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Sanan and Albertrani take shot with Odysseus
LEXINGTON, Ky. - In Greek mythology, Odysseus the king perpetrated the famous Trojan horse ruse, a ploy that allowed his army to prevail in a lengthy war. Given the way Eskendereya dominated the Wood Memorial last weekend, Odysseus the Thoroughbred might need something similarly tricky to prevail in this year's Kentucky Derby.
"Eskendereya is the horse everybody has to beat," said Satish Sanan, whose Padua Stables owns Odysseus, one of the top contenders in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland Race Course. "He'll have to get in trouble in the Derby for anyone to beat him, to be honest."
A lot of strange things have occurred to great horses on their way to a Churchill Downs coronation - and doesn't Sanan know it. Seven years ago, Padua had Vindication as an early favorite for the 2003 Derby, but Vindication suffered an injury that forced him into a premature retirement.
"Of course that was very difficult for me and my family," Sanan, 62, said earlier this week from Padua in Ocala, Fla. "But we have had some very good horses, and we've won most of the major races, so the Kentucky Derby is my only goal left, I think. It's something I always say I've got to do before I die."
:: PAST PERFORMANCES: (PDF)
Sanan, a native of India who made a fortune as the founder of a worldwide company that supplies computer outsourcing and software services, has employed several top trainers since he bought his first six yearlings in July 1997, including D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert, and Steve Asmussen. Odysseus has been assigned to Tom Albertrani, a lifelong racetracker who said he has had "just a handful of horses" for Padua since Sanan hired him less than two years ago. Albertani's bulging r sum includes stints as a jockey, an assistant to trainer Bill Mott when Cigar rose to prominence, a key player for the Godolphin/Darley powerhouse for more than 10 years, and the trainer of the 3-year-old champion of 2006, Bernardini.
Sanan and Albertrani, 52, say they are cautiously optimistic as they make their way toward the Derby with Odysseus, who has three wins from four starts, most recently a nose victory in the March 13 Tampa Bay Derby. Odysseus arrived Sunday at Keeneland on a charter flight from south Florida, where he has been based this winter.
"This horse might be as good as anything that's out there," Albertrani said. "I really think it's going to be a matter of whether we can get him to peak at the right time."
The Blue Grass lacks a standout, at least one on par with Eskendereya, Lookin At Lucky, and Sidney's Candy - or maybe even horses such as Noble's Promise, Dublin, and Super Saver, all of whom were expected Saturday at Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby.
"We were kind of torn between the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby," Albertrani said. "The Polytrack at Keeneland was a concern because he's never raced over a synthetic track, but we felt like the Blue Grass would come up a little softer, and he would've had to take two planes to get to Arkansas. Our colt was a little tired from the last race, and he's just now getting his energy back, so if you're thinking ahead three weeks to the Derby, I think the Blue Grass is the best decision for us."
For whatever reason, the Blue Grass has not been a major producer of Derby winners in the last 15 years or so. No Blue Grass winner has captured the Derby since Strike the Gold in 1991, although Street Sense is one of three horses since then who ran in the Blue Grass before returning to win the Derby; the others were Street Hero in 1993 and Thunder Gulch in 1995. Street Sense lost by a nose to Dominican in a four-horse photo in the Blue Grass.
Like Street Sense, Odysseus comes into the Blue Grass off . Albertrani said he wasn't intentionally following the same path.
"It's only worked out that way because of the circumstances we were in," he said.
No one would compare Odysseus to Street Sense, who was far more accomplished as the 2-year-old champion of the previous year. But pardoning his relative lack of experience, Odysseus has done little wrong. After finishing second in an October maiden sprint at Aqueduct in his lone start at 2, he returned Jan. 14 at Gulfstream Park, winning a seven-furlong maiden race by a half-length. Looking to get him two-turn experience, Albertrani shipped him to Tampa for an entry-level allowance Feb. 17. , suddenly putting him on the Derby radar.
In the Tampa Bay Derby, Odysseus was prominent from the start under regular rider Rajiv Maragh, racing in second to the far turn. But when he dropped back to fourth at the quarter pole, Tampa race-caller Richard Grunder warned that Odysseus "will have to wait for another day."
Not quite. Having labored on his left lead until inside the eighth pole, Odysseus came running again after switching to his right lead, splitting rivals late to be up to nail Schoolyard Dreams in the last jump.
"He showed a lot of heart fighting back like that," Albertrani said.
If Odysseus makes the Derby, his pedigree will be scrutinized nearly as closely as his racing record. Bred in Kentucky by Haymarket Farm and Lakemont Stable, he is by Malibu Moon, a 13-year-old son of A.P. Indy who has not been known as a prolific sire of distance runners. His dam is Persimmon Hill, who was sired by Conquistador Cielo, the 1982 Belmont Stakes winner.
Albertrani is quick to defend Odysseus's distance potential.
"I had a Malibu Moon named Malibu Moonshine, and he broke the track record at Monmouth for 1 1/2 miles," Albertrani said, referring to a 2006 mark that has since been lowered.
As for Odysseus, Albertrani said, "It actually looks like he can run a long way. Honestly, the distance isn't one of my major concerns with him."
Odysseus was bought by Padua for $250,000 out of the Ocala Breeders' Sales as a 2-year-old last March. As with other major buyers at the sales, Padua's standard procedure is to refine and shorten its lists of prospective purchases as it goes. Odysseus was on the original list compiled at the OBS sale by Sanan's son, Sasha, and bloodstock agent David Ingordo, a longtime integral part of the Padua team.
"But for some reason he came off our list," Satish Sanan said, "and then [bloodstock agent] Nick de Meric said, 'You really need to look at that horse again.' So we did, and I kind of liked him a lot. He was a nice, big colt with a really long stride. I thought we ended up getting him for a good price."
Padua has had four Derby starters, either alone or in partnership. Notably, it was one of four partners in Curlin, whose third-place run in the 2007 Derby is Sanan's best finish. Otherwise, the Padua record is filled with accomplishments, including four Breeders' Cup wins.
Several weeks ago, Sanan was at the center of a minor flap concerning an impending decision for future Breeders' Cup sites. Sanan, who has served on the board for Breeders' Cup Ltd. since 2001, was critical of Churchill Downs, saying it is "probably the worst organization from a horse racing standpoint" to be a Breeders' Cup host while praising Santa Anita as the best locale for a permanent site.
Sanan said earlier this week that he did not mean to create controversy.
"To be very candid, very few people in our industry have the courage to say openly what needs to be said," he said. "It's why the industry is in so much trouble. It lacks leadership, and decisions made behind closed doors need to be more out in the open. We need to communicate constantly with fans, horsemen, and the public, and we need to be more transparent and educate people about why we do what we're doing."
Albertrani, born in Brooklyn, usually avoids such far-reaching industry issues, preferring to tend to his horses with hard work and straight talk. His outstanding work with Bernardini, a winner of more than $3 million from eight career races, drew widespread praise while confirming his years with Mott and Godolphin would someday be richly rewarded. Albertrani was a point man for Godolphin when it had five starters, all unplaced, in four runnings of the Derby from 1999 to 2002, and he even had his own Derby starter in 2006, when Deputy Glitters finished eighth at 60-1.
But if he can somehow get Odysseus through the Blue Grass and into the Derby as a legitimate contender, Albertrani would be two minutes away from surpassing all he ever accomplished before. This is, after all, the Kentucky Derby.
"Some of the other horses in this Derby have proven a little more than we have to this point, like Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky," said Albertrani. "But we've all still got a few weeks to go, and I see a lot of upside in our horse. He seems to be improving, he's already shown he can handle the two turns, and it looks like he could go further. It's pretty exciting to have a horse like him around."
* Handicapping roundups from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Keeneland, Santa Anita, Oaklawn, and Woodbine
* Jay Privman's Q&A with Oaklawn announcer Terry Wallace
* Glenye Cain Oakford on the partners who own Noble's Promise
* Plus video analysis of the weekend's biggest stakes