11/12/2014 3:11PM

Hovdey: Desormeaux resists lure of a Jackpot

Barbara D. Livingston
Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red will bypass the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot.

He was tempted. Oh, man, was he tempted. A million-dollar pot dangling from a low branch at a racetrack he knew like the back of his hand. A colt fresh out of a monster race who woke up the next day looking for more. What trainer in his right mind would pass up such a chance?

At some point, Keith Desormeaux tuned out that little devil of expedience whispering in one ear and listened to the angel of discretion perched on the other shoulder. Texas Red, last seen dismantling the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 1, would not be running in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot on Nov. 22, the richest race in the trainer’s home state of Louisiana.

“I’m back here right now, moving from one track to the other,” Desormeaux said Tuesday morning. “Fair Grounds is about to start, and the track is open for training.”

There was still time, though, to drop the name of Texas Red into the pre-entries for the Jackpot. Tuesday was the deadline.

“We’ve got him in light training there at Santa Anita, galloping well and with vigor,” Desormeaux said. “There’s no fatigue that we can see. It does make me wonder if he’s ready to go at them again, and if the Jackpot wasn’t so darn close to the Breeders’ Cup, we might have thought about it more. But I think we’ve already accomplished over and beyond what we set out to do, especially what we put him through.”

Before he hit the lead in the stretch of the Juvenile and went on to win by 6 1/2 lengths at 13-1, Texas Red was a young colt known mostly for his mileage. He trained in Ocala, Fla., with April Mayberry until April 1, then joined the Desormeaux barn at Keeneland. After Keeneland closed, Texas Red headed to Arlington, where he was beaten a neck in his debut, then headed West with the Desormeaux runners bound for Del Mar, where he won a maiden race in August before relocating to Santa Anita, where he was third in the FrontRunner Stakes before winning the Juvenile. He did all his traveling by trailer.

“That seems like a lot to ask of a baby, especially while he’s developing in fitness and maturity,” Desormeaux said. “It just seems like the right thing to do is to back off and let him grow.”

The idea of a bigger Texas Red is a little daunting.

“He’s big-boned, he’s tall, he’s wide, but he’s a little rounded, almost babyish in the way his muscles are shaped,” Desormeaux said. “He doesn’t have those angular and ripped muscles at this point. But man, he’s so nice to look at, and it will only get better.”

With his Breeders’ Cup win, Texas Red would seem to have a firm hold on an Eclipse Award, despite the Juvenile being his only stakes win. Of the 30 previous Juvenile winners, 22 were voted champions. Those who were not lost the vote to horses with significantly superior records in spite of the Breeders’ Cup (Success Express to Forty Niner, Is It True to Easy Goer, Brocco to Dehere, Vale of York to Lookin At Lucky) or to horses who tipped support in their favor with late-season heroics (Declan’s Moon, Shared Belief).

The precedent of a 2-year-old male champ with a single stakes win was set in 1976, when Seattle Slew ran just three times and won three times: a maiden race, an allowance race, and the Champagne Stakes by an official 9 3/4 lengths, although it looked more like 10.

Then again, that was Seattle Slew, a Thoroughbred who proved to be the exception to a whole stack of rules. It was not until the era of the Breeders’ Cup was well under way that the 2-year-old championship could be settled with a single graded stakes victory, as long as that victory came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

It happened first in 1989, when Rhythm won the Juvenile at Gulfstream Park, then in 1999, when Anees took the Juvenile, also at Gulfstream, and again in the 2003 Juvenile at Santa Anita, where Action This Day passed all 11 opponents in the final three-eighths to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

If there is any Juvenile winner reminiscent of Texas Red’s profile, it would be Street Sense, who went into the 2006 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs with a maiden win and two promising stakes placings in four starts. He won by 10 lengths at odds of 15-1.

Street Sense was that rare bridge horse of his generation, dusting the best of the early risers in the BC Juvenile and then, in the Kentucky Derby six months later, defeating a fresh wave of contemporaries that included Curlin, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday.

Co-owner Desormeaux and his partners – Erich Brehm, Lee Michaels, and Wayne Detmar – are determined to give Texas Red every chance to follow in such large footsteps.

“We’re discussing all kinds of options,” the trainer said. “But as far as where he trains, he’s definitely not going anywhere. The record of 3-year-olds coming out of California is undeniable. You do wonder if at some point you’d want to put him on a plane for the first time, to acclimate him for later, but that’s probably overthinking it.”

But fun to think about.