03/28/2011 1:29PM

2011 Kentucky Derby: Under the Radar - Nehro

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rosie Napravnik, who rode Pants On Fire (center) to victory in the Louisiana Derby, will try to become the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

They can’t all be Uncle Mo.

They can’t all be brilliant from the get-go.

Some of these Derby hopefuls need a few starts to fit in. Then, after a couple of confidence-builders or a change to the right distance, the light bulb switches on and their heads get into the game.

Nehro, a Mineshaft colt trained by Steve Asmussen, opened some eyes with a runner-up finish in the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 26. A late-developing bay, he may attempt to confirm his status as a legitimate Kentucky Derby prospect in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in three weeks.

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Bred by Mt. Brilliant Farm, the former home of the legendary Man o’ War, Nehro was foaled on March 25, 2008 and sold to Zayat Stables for $170,000 the following September at Keeneland.

He is by the long-winded stallion Mineshaft, who earned Horse of the Year honors as a 4-year-old of 2003 after wins in the Diplomat Way Stakes, the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes, and the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap, and Grade 1 triumphs in the Pimlico Special, Suburban Handicap, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. A European import trained in the United States by Neil Howard, Mineshaft closed out his career with 10 straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, including a career-best 118 in the Pimlico Special.

Mineshaft was strictly a router. He never sprinted, and won at distances ranging from one mile to 1 1/4 miles. At stud, he, predictably, has passed on his stoutness. Although his lone Grade 1 winner from four crops is Discreetly Mine, the winner of the King’s Bishop Stakes at seven furlongs, Mineshaft’s graded-winning progeny also include Kentucky Derby hopeful Dialed In (Holy Bull Stakes, one mile), Fly Down (Dwyer Stakes 1 1/8 miles), Redding Colliery (Hawthorne Gold Cup, 1 1/4 miles), Cool Coal Man (Fountain of Youth, 1 1/8 miles), and Casino Drive (Peter Pan Stakes, 1 1/8 miles).

Nehro’s female family also offers hope for classic races like the Kentucky Derby. His dam, the Afleet mare The Administrator, won the Singing Beauty Stakes at seven furlongs, and was able to successfully stretch her ability to a mile and 70 yards. Besides Nehro, she has foaled Saint Marden, the winner of the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap at nine furlongs, and Sweet Lips, who scored in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at 1 1/16 miles.

The Administrator is a half-sister to Serela, the winner of the Sham Say Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Pimlico. Other half-siblings to Nehro’s dam include Shahpour, twice stakes-placed at nine furlongs on grass; Miniriza, stakes placed at 1 1/8 miles on dirt; and three-time stakes winner Zalipour.

Nehro made his career debut going six furlongs at Fair Grounds on Dec. 12, 2010. Outsprinted in the early stages while four wide and in between horses, Nehro was asked for his best on the turn, swung widest into the stretch, and passed a few tired horses to finish fourth. It was a solid performance considering the distance was probably too short for him. The winner of that race, Prime Cut, upset the heavily hyped Bind in an allowance race the same day as the Louisiana Derby.

Nehro bombed in his first start as a 3-year-old, a one-mile maiden special weight at Oaklawn on Jan. 15. The colt showed no interest at all, racing in midpack down the backstretch before dropping back through the field turning for home. He passed only one rival in the stretch, finishing next-to-last as the 2-1 second choice in the field of 11.

Following that non-effort, it was understandable that Nehro was 15-1 for his next race, a similar Oaklawn maiden at a mile. Nehro broke a beat slowly, and was taken well off the rail while far back entering the backstretch. Nehro continued well behind after a half-mile in 47.18, but began to pick things up entering the final turn. He whipped by horses while five wide on the turn, took the lead in a blink of an eye, and opened up on the field to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Critics would point out that the Oaklawn surface seemed to favor late-kickers like Nehro the entire day, but there was no doubting the positive visual impressive he left.

Nehro trained steadily leading up to the Louisiana Derby, but was shunned at 36-1 by bettors handicapping the richest race ever run in New Orleans. He was brushed at the start, but showed greater speed than ever before, tracking the leaders from third while in between rivals. Nehro continued to track the pace while off the rail, saved ground turning for home, and closed with a solid rally to miss by a neck. It was a career-best performance for Nehro as he finished ahead of Derby dreamers Mucho Macho Man, Elite Alex, Machen, and Wilkinson, and he galloped out past the winner after the race.

Nehro’s newfound tactical speed should serve him well. It goes without saying that he is handled by top connections, and should appreciate long-distance racing. He is professional with his lead changes, and showed in the Louisiana Derby that he is comfortable racing along the inside.

Nehro still may need some earnings to get into the bulky Derby field. It will be interesting to see if Asmussen tries the Arkansas Derby route, but Nehro looks like a promising sleeper.