Trainer Eoin Harty from Kildare is back for his third successive Kentucky Derby when American Lion goes to post this Saturday.
Sired by Tinzow, a double winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, American Lion won on his last trip out at the Illinois Derby (G3) on April 3 and was also first past the post at the Hollywood Prevue (G3) back in November.
“It has been less than ideal training conditions here due to the weather, but everything has gone well so far with American Lion. I have managed to dodge the bullets so far,” Harty told IrishCentral on Thursday evening.
The bullets are coming down from the sky in the form of raindrops, and it is shaping up to be a fine wet day for the Derby.
“It is the wettest the racetrack has been consistently since I have been coming back here, and supposedly it is going to be the wettest Derby in history.”
In the run outs this week the Winstar Farm-owned horse has being doing okay on the wet track, but Harty knows that practice and the real heat of competition are two totally different things.
“He has never run on a really wet-based track, he might love it or height hate it, but we are going to find out.
“He seems to train on it well, but training on it is only a partial simulation of what it is going to be like with 20 other horses vying to find the same spot.”
Racing is in the blood for Harty, who has a horse-training lineage that can be traced back to his great-great grandfather, Michael J. "Boss" Harty, who started training horses in 1880.
Harty's grandfather rode and trained Knight's Crest to win the 1944 Irish Grand National, and his father Eddie won the Grand National and competed at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
American Lion was drawn the number 7 position, which suits Harty down to the ground.
“Number 7 is fine, I didn’t want to be too far in or too far out, so I think we have got a pretty good spot.”
American Lion's odds were out there earlier in the week but have come down over the past few days. Harty sees two main contenders that are a cut above the rest in the field.
“I think the biggest rivals we will look at are Looking at Lucky, Sidney's Candy. With the exception of the two horses I mentioned, the whole odd spread for everyone else is 14 or 15- 1 or higher. It is a wide-open race, and with the exception of those two, everything else is a long shot.”
Harty left Ireland in the 80's and spent 14 years as assistant to John Russell and Bob Baffert, helping the latter lead Silver Charm to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes double in 1997 and repeat the same feat in 1998 with Real Quiet. He decided to go out his own in 2000. Last year he won the richest race in the world, when Well Armed won the 2009 Dubai World Cup.
Track conditions will have a huge impact come race time.
“Right now the ground is good, because we haven’t had rain in two days but there is no telling how bad it is going to be on race day."
So how what does he think of his horse’s chances?
“Well I wouldn’t put him in there if I didn’t think he had a chance to win it so I am hoping for the best."
However, Harty knows that no matter what, there are so many intangibles that no one can truly predict how the race will unfold.
“It is an absolute crapshoot, you prep your horse as best as you can and then leave it in the lap of the gods.”
David Flores will ride American Lion for the Derby, and the horse is currently a 30-1 shot.