By Dick Downey
Photo by Mike Kane, Maryland Jockey Club
Although three horses formerly based Fair Grounds ran well in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Al Stall said he has no regrets about skipping the race with Departing -- but he thinks the time to get on the Triple Crown Trail is now.
Graduates of the Grade II Louisiana Derby ran second (Golden Soul), third (Revolutionary) and fifth (Mylute) on a Derby track rated sloppy. They ran fourth, first and second, respectively, in the Louisiana Derby, while Departing was third.
“With those conditions, I was happy that the horse was sitting back in a nice comfortable stall instead of in a mile-and-a-quarter war on a tough race track,” Stall said Monday. “I didn’t think about that. We were committed to what we were going to do, and we don’t look back.”
Following the Louisiana Derby, connections decided they would skip the remainder of the Kentucky Derby Trail and point to the Grade III Illinois Derby, which carried no Derby qualifying points. Departing won the race in Chicago by 3 1/4 lengths.
“The Louisiana Derby was only his fourth race,” Stall said. “He ran well, but we just thought that he was lacking in seasoning. He might have gotten in a little bit of trouble, and it looked like the holes were moving a little bit faster than he was.”
Even after the Illinois Derby, Stall wouldn't commit to the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"There's no use talking about the Preakness until we see what happens in the Kentucky Derby," he said just after the win. "There are some good horses there. If they do their thing and scare everybody off, we might do something differently."
But now Stall says everything is aligned.
“The timing was perfect,” Stall said. “He’s not that big of a horse. The race was a prep for the Preakness. That’s what Hawthorne designed it as, and we’re going to follow it that way. The Louisiana Derby clearly picked him up quite a bit, and he showed a lot of seasoning and a little guts in the Illinois Derby. It’s apples and oranges. The way he trains every day. He’s more into it. He just has more life to him.”
Stall said Departing will have aa breeze over the weekend at Churchill Downs before shipping to Maryland on Wednesday, May 15.
The trainer is realistic and was complimentary of his number one rival's performance in the Kentucky Derby.
“(Orb) was the best horse that day,” Stall said. “He seems to be a horse going in the right direction. He’s got all the pedigree in the world, all the connections. He’s strictly the horse to beat. I have no idea whether we can beat him or not. We’re happy with our horse, and are going to take a chance.”