Long after Paul Brandt had stopped singing, long after Ready Intaglio had snuck through on the rail to win the 87th Canadian Derby, jockey Shamaree Muir draped the white and yellow Derby blanket over his shoulders. His smile was even longer than the protracted seven-hour Derby Day of racing.
“I just tried to stay out of trouble,” Muir said in the winning backstretch shedrow of trainer Amber Meyaard. “I took the shortest route. I was on the rail just about the whole way,” he said. “But I always gave myself options. I was on the rail but not right on the rail. I always gave myself some space. “I waited. I waited. I waited. “At the quarter pole I thought about going outside. But then I saw all the leaders stopping. At the top of the stretch I saw the rail really open so I took it and came out victorious.”
It was clearly the winning strategy. “If he has to go outside I don’t think he wins it,” said Amber’s husband, Jim. “Give him a lot of credit. I don’t know how he got through. Fortunately, it all worked out,” said Jim, who also won the Derby in 2010 with No Hesitation. “But I was scared. My heart stopped about three times.” “The opportunity was there, the hole was there and (Ready Intaglio) took advantage of it,” said Amber.
Ready Intaglio only had one horse headed after three quarters of a mile. But Muir wasn’t worried. “I knew what I was sitting on,” said Muir, who, at 21 years of age, is the youngest jockey to ever win the Derby. The early pace - set by Hold The Giant and Northern Locomotive - wasn’t overly taxing with fractions of :23.38, :47.82 and 1:13.71. But the mile and three-eighths distance for those front runners certainly was as both horses dragged down with wet sails.
The only horse near the early pace that was around for the finish was Inside Straight. But after finding himself three wide during the early going, Inside Straight faltered too. Taking the lead after a mile, Inside Straight ended up fourth. That left the race for Ready Intaglio and the other trailers. Solve, who, like Inside Straight, was trained by Robertino Diodoro, briefly took the lead in midstretch. On the outside came The Accuser.
And then it was Ready Intaglio’s turn. The smallest horse in the race, Ready Intaglio pounced, shot through one final hole and went on to a three-quarters of a length victory over Solve. “He may be small but he’s got a heart that is two times he size of him,” said Muir. Ready Intaglio was so small as a yearling that he went through the 2014 Keeneland, Kentucky unsold. But Eurico Martens figured something was amiss.
“I kept saying to myself ‘Why is is nobody bidding on this horse?’ “I kept looking back to the catalogue. Then back to the colt. Then back to my catalouge. I was like, wow, this is a well-bred horse. What is the matter with him? “I hadn’t looked at the colt before the sale but I sure liked his breeding.” But, before Martens could make a bid, the gavel came down. “I looked at the veterinarians report and the colt was clean. So I raced back to the barn as fast as I could to find the colt’s owner. “I asked the guy ‘How much do you want for this horse? Will you take a thousand dollars?’ “The guy said ‘Yup,’ so I said ‘OK, I’ll buy him.’ “Then I asked the guy If I could take a look at the horse. The guy said ‘Of course, you own him now.’ “So the guy brings out the horse and I said ‘Holy crap, I just bought a midget.’
“I’m only 5’7” and the horse could walk under my arm pits. He was that small,” said Martens, who bought the horse for his wife, Robbin. Meyaard said he wanted to win the Derby more than anything. “First, I wanted to win it for Eurico and Robbin. You couldn’t find two nicer people. “Second, I wanted to prove that you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a good horse. You can do it with even a horse that cost $1,000.”
After the horses crossed the finish line, Rico Walcott, claimed foul on both Ready Intaglio and Solve for interference in the stretch. That claim, after a lengthy delay, was thrown out. “I always had room,” said Muir, who came to Alberta just five months ago from Jamaica where he was twice that country’s leading apprentice rider. Jim and Amber thought so too. But as the inquiry light kept flashing, they both started getting worried. “I kept thinking ‘Don’t do this. What are they looking at?’” said Jim. “I was sure relieved when they made it official.”
So, obviously, were the fans who bet down to a tepid 7-2 favourite returning $9.30 to win which, while there are no records to confirm it, was likely the biggest-priced favourite to win, what on paper, was a very evenly matched Derby field of 12. Robbin, trying to watch the race on a jam-packed tarmac, had no idea. “I couldn’t really even see the race. There were so many people that I just listened to the track announcer. I just hoped that with his talent he would negotiate his way to the finish line on top. He did.”
At a mile and three-eighths the Derby was farther than any of the horses had run. But the distance was never a question for Amber. “We were 100 per cent confident about the length of the race. The farther he goes the better he seems to run.” “When you ask him to run he always gives you more,” said Jim. “He gives you another notch. And when you ask him again, he gives you another notch.”
The Derby was the third straight win for Ready Intaglio, who had also won the two Derby prep races, the June 18 Ky Alta and the July 16 Count Lathum. While Robbin trains a small string of horses at Northlands and her husband trains in Winnipeg, the Martens elected to turn the horse over to the Meyaards two weeks before the Ky Alta. “I believed that Jim and Amber - when you get one you get both of them - could get more out of Ready Intaglio than Robbin and I could. They’ve taken this horse from 80 per cent to 100 per cent. “It was obviously the right decision.”
The time for the Derby was 2:19 flat which was well off the track record of 2:15 4/5 set by Slyly Gifted in the 1986 Derby. What the future holds for Ready Intaglio is uncertain. “No idea,” said Jim. “It’s one step at a time. “Eurico and I will have to talk about it. And we’ll also have to talk to the horse. I’m not kidding. You have to listen to the horse more than anything. He’ll tell us what to do.”
Still a colt and not gelded, Ready Intaglio’s connections believe one thing: the horse is going to be a quality sire. “He’ll produce horses that are a lot bigger than he is. He really is well bred,” Jim said of the dark bay, almost black, colt with a big white blaze down his forehead whose grandfather was 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy and whose dam’s sire was More Than Ready, who was also a million-dollar earner. “When his racing days are over - whenever that might be - I know that I’ll be breeding my mares to him,” said Jim.
“I think you can breed just about any kind of mare to him and he’ll produce runners.” With the win worth $90,000 to the Martens, Eurico was asked what he will do with the money. “Now I can go buy some more horses,” he said. Then he laughed - a roar of a chuckle that seemed to hold the air for as long as it took to run the Derby.
Three other stakes races were on Saturday’s card. As thrilling as the Derby was, the mile and a sixteenth Westerner was even more exciting as the two co-favourites, Killin Me Smalls and Blue Dancer went head to head through blistering fractions of 22 4/5, 45 4/5 and 1:10 2/5. “I knew we couldn’t just let Blue Dancer have the lead to himself,” said Killin Me Smalls jockey, Keishan Balgobin. “If we did that Blue Dancer would win.” “It was do or die,” echoed winning trainer Ernie Keller of the strategy. “We had to do it.”
It was almost die. After finally putting away Blue Dancer, Killin Me Smalls was just good enough to hold off the late charge from Royal Warrior to win by a neck. Adept at any distance, Killin Me Smalls has won at a mile and three-eighths twice - taking last year’s Speed to Spare at Northlands and then the Premier’s Handicap in the slop at Vancouver’s Hastings Park. Last time out - before the Westerner - he won the six and a half furlong Sun Sprint Championship. Before that he had seconds - both to Blue Dancer - going a mile and then a mile and a sixteenth.
“People kept telling me that I couldn’t run long, shorten him up and then stretch him out again,” said Keller. “With a normal horse you probably can’t. But this isn’t a normal horse. “Bear, Dennis Sexton, and I kept asking him if he would win and he kept nodding ‘Yes, I can. Yes, I can.’”
In the mile and a sixteenth Sonoma for three-year-old fillies, Onestaratatime put on another front-running clinic. At one point considering running in the Derby, Onestaratatime went wire-to-wire to win by four and a half lengths for her third straight win and fourth in her last five starts.
And, in the City of Edmonton Distaff, Hero’s Amor won in similar fashion - leading every step of the way to make it back-to-back wins.
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