Updated on 09/16/2011 8:16AM

He's no longer a horse nobody wants

Dustin Orona/Reed Palmer Photography
The Judge Sez Who, one of the top contenders in the Super Derby, was returned to his owner as a yearling after failing a vet's exam at auction.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - The $300,000 Oklahoma Derby last month was a breakout race for The Judge Sez Who, a yearling sale reject who has worked his way from the claiming ranks to become one of the favorites for the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on Saturday.

"He's a Horatio Alger story," said his owner, Richard Simon. "From nothing to something."

The Judge Sez Who has logged a lot of miles since leaving his Calder Race Course base in Miami in July. After winning an overnight stakes there, his connections felt he deserved a shot at bigger things, and he was sent to Thistledown outside Cleveland for the Grade 2, $300,000 Ohio Derby, where he finished third, beaten less than two lengths by Magic Weisner.

From there, The Judge Sez Who traveled to Mountaineer Park in Chester, W. Va., and finished second, beaten a neck by Wiseman's Ferry, in the Grade 3, $600,000 West Virginia Derby. Then, in his most recent start, the colt rewarded Simon and trainer Milton Wolfson for their persistence by running down Easyfromthegitgo to win the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park in Oklahoma City.

The victory was a long time in the making for The Judge Sez Who, who joined Simon's stable by default. "We took him to the yearling sale in 2000," the owner said. "All my experts said, 'You've got to sell. He doesn't have the look.' "

Simon, who said he liked the colt, complied and sold The Judge Sez Who for $10,000. But the colt did not pass a veterinarian's examination because of a stifle problem, and the new owner brought him back to Simon.

"I said, 'I'll take him to the vet and fix him, and you own him,' " said Simon, 67. "He said, 'Do that, and I'll pay $5,000 for him.' After that, I said the horse is no longer for sale."

Simon was glad to have The Judge Sez Who back. "I was there the day he was was born," Simon said. "He's been like my horse since day one."

When the time was right, Simon sent the colt to Wolfson at Calder.

"He's a horse that's gotten better as he's gone along," said Wolfson. "When he first started out, he never showed that much in the morning because he didn't have much speed. But when he started racing, he had a kick like you just wouldn't believe. You couldn't believe he could win from where he was in a race."

The Judge Sez Who finished sixth in his 2-year-old debut at 4 1/2 furlongs, then was dropped into a $25,000 maiden claimer in his next start and won, benefiting from the extra distance he was given in a 5 1/2 -furlong race. From there, he won his next three starts, all while climbing the class ladder.

The Judge Sez Who began his 3-year-old season with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby in January. He was meant to go after major prizes from there but was sidelined after being bumped hard in the race.

"We sent him back to the farm," said Simon. "That's why he was not on the Triple Crown trail."

The Judge Sez Who won his comeback in June and two starts later captured an overnight stakes at Calder. From there, the road trips began. "The horse was showing he was ready to take on a little stiffer competition," Wolfson said.

With his victory in the Remington Derby, The Judge Sez Who passed $500,000 in earnings, and his success has been helpful to Simon's 600-horse operation, Sez Who Thoroughbreds.

"He's brought a lot of income in, and we've gotten some reputation with him," said Simon, who founded Sez Who in 1999.

Simon has two equine facilities: a 420-acre farm and training center in Ocala, Fla., and a 260-acre operation in New York. His mare count stands at 255, and next spring, he expects to sell 100 horses at 2-year-old-in-training sales. By 2004, his 2-year-old offerings should number 200.

Although Sez Who is a commercial breeding operation, Simon keeps 10 to 12 horses in training. He stands five stallions and has an ownership stake in all but one of them.

The stallion roster at the Ocala farm for 2003 will include Outofthebox, who won the Super Derby last year; Island Whirl, who won the 1981 Super Derby; Grade 3 winner Rizzi, who is off to a fast start at stud; Wheaton, a half-brother to top sire Storm Cat; and Grade 2 winner Prime Timber.

If things go according to plan Saturday, Simon could one day be standing three Super Derby winners at Sez Who Thoroughbreds.