

Vekoma was a real nice individual as far as his athleticism. He wasn’t perfect in the front, but we loved him just in terms of his body type. Real great, smart head on him and he was always an active foal and yearling at the farm. He didn’t vet great coming into the sale. Mr. Clay is a commercial breeder first and races secondly. He particularly sells colts and will keep a filly to race if she doesn’t bring what he thinks she needs to bring.

If you’ve watched Vekoma run his races, he has some pretty wild action on his left front and obviously that was a part of the conformation when you looked at him. From the time we took our first X-rays of him as an early yearling, he had an issue that the vets thought might be a bit compromising at the sale. He would certainly catch your eye when you saw him on the end of a shank, though.

Mr. Clay is thrilled [to breed a horse in the Derby field]. She was a mare that we loved–a Grade I winner from the family of Mr. Greeley and Street Sense–and a real favorite. To see Vekoma show up as the last chance in the way that he has, it’s been very special.” —Reynolds Bell Jr.

BY MY STANDARDS:

“When we were training up to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Mr. Money [finished fourth at 41-1], Bret Calhoun let it slip one day that By My Standards might be even better. What a prediction! At the sale [OBS April], I just remember his walk–he was very immature physically and not a 2-year-old sales type, but we were shopping for value. His breeze and his walk along with being out of such a talented mare just drew me in. [Consignor] Dave Scanlon had a lot of confidence in this colt if he was given time to mature and he’s had plenty of good ones come through his barn over the years.”Josh Stevens

PLUS QUE PARFAIT:

“I remember from the moment this horse was born and everyday we saw him afterwards that he was just a ball of athleticism. Very cliche, but I conveyed this to the owners in conversation many times. If we ever race a horse out of this mare, it’s him. He was different from any other foal we got out of her and never fell out of his athletic frame.” –Josh Stevens

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