Updated on 05/31/2013 3:57PM

Jay Hovdey: Affirmed offers another shot to break through

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Dice Flavor returns in Sunday’s Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood, his first start since he finished eighth in the U.A.E. Derby at Meydan.

On paper, it appears as if Dice Flavor got lost in the desert on the way to the Kentucky Derby.

A son of Scat Daddy out of a mare by Afleet, Dice Flavor was last seen in this hemisphere running off with the nine-furlong El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 16 at Golden Gate Fields. His victory by nearly four lengths was not particularly fast, at least by the standards of the figure folks, but it came with a bit of flair.

Cut to Dubai, on the evening of March 30, and there was our West Coast hero in the Meydan starting gate for the $2 million U.A.E. Derby, a race of 1 3/16 miles over a Tapeta surface that was advertised as similar to the Tapeta back home at Golden Gate. Anyway, that’s what it said on the wrapper.

Things did not go so well for Dice Flavor that night in Dubai. He seemed to be an unhappy horse from the get-go, tossed about and jostled in tight quarters through the first few furlongs under the lights. With half a mile to go he was finished, as the leading group went on without him. His trainer, Paddy Gallagher, looked on with dismay.

“When he got there he was a little bit colicky,” Gallagher said. “He might have been a bit dehydrated, but by the next day he was fine and seemed fine for the rest of the time he was there. Maybe it took more out of him than I thought.

“He broke nice and then the two or three in front of him slowed it up, and the horses from behind sort of ran up around him. He started getting bumped from the inside and the outside, then I kind of lost him for a while when he was there in the middle of them. I’m not using that as an excuse, but that’s the way it happened. It looked like he was going to drop out completely, but then he at least came on to pass three or four of them in the stretch.”

Dice Flavor finished eighth of 12 to the victorious Lines of Battle, who went on to finish seventh in the Kentucky Derby.

“When he got back here he was a little bit light,” Gallagher said. “Then after about three weeks he started putting on weight. So we went back to training him, and since then he’s been acting nice.”

Given his international connections, Dice Flavor’s Dubai try should not have been a surprise. He races for the partnership of Noburo Oda, whose business is high-end retail food stores, and Takashi Toriumi, who owns the air transport company US Equine. Toriumi introduced Oda to Gallagher at the 2012 Barretts sale of 2-year-olds, where they bought Dice Flavor for $100,000.

“I was mostly disappointed for the owners in Dubai,” Gallagher said. “We knew we were taking a bit of a shot. But it was a great experience. I’d love to go back there someday with a horse who can win one of those races.”

Back on earth, Dice Flavor returns to action in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap on Sunday at Hollywood Park, going 1 1/16 miles on yet another synthetic surface against a field of young guns who were mercifully spared from running in the Kentucky Derby. Not that they didn’t try.

Den’s Legacy was on a number of short lists after finishing second in the Sham and the Lewis and third in the Rebel. Tiz a Minister got his people excited with a close third in the San Felipe before losses in the Santa Anita Derby and the Snow Chief. Manando finished up the track as the favorite in the El Camino Real, but before that he was a decent third in the Sham and more recently blew the doors off a first-level Hollywood allowance.

With the Triple Crown season nearly finished, a race like the Affirmed can provide a few hints for the division going forward. If a good horse has been hiding, the Affirmed is a friendly spot for him to break cover, as Wally Dollase did with Deputy Commander in 1997 and Jay Robbins did with Tiznow in 2000. One of them went on a few months later to win the Travers and the Super Derby, the other the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Horse of the Year.

Gallagher’s aspirations for Dice Flavor are a bit more realistic. To this point his six races have been either on grass or synthetic.

“I’m just hoping he proves he belongs in some of these nice 3-year-old races coming up the rest of the year,” the trainer said.

Derby-Belmont double a rarity

A note to those experiencing Triple Crown Letdown (TCL): Historically speaking, it is every bit as rare for a 3-year-old to win the Derby, lose the Preakness, and then win the Belmont as it is to sweep all three races. They just don’t have a name for it.

If Orb leads the pack to the gate next Saturday at Belmont Park, he will try to become only the 12th horse to bracket a Baltimore flop with victories in Louisville and New York.

The first one was Zev in 1923, when he won the Derby, beat one horse in the Preakness, then came back to go wire to wire to take the Belmont, run then at 1 3/8 miles. Zev (which I think means “orb” in Russian) returned to Belmont later in the year to defeat Epsom Derby winner Papyrus in a widely heralded match race.

The last colt to do the Dirty Double (No? OK, we’ll keep trying) was Thunder Gulch in 1995. Between Zev and Thunder Gulch came Twenty Grand (1931), Johnstown (1939), Shut Out (1942), Middleground (1950), Needles (1956), Chateaugay (1963), Riva Ridge (1972), Bold Forbes (1976), and Swale (1984). There is no known cure for TCL, but if Orb can join this group he at least might quiet the symptoms.

A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the years in which Johnstown and Swale won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Johnstown won the races in 1939; Swale in 1984.