10/29/2014 1:36PM

Hovdey: Three Breeders' Cup shots for Desormeaux et frere

Barbara D. Livingston
Kent Desormeaux exercises Texas Red, a Breeders' Cup Juvenile contender for his brother Keith.

Keith Desormeaux was doing the work. The 2-year-olds Texas Red and Danette were cooled out in their stalls while Marchman, the barn’s older pro, was getting his bath after a work on the grass. Wearing a morning growth of whiskers and a gray T-shirt flecked with sweat and straw, Desormeaux, 47, moved among them, letting himself feel a little bit of the excitement of the approaching Breeders’ Cup.

“You can say it’s just like any other bunch of races, but that doesn’t mean it’s happening,” Desormeaux said. “I’m trying to convey that to the crew, that it’s just another day. But there’s no doubt the pressure’s being amped up.”

As if to underline the mood, there arrived two inspecting veterinarians from the Breeders’ Cup who wanted to see all three Desormeaux runners, feel their legs, flex their joints, and observe them at a jog on the hardpan road running alongside the barn. The 2-year-olds were frisky on the narrow road, which was busy at that time of day with service vehicles anxious to do their work. Texas Red, an imposing lad, acted like he was about to boil. Desormeaux, at the shank, reached up and stroked his neck.

“I got you, boy,” the trainer said. “Don’t worry, I got you.”

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “Long Rein: Tales from the World of Horse Racing,” a collection of columns and features by Jay Hovdey

The vets demanded that Marchman be presented before he’d finished his bath (apparently, they were late for a meeting), and so he came out, his bay coat still wet, and calmly submitted to the once-over. While the vets marked their scorecards, this reporter made his own subjective notations: legs like small oaks, a body equipped to haul the freight, a thoroughly tested athlete ready for the toughest race of his career in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Saturday.

There is precious little money on the table for turf sprinters, and very little prestige. Marchman has earned his $407,954 winning races like the Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs and the Shakertown at Keeneland. Bret Calhoun trains Marchman for the Martin Racing Stables in the East, although Desormeaux had him at Del Mar during the summer of 2013, when he won a first-level allowance race while still learning the ropes.

“It’s great to have him back,” Desormeaux said. “He’s bigger and stronger than when I had him as a 3-year-old, and mentally, he seems pretty fresh. The real challenge is with this quirky turf course. Unless you’re stabled here, a horse has never seen anything like it in his life.”

:: DRF Live: Real-time updates from the Breeders’ Cup, including live video coverage

Desormeaux has saddled only two Breeders’ Cup starters. Having three at one roll is truly bucking the odds for a medium-sized stable split between Louisiana and California.

“I hate to bring it up,” the trainer said, “but do I get credit for being unofficially attached to a fourth horse?”

That would be Private Prospect, who runs against Texas Red in the Juvenile for trainer Michael Campbell off a close second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity. The son of Discreet Cat was purchased for $20,000 by Desormeaux as a yearling, then claimed for $50,000 out of his first start. The trainer is still kicking himself.

“I felt like an ass. All this work we do to get them right, and then we give him away,” Desormeaux said. “When I get down, though, my owners remind me that I bought seven yearlings at Keeneland last year, and three of them are in the Breeders’ Cup.”

If the Desormeaux runners have a good Breeders’ Cup, so will Keith’s brother, Kent, who rides them all.

Three years Keith’s junior, Kent Desormeaux has a Breeders’ Cup record of four wins from 84 mounts dating back to 1992. His heady ride in the 1993 Turf at Santa Anita did a lot for Kotashaan’s Horse of the Year honors, while his other wins came with Desert Stormer in the 1995 Sprint, Corinthian in the 2007 Dirt Mile, and Unrivaled Belle in the 2010 Distaff, then called the Ladies’ Classic.

Kent Desormeaux has had a dozen others hit the board and 16 finish fourth, but for a Hall of Famer with 5,606 wins, 4 for 84 is nothing to write home about.

“Breeders’ Cup has been tough on me,” the rider said. “Formal Gold was 1-9 to win the Classic in his year, and he gets hurt the week before.”

After a resurgent summer at Del Mar, Desormeaux was touch-and-go to even make the Breeders’ Cup after sustaining a fractured rib and partially collapsed lung in a freakish post-parade accident at Santa Anita on Sept. 28.

The day before he was hurt, Desormeaux was aboard Texas Red when he finished third to American Pharoah in the FrontRunner Stakes and aboard Danette when she was third to Angela Renee in the Chandelier. He returned to riding in time to handle Keith’s horses in their final Breeders’ Cup works.

“In years past, I couldn’t get him hardly at all,” Keith said. “When I was in California in the late ‘90s, the only way I could get my hands on him was if he wasn’t taken in a race. He was riding for Drysdale, Baffert, Mandella. Now he’s winning races again, but my stock’s a little better, too, so it’s working out for me.”

There has been a father-and-son victory in a Breeders’ Cup race – when Joe O’Brien rode St Nicholas Abbey to victory in the 2011 Turf for Aidan O’Brien – but never a brother act.

“I promise you,” Kent said, “if I’m fortunate enough to win a race for my brother, I’ll be an emotional wreck.”

And Keith’s reaction? He just grinned.

“It’d be great,” he said. “Maybe even then I’d be known as something besides ‘the brother.’ ”