04/03/2014 10:52AM

Andrew Beyer: Social Inclusion being thrown into deep end in Wood Memorial

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Barbara D. Livingston
Social Inclusion scored a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his allowance victory at Gulfstream Park.

Owners, trainers, breeders, and fans all dream of seeing a young racehorse start his career so brilliantly that his potential appears limitless. There haven’t been many such Thoroughbred stars in the United States in recent years, but an extraordinarily precocious colt has suddenly burst onto the racing scene.

Social Inclusion made his debut at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 22 and won a maiden race by 7 1/2 lengths in fast time. In his second start, he faced Honor Code, then considered a top contender for the Kentucky Derby, and ran away from him by 10 lengths, breaking a track record.

On Saturday, he will compete in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and try to qualify for the Derby.

If fate had placed Social Inclusion into the sure-handed care of a trainer such as Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, or Graham Motion, the racing world would be hailing him without equivocation as a bright new star. But people in the sport don’t know quite what to make of Social Inclusion because his destiny is in the hands of an enigmatic, unrealistic owner and an 85-year-old trainer who has never won a Grade 1 stakes.

This much is certain: Having raced only two times, Social Inclusion is underprepared for the Wood and the Derby. But it is hard to tell modern-day horse owners to temper their desire to win the Kentucky Derby. To many of them, it’s the only race that matters.

When Ron Sanchez went to a sale at Keeneland and saw Social Inclusion as a yearling, he turned to his trainer, Manny Azpurua, and declared, “I think we have a Derby horse.” He bought the colt for $60,000.

Sanchez came to the United States from his native Venezuela and started his Rontos Racing Stable in 2010. He owns about 50 horses, most of them based in Florida and a few in California. He was almost unknown in the sport until last month. He has said in recent interviews that he is “in the insurance business” and “a financial adviser to athletes,” though Google searches provide little information about him beyond his recent racing activities.

Sanchez’s profile was raised significantly after Social Inclusion’s second victory. Gulfstream had scheduled an allowance race to give Honor Code his first start as a 3-year-old, but Social Inclusion shot to the lead in the field of five and ran away from the favorite, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.97. His Beyer Speed Figure of 111 was the best pre-Derby race at a mile or longer by any 3-year-old since 2009.

This is the time of year when Thoroughbred owners are looking for 3-year-old prospects and often are willing to pay outlandish prices for them. Sanchez’s phone started ringing with offers from prospective buyers, but he proved to be a reluctant seller.

One overseas buyer offered $8 million, but Sanchez told the online Paulick Report that he was holding out for $15 million. Ray Paulick wrote that the number “set new standards for absurdity.” Sanchez also wanted to retain an ownership stake in the colt and wanted Azpurua to remain the trainer, a condition that would have been unacceptable to virtually any would-be buyer. Sanchez finally decided that he would wait until after the Wood Memorial to entertain further offers.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

If his negotiating position was unrealistic, so too may be his ambitions. As talented as Social Inclusion is, he has not been in a tough, competitive race. When he defeated Honor Code, he took an unchallenged early lead in a five-horse field otherwise devoid of speed.

Going into the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, against battle-tested speedsters such as Samraat (5 for 5 in his career) and Uncle Sigh, is a huge leap. He might succeed on the basis of sheer superior talent – none of his Wood rivals has ever earned a Beyer higher than 96 – but even if he wins Saturday, he would face an almost insuperable challenge at Churchill Downs.

In the Derby, sufficient preparation is almost as important as raw talent. No horse since 1882 has won it without having raced as a 2-year-old, and that statistic is no fluke. Even if a youngster races only once at 2, he has gone through weeks or months of serious preparation to reach the starting gate. That foundation of fitness has proved essential in the Derby.

After Sanchez bought Social Inclusion, he sent the colt to trainer Jeff Bonde in California, where he recorded a series of workouts in the spring. Bonde said the colt “was good-looking, and he had a lot of talent . . . but he was immature.” So, he sent the colt to a farm to give him more time to develop.

Near the end of the year, Sanchez said, “I decided to bring him to Florida and change training methods.” He believes strongly in Azpurua – “an old-school trainer, a good guy, a legend in Venezuela,” where he won more than 3,500 races – though the veteran’s career statistics in the United States hardly support such confidence.

Social Inclusion had his first workout under Azpurua’s care Jan. 4 and has made extraordinarily fast progress to get to the Wood Memorial three months later. Sanchez dismisses the suggestion that his colt doesn’t have enough seasoning for the challenges ahead of him. “I am not concerned about inexperience,” he said. “When he gets to the track, he knows what to do.”

Owners and trainers obsessed with the Kentucky Derby don’t want to acknowledge one of the hard facts of the sport: The surest way to compromise a promising horse’s future is to ask him to do too much too soon. That maxim is true at any level of the game, but especially in the Triple Crown series, which takes a fearsome toll on the horses who compete in it.

But Sanchez says that competing in the Derby is “the dream of my life,” and anyone who bought his colt probably would feel the same way. Social Inclusion is destined to undertake some tough challenges for which he may not be ready.

© 2014 The Washington Post

William Lee More than 1 year ago
I am not sure WHERE I should be writing this, OR to whom I should be writing it to... But I am SO sick to my stomach, that I just HAD to write to SOMEONE! (Or thru someone?) I was at Gulfstream this afternoon, and in the last race, there was a horse that was running for the THIRD TIME THIS MONTH! (And even THAT was not spaced well..) He had ran on the 12th of April, then the 18th (SIX days later,) THEN today on the 26th (8 days later.) IN the middle of the stretch run he broke down throwing the young jockey OVER his head, although I think the jockey was alright. Meanwhile the horse continued to run/flounder on front legs that looked like limp noodles.. I didn't hang around to see the outcome... Everyone is talking about the amount of drugs that people are putting in these animals, but what about the time between races for aches, strains, pulls, etc... to heal? HOW come the track (and the track vets) ALLOW a horse to run SO many times so soon?? Even if the horse looks and acts alright, I think it is CRAZY to run a horse SO many times in what amounts to 3 races in only. 2 weeks!! Someone needs to be held RESPONSIBLE for this, and the race tracks (and owners, trainers, vets, grooms, exercise riders, etc.. etc..) need to STOP the "lip service" and IF THEY REALLY CARE as they say they do, they need to do RIGHT by the animal... Poor horse, poor, poor horse.. I just think it was SO senseless..
Maynard More than 1 year ago
A horse may have talent, but Andrew Beyer is right. It needs to be treated like any other athlete. It needs to be CONDITIONED for what is being asked of it. How can a horse be expected to go to a totally different type of track and race farther than ever being trained for against much stiffer competition? Beyer said SI was being thrown to the wolves. You who wish to put him down because he has not picked the Derby winner for a while should admit he has more knowledge about thoroughbred racing in his little finger than most of us have in our whole brain. It remains to be seen if this race may have damaged the horse to be handled this way.
L.S. Heatherly More than 1 year ago
Those that said Social Inclusion, entering the Woodward , was being tossed in the deep end? Well they were not right -- they got LUCKY. A few facts: 1. if SI had drawn a post position of 1 thru 9; then he would have had to travel at least a nose (more like 6 inches to one length less in distance). He lost by a nose!! 2. If he had broken good, rather than a little off balance --with his weight more on his hind legs; then he would have got to the wire a nose faster! 3. If he had had more than 3 weeks after breaking an ALL TIME 1 mile an 1/16 track record for a major track, Gulfstream Park ; well then he would have gotten to the wire MUCH MORE than a nose faster! Cal C has not yet broken an all- time route record for Santa Anita. 4. If SI had had a 16% to 23% jockey-- instead of a 10% jockjey; then he would have very LIKEKLY gotten home a nose faster. (Unless jockeys have nothing to do with the final time.)! In summary, without such luck on the side of the put downers(mostly the "pros") ; Social Inclusion would have finished at least 2nd-- would have been in the Kentucky Derby! The pros had a lot of luck (as well as elitism, arrogance and very little compassion! Sorry thoroughbred pros; it was not your smarts: You were, merely, very short on hearts
Frank Ramirez More than 1 year ago
The horse proved he belongs at this level of competition. Why not the Kentucky Derby? This race was a bounce.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Any horse doing something for the first time hard to bet hIm as a favorite. Allowance to grade one you need 6-1 at least. IMO.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Fools made him the favorite, it pains me to be correct. Now lets hope he is healthy.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
OK Beyer, you slug, now you owe apologies to Willie AND to Manny. Go back to DC.
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
Wow. A $60,000 purchase, and an offer for $8 million.? As a former owner, you always think about having a horse run in the derby, but reality as a sneaky habit of creeping up on you. Most owners would have snatched that $8 million, and moved on, and I give a lot of credit to the connections of Social Inclusion for turning down the offer. Persoanlly, I would have maybe raise the price to $10 million, and they probably would have paid that sum, and I would have moved on. You have a sound healthy horse today, and maybe a sick or injured one tomorrow. Take the profit and run.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
If that is true I Agree with you. But if they are very wealthy, maybe the don't care
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Smart money, lets hope Social Incl is the favorite, then he's a great "bet against". If he wins he deserves the chance to move on to the Derby. Unfotunately, history has shown this type of class jump is too often a failure and hurts the horse. All to ooften the "smart money" touts this kind of horse, often to watch their money go by by. If he wins I will root for him to beomce a great one, but without winning a NW3L yet, it's a little hard to deem him a new sensation.
Malihe Yahyavi More than 1 year ago
Social inclusion should be 3-5. if he opens 2-1 then he wont hit the board lol sad to say but that's racing He is Big Brown