By Dick Downey
The Kentucky Derby got a surprising new prospect when Danza won the Arkansas Derby at 41-1 odds after a ground-saving trip.
After breaking from post 1, Danza was never far back. Fourth, then third at the first three calls, he stayed within a couple of lengths or less to Bayern, who set the pace in :23.72, :47.72 and 1:12.29.
Coming out of the second turn, Danza and Joe Bravo came through on the rail and moved off from the field to prevail by 4 3/4 lengths over second finisher Ride On Curlin, who was in sixth place of eight in early running, 4 1/2 lengths off the pace.
Danza’s time for the 1 1/8-mile race was 1:49.68.
Danza and Ride On Curlin picked up 100 and 40 Kentucky Derby points, respectively, earning their way into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. This was Danza’s debut on the leaderboard, while Ride On Curlin had 14 points going into the race.
Bayern got 20 points, not enough to make the field as things now stand.
Tapiture toiled in mid-pack and went five wide into the stretch. He was beaten 7 1/4 lengths and picked up 10 points, bringing his total to 52.
After the first four finishers came Conquest Titan, Commissioner, Thundergram and Strong Mandate, effectively ending their Derby dreams. Commissioner acted up in the infield saddling area. Knock Em Flat was scratched.
The Arkansas Derby was Danza’s fourth career start for trainer Todd Pletcher. He ran a poor third in his most recent outing, a seven-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park in March, beaten 7 1/2 lengths by Anchor Down. He broke his maiden in July at Belmont Park and was third in the Saratoga Special in August before an injury sidelined him.
Those past performances were reflected in the payoffs for the top spot in the $1 million Arkansas Derby: $84.60 to win, $28.40 to place and $11.00 to show.
A son of Street Boss, Danza is by Champagne Royale, by French Deputy. He was bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm & Brandywine Farm. He was sold at Keeneland September 2012 for $105,000 and is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
Joe Bravo: (aboard Danza, 1st): "That was a pretty great effort. Todd was pretty high on the horse and he told me this morning that he was going to be fresh so don' take anything away from him. Try to save as much as you can and let him run his race. It was textbook, just textbook. Everything unfolded like a dream. That was pretty cool down the lane. It's really fun to have a special horse like that and have him run like that. I'm not a fortune teller, but hopefully, in a couple of weeks we can do that again. I'm crossing my fingers he's my Derby horse. This is what dreams are made of. You've got to take your hat off to Todd Pletcher. He knows how to bring them around at the right time of the year. Nobody does it year in and year out the way he does. I'm so happy for Mr. Wellman and Eclipse Thoroughbreds. They put so much into the game. They deserve and good one, and I think they've got him.
Todd Pletcher (Danza, 1st, Commissioner, 6th) “We were searching for the right race and the right option and it seemed like the Arkansas Derby was the race for us to step out and take our shot. We’re certainly very excited that we did and very proud of the way the horse ran today. I don’t remember winning a grade 1 at 40-1, but it’s not very often that our horses pay those type of mutuels. We narrowed it down between the Blue Grass and the Arkansas Derby and we thought the race would set up a little better there. Also with dirt, that was the tie breaker. We like the way both horses were training and anticipated Commissioner running better than he did. Danza came in fresher with only one start this year. Both horses were training well coming in to the race. It wasn’t Commissioner’s day. I wasn’t aware of his antics until after the race. But, I would have to think that it affected his performance in a negative way.”
Jon Court (Ride On Curlin): “Everything came together and he’s been pressed his last couple of races. Actually, he tested me on the backside like it’s time to go. I had to just put him in a position to settle and I knew I had a lot of horse turning for home. I was kind of taken back to see the one horse just continue coming off that 7/8ths.I thought he was making a move and I made my move and he out finished us. He’s to be respected, it was a good field of horse flesh.”
Gary Stevens (Bayern, 3rd): "I had a good comfortable trip, a nice comfortable pace and it picked up nice. Approaching the quarter-pole, the winner came up inside of me. I thought I was going to be able to stay with him and I thought my horse was going to give him a little fight, but he didn't."
Jim Barnes, assistant to Bob Baffert (Bayern, 3rd): "I have to talk to Bob and see what he thinks. I would have liked to have seen him let him run and maybe come after him."
Steve Asmussen (Tapiture, 4th): "The race didn't work out the way we wanted today. I thought he was pretty wide behind a moderate pace and that made it a very long race for him today. We'll see how he comes of it. He goes on to Louisville tomorrow and we'll see where we go from there."