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Jay Hovdey: Some Derby hopefuls can only dream
By Jay Hovdey
Life goes on. At least, that’s the rumor. But for as many fairy tales that could have come true during this year’s Kentucky Derby saga, just as many ended way too soon for the people closest to the 3-year-olds who fell by the wayside on the long haul to Churchill Downs.
Jack Wolf, managing partner of Starlight Racing, was deep in the Churchill Downs crowd Friday afternoon for the Kentucky Oaks program. In a perfect world he would have been on pins and needles, anticipating the performance of the stable’s Eclipse Award-winning Shanghai Bobby in the Derby the following day and fending off waves of racing press. Instead, Wolf was surprised when the phone rang and a reporter was on the other end.
“It’s been at least three weeks since anyone’s talked to me,” Wolf said, giving himself a hard time. “Although whenever I see any of the media back here they do say hello.”
When Shanghai Bobby suffered his first loss in the Holy Bull Stakes in January it was given the benefit of the doubt as a solid comeback effort, especially since Itsmyluckyday set a Gulfstream track record for 1 1/16 miles while beating the champ by two lengths. But when Shanghai Bobby finished a distant fifth to Orb in the Florida Derby, Wolf and trainer Todd Pletcher decided to pull the plug. Eventually, a pelvic stress fracture was diagnosed for the colt.
“The fracture was not displaced, so we were fortunate there,” Wolf said. “All they’re doing is walking him now. He’ll do that for 60 days, then start jogging. But you know how those estimates of time go. The good news is we caught it early. The vets think he’ll come back as good as new.”
Trainer Keith Desormeaux thought his ticket was punched for the Kentucky Derby when Ive Struck a Nerve lit up the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 23, at odds of 135-1. Desormeaux and his excited owners got to enjoy the buzz for exactly two weeks and then Ive Struck a Nerve came out of a March 9 workout with a fractured sesamoid. The colt underwent surgery with Dr. Larry Bramlage at the Rood and Riddle clinic in Lexington.
“He’s out of sight, but never out of mind,” Desormeaux said Friday morning after training at Evangeline Downs. “Dr. Bramlage couldn’t have asked for him to come out of the surgery any better. He inserted one screw, and looking at the X-rays after the surgery he couldn’t see the fracture line. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Ive Struck a Nerve is in Florida recuperating with April Mayberry at the Ocala farm she runs with her mother, Jeanne Mayberry. Desormeaux bought Ive Struck a Nerve from a Mayberry consignment at the Ocala sales, but he’s only the latest racehorse of note to pass through their hands as a young horse.
“He’s in Zenyatta’s old stall,” Desormeaux said, laughing at the idea. “That’s pretty cool. I guess April didn’t have any up-and-coming multi-millionaire babies to put in there just now.
“He’s just a few days away from starting to get a little exercise,” Desormeaux added. “He’s real good in his stall, but I’m sure he’s been getting a little riled up when he sees horses running out in the pasture.”
On the same afternoon Ive Struck a Nerve left the Derby trail, Hear the Ghost announced himself in a big way by defeating Sham Stakes winner Goldencents and Robert Lewis winner Flashback in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. The son of Ghostzapper did it with a strong closing kick in a manner that suggested he could be a contender when the distances stretched out.
Hear the Ghost was poised for an encore against the same opponents in the April 6 Santa Anita Derby when trainer Jerry Hollendorfer noticed something amiss in the right knee.
“There was line they saw in the X-rays,” said Ted Aroney, who owns Hear the Ghost with Hollendorfer. “There was no need for surgery. Stopping on him was a precautionary thing. It was disappointing, sure, and now I’m trying to unload some rooms in Kentucky. I went in hard on April 2, the deadline – six rooms at the Brown Hotel, non-refundable.”
It was the Friday morning before the Derby, so Aroney was working the phone from his Rancho Santa Fe home and running out of time.
“They were able to sell a couple,” Aroney added. “But at this point I think I’ll tell them to go ahead and give the rest of them to the homeless.”
As for Hear the Ghost, he has taken up residence at Dr. Mark Dedomenico’s Pegasus Training and Equine Rehabilitation Center near Seattle. Dedomenico, who raced champion Blind Luck with Hollendorfer, has established a state-of-the-art fitness and conditioning facility for both horses and humans. Among the satisfied graduates is Gary Stevens, who got his jockey body back at Pegasus last fall before launching his comeback.
“They’ll take good care of a horse like him up there,” Aroney said. “When he’s ready, he’ll come back.”
Wolf and Desormeaux were likewise hopeful that the bitter memory of missing the Kentucky Derby would ease with the return of their colts.
“Who knows, it could turn out to be one of those blessings in disguise,” Wolf said of Shanghai Bobby. “And maybe everybody who said he was a one-turn horse was right. I hate to sound like I’m making an excuse, but it sure seemed to me like he was injured coming out of the gate in the Florida Derby, and we’ve never really had a chance to see how far he could go.”
Desormeaux said he’ll be spending the summer at Del Mar and then be back at Fair Grounds in the fall, where he hopes Ive Struck a Nerve will be reunited with the barn.
“We’ll give him all the time to heal, with January or February of next year’s Fair Grounds meet as a goal,” Desormeaux said. “He already was a bigger than average 2-year-old, so he’s going to be a big dude at 4. It will be nothing but exciting preparing him for his comeback.”
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