Derby 1st-timers include trainers, jockeys, owners
When post time draws near for the Kentucky Derby, you can be sure the usual suspects will have a horse in the starting gate.
You’ve got your trainers: Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and D. Wayne Lukas; you’ve got your jockeys: Mike Smith, Gary Stevens and Calvin Borel; you’ve even got your owners: WinStar Farm and the trio of Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith.
They’re all back again for Saturday’s Run for the Roses. And so are a slew of rookies. The folks with first-time Derby jitters, veteran trainers living the dream, wide-eyed jockeys hoping the perfect ride skyrockets them to fame and owners envisioning a victory jaunt to the winner’s circle.
This Derby has its share of new characters — and a bit of international flair, including a trainer from South Africa, a jockey from France and an owner from India.
Some newbies worth noting:
— Mike de Kock (trainer, Mubtaahij): One of the world’s best known trainers is hardly a household name in the U.S. The 51-year-old South African has won more than 2,500 races, including close to 100 Group or Grade 1 races in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. In Mubtaahij, he comes to Louisville with a Derby rookie rider in Christophe Soumillon, who guided the colt to an eight-length win in the UAE Derby in Dubai. After that race, the decision was made: “What the hell, let’s have a crack at it,” De Kock said.
As for his first Derby experience, de Kock can’t wait: “Since a young man, one looks at the Kentucky Derby in awe. It doesn’t matter what country you come from. There’s great race meetings around the world and everyone likes to think that their meeting is the greatest, but I think the Kentucky Derby meeting has proven it’s got to be — if it isn’t the greatest, well, tell me which one is.”
— Kaleem Shah (owner, Dortmund): The owner shelled out $140,000 to purchase this huge colt at the Maryland 2-year-olds-in-training sale. Well done. Dortmund is unbeaten in six starts and already has earned nearly $1.3 million. Raised in southern India, Shah is the son of the country’s major trainer, Majeed, who won India’s version of the Triple Crown. The 52-year-old became a U.S. citizen in 1992 and is the founder of CalNet, a security consulting firm with clients that include the federal government and the military. A big soccer fan — his horse is named for Borussia Dortmund — he bought his first horses soon after he became a citizen and wisely teamed up with trainer Bob Baffert. He has won more than 100 races, including the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Baffert-trained Bayern.
“Kaleem Shah has waited a long time for horses like that,” Baffert said. “He’s been on a roll lately with Bayern and now him.”
— Carla Gaines (trainer, Bolo): The 62-year-old trainer grew up riding ponies on her grandfather’s farm in Alabama, went to the University of Alabama and planned a career working with troubled children. But she took a break and wound up in California. She trained sale horses, worked as an exercise rider and became an assistant trainer before moving to the Southern California circuit. She’ll be the 17th female trainer to send out a Derby starter and would be the first to win the race. In Bolo, she has a solid horse who finished third to Dortmund in the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby. Among her top horses were 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Dancing in Silks and multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Nashoba’s Key.
— Christophe Soumillon (jockey, Mubtaahij): Don’t write off this 33-year-old seasoned rider because it’s his first Derby. He’s been in the thick of many of the world’s toughest races — and has won his share. The France resident has wins in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2003, 2008), Hong Kong Gold Cup (2005), Queen Anne Stakes (2005), Japan Cup (2014), and in the U.S., the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Turf with Shirocco at Belmont Park.
— Team Tencendur (Phil Birsh, owner; George Weaver, trainer; Manny Franco, jockey): Now here’s a trifecta of rookies from long-shot land. The owner of Tencendur is the president/CEO of Playbill — the magazine used at nearly every Broadway theater and many others; the trainer was born in Louisville; and the 20-year-old jockey from Puerto Rico has been riding for just over two years. Birsh doesn’t race often. His stats show he’s averaging nine starts per year since 2000. Tencendur earned his way into the Derby by finishing third in the Wood Memorial. Weaver’s biggest win came in the 2013 Prioress Stakes with Lighthouse Bay. Since 1979, just two jockeys have won the Derby on their first try — Stewart Elliott (Smarty Jones, 2004) and Mario Gutierrez (I’ll Have Another, 2012).
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