02/12/2015 12:20PM

Hovdey: Desormeaux looks for solace in Uzziel


You never know where you’ll reach a trainer on a dark-day afternoon. The golf course can be a good bet, sometimes a poker parlor, maybe a farm, or deep in a Barcalounger, dozing off to a grainy rerun of “Boots Malone.”

If it’s around 4 o’clock, chances are he’ll be at the barn watching horses eat. That’s when a call was placed to Keith Desormeaux on Wednesday to check on Texas Red, the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, close runner-up in the most recent 2-year-old Eclipse Award beauty pageant, and more recently sidelined with a hoof problem that has thrown a monkey wrench into his Kentucky Derby plans.

Instead of feeding time in California, though, it was on toward supper in Louisiana, where Desormeaux was visiting family and looking in on his string at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

“I’m here helping my dad fix his dryer,” Desormeaux said. “Something to get my mind off business.”

The Texas Red business was looking great until last Friday, when Desormeaux and his crew did not like the way the big son of Afleet Alex was traveling. The colt had just gone back to the track following his solid 2015 debut in the San Vicente Stakes five days before.

The culprit was an abscess found in his right front foot and ready to burst. By the following Tuesday, Texas Red was on a van to Premier Equine Center in the town of Oakdale, about five hours north of Santa Anita, where he could maintain a level of fitness without aggravating the hoof. Desormeaux was determined to put the best possible spin on a bad situation.

“We figured out the problem, and we’re enthusiastic now that we’ll have a chance to freshen him and let this thing run its course,” the trainer said. “He’ll be off this week, just walking, then we’ll start treadmilling him the following week along with swimming while the abscess heals. I don’t typically use swimming therapy, but this is a different case. There’s no other series of races so important on such a time schedule.”

When Texas Red left town, there were 82 days to the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

“So, he’ll swim for two weeks, and then he’ll come back to the track,” Desormeaux said. “When he comes back, if he’s not 100 percent, we’ll just put him away and look towards a campaign later on in the year. But I don’t even want to think about that. We’re giving him the best chance to make it, and he’ll make it. We all have a positive vibe about this.”

In the meantime, the Desormeaux stable will try to ease the pain of Texas Red’s suddenly empty stall by leading over the speedy filly Uzziel for the $200,000 Santa Maria on Saturday at Santa Anita. The California-bred daughter of Harlington (by Unbridled) won the Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita last April for trainer Mike Puype, then took the Beverly Lewis Stakes at Los Alamitos in September, both at 6 1/2 furlongs. The Santa Maria will be her first start for Desormeaux, who got Uzziel last month from owners James and Tammy McKenney.

“They said they liked my way of training,” Desormeaux said. “So, I’m anxious to see how this filly runs stretching out like this. I know she’ll be a price in there, but I don’t see anything like Beholder or Iotapa in the field.”

Iotapa, who won the Santa Maria and two other major West Coast stakes last year, was sold in November for $2.8 million at Keeneland, while two-time champion Beholder is training for another comeback. That leaves La Canada Stakes winner Thegirlinthatsong and the Bob Baffert pair of Awesome Baby and Sweet Marini as the top Santa Maria contenders.

“Kent worked Uzziel a couple of times and really liked her,” Desormeaux said. “I was hoping to get him, but he’s riding up north on Saturday. At least he didn’t spin me for another horse in the race.”

Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s younger brother and the target of his abuse, has a date in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby with California Cup Derby winner Mischief Clem. Fernando Perez will ride Uzziel, which is Hebrew for “God is my strength,” as well as the name of an Austrian band whose genre is described as melodic thrash/groove metal, if by “melodic” you mean cutting through a muck bin with a band saw.

Keith Desormeaux doesn’t care, as long as he’s still got a shot at hearing “My Old Kentucky Home.” The roster of outstanding young horses who were derailed before they could get a shot at the Derby is long and honorable – Stagehand, Sir Gaylord, Buckpasser, Graustark, Hoist the Flag, Hostage, Street Cry, Eskendereya, Constitution, and Shared Belief, just to name a few. The trainer will do what he can to keep Texas Red off the list.

“He’s got to get cranked up and two-minute licking and breezing within a month to five weeks,” Desormeaux said. “And I won’t be shocked if he is. That’s one of the qualities of a good horse. They seemingly run on a higher metabolic level. When something goes bad – a shin, a cough, a cold – these horses get over it quicker. He seems to be that kind of horse.”