Since his days as an assistant to Hall of Famer and four-time Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner D. Wayne Lukas, a victory in the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May has been a goal for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Given that he hails from Lexington, Ky., it’s a pretty good bet that his desire to win a Kentucky Derby was strong well before his Lukas years. And he came close to achieving that goal in 2005, when he saddled 71-1 longshot Closing Argument to a runner-up finish behind 50-1 shot Giacomo in that year’s Kentucky Derby. A half-length separated those horses.
With the 2015 running of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) now just a little over 150 days away, McLaughlin has a quartet of 2-year-olds that could possess the right stuff to emerge as significant players on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points system in the coming weeks.
That group includes a pair of entrants in Saturday’s Remsen (GII) at Aqueduct: Godolphin Racing’s Frosted and Cheyenne Stables LLC’s Classy Class. Both have displayed enough promise to be included among the 23 individual horses in the opening pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KDFW”) that opens a three-day run on Friday. McLaughlin’s group officially became a foursome when Shadwell Stable’s Mawthooq scored a 10 ½-length maiden victory at Aqueduct on Thursday in his second-career start.
The final member of McLaughlin’s small army is Imperia
, a son of Medaglia d’Oro who will carry Godolphin’s colors at Churchill Downs in Saturday’s
running of the $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club
(GII), a 1 1/16-mile race that is the co-feature with the $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies on the track’s popular “Stars of Tomorrow
Imperia narrowly missed in his August racing debut in a runner-up finish in a 1 1/16-mile grass race at Saratoga, but stepped immediately into stakes competition and won the Pilgrim (GIII) on the Belmont Park turf in late September.
The Pilgrim victory earned Imperia a shot at the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Santa Anita, but a myriad of traffic problems prevented him to do much more than break out of a strong gallop during the 1 1/16-mile race. He finished 10th of 14, but was beaten by only 3 ¾ lengths by the victorious Hootenanny.
But Imperia came of the race well and has two strong works at Florida’s Palm Meadows to his credit since his trouble-plagued Breeders’ Cup journey, and McLaughlin decided now was the time to see if he can handle dirt and that Churchill Downs was a good spot for the colt for that test.
“He’s trained very well on dirt,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes you start a horse on the turf because of the distance, and that’s what he wanted. We felt like we weren’t going to waste our time running short on the dirt, so we ran him long of the turf and he ran very well.”
Of Imperia’s next start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, McLaughlin said his colt “just didn’t have anywhere to run.” But after that he had a discussion with Shadwell’s Jimmy Bell that led to his presence in the field of 12 2-year-olds for Saturday’s Kentucky Jockey Club.
“I said that maybe this was a good time to run him on the dirt and see if he would like it, rather than waiting until February to find out if he’s equally as good on the dirt,” McLaughlin recalled. “So we decided to go to Churchill to see if he likes that dirt.”
A big run by Imperia, McLaughin’s third Kentucky Derby Future Wager representative, and strong efforts by his Remsen hopes would only solidify what is perceived at this early stage to be one of the strongest hands held by any trainer looking toward the 2015 Spring Classics.
“We do have four colts that are possible,” he said. “We hope Imperia runs well enough that we can stay on the dirt. If not, we’ll go back to turf. But the other three are all dirt horses.”
McLaughlin will stay in New York to saddle his Remsen duo, so his brother Neal will come to Churchill Downs to send Imperia into the starting gate for the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Source: Churchill Downs