Unexpected horses on Derby trail after upsets

One colt had never won a graded stakes race. The other had never

even raced in one.

Stately Victor and Line of David were barely blips on the

Kentucky Derby radar. But after surprising wins Saturday in the

Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby, they’re suddenly very much in

the picture.

“This one kind of got along late. We knew he could run,” Line

of David owner Ike Thrash said. “We’ll show up, now that he’s

in.”

The Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 starters. If more

horses are entered, the field is determined by graded stakes

earnings, and sometimes all it takes is one big victory to earn

enough money for a spot. That was the case for Stately Victor and

Line of David.

It makes no difference that the former was a 40-1 shot in the

Blue Grass or that the latter had never won on a nonturf track

before his Arkansas Derby victory on Oaklawn Park’s dirt.

Now the question is whether either of these horses has a chance

in the May 1 Run for the Roses, which was won last year by

long-shot Mine That Bird. Stately Victor had won just once in seven

career starts, but his victory in the Blue Grass at Keeneland was

by a convincing 4 1/4 lengths.

“We always believed he was a runner,” owner Tom Conway said

Saturday. “He’s been getting a lot of bad breaks, bad draws,

getting stopped and blocked. But today the jockey was magnificent.

He got him out there and he dusted them, didn’t he?”

Line of David’s finish was a lot closer, but he managed to hold

up down the stretch despite being in the lead through some quick

early fractions. Thrash said he considered entering Line of David

in the Blue Grass but forgot to nominate him. The Arkansas Derby

was the horse’s debut on dirt after racing exclusively on turf and

synthetic tracks.

“It’s always good to try the dirt in a Grade 1 race for the

first time,” Thrash joked.

Line of David certainly seemed to like it, holding off

challenges from Super Saver and Dublin to win by a neck. The

victory earned him a shot in three weeks in Kentucky, although in

the Derby he’s likely to have some company if he tries to move

straight to the front again.

“Twenty horses, and probably eight of them in this bunch look

like they’re dedicated to be front-runners,” Thrash said. “But

he’s a nice horse. Maybe he can move up another 10 lengths every

time he runs.”

The upsets by Stately Victor and Line of David came a week after

Eskendereya won the Wood Memorial by 9 3/4 lengths. Some other

Derby favorites may be struggling to keep up. Noble’s Promise

finished out of the money for the first time in eight career starts

in the Arkansas Derby, while Dublin and Super Saver couldn’t put

away Line of David after pulling up next to him in the stretch.

“I think we got our nose in front at one point there. It seemed

like the speed held pretty good,” said D. Wayne Lukas, Dublin’s

trainer. “The first three finishers stayed there all the way.

Nobody closed.”

Dublin, Super Saver and Noble’s Promise still have enough

earnings to make the Derby field, although Noble’s Promise came out

of his race with cuts on both front legs and will have to be

evaluated again. Blue Grass favorite Interactif appears safe

despite a fourth-place finish. Tampa Bay Derby winner Odysseus

might be stuck on the outside looking in after coming up short in

the Blue Grass – although defections from horses with high earnings

are always a possibility.

Stately Victor and Line of David don’t need any more money to

make the field. They rewarded their owners’ patience just in

time.

“You hate to make excuses over and over for this horse, but

that’s basically what we’ve been doing,” said Mike Maker, Stately

Victor’s trainer. “He’s had bad trips and so forth. But I never

quit believing in this horse.”

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