It’s Derby week at Northlands which can only mean one thing: it’s time to look up my old pal Doctor Doolittle, the veterinarian of lore who talks to the animals. You thought he was gone? Heavens no. We’re talking magic here and magic has no limitations. So, with no more digression, here we go.
Me: Always nice to see you, Doctor. We really should do this more than once a year. Especially since you picked the exact order of finish in last year’s Derby: Ready Intaglio over Solve which, if memory serves me well, paid $136 for a $2 exacta.
Doctor Doolittle: Well I’m always around. Hiding back here in the shedrows not only at Northlands but at tracks around the world. Yeah, last year was nice. I don’t always get it right but if you listen to what the horses - or any kind of animals - are saying you can usually learn a lot. As I told you last year: animals love to talk. It’s just that people don’t bother to really try and listen to what they have to say.
Me: So what are this Saturday’s Canadian Derby entrants saying about the big race?
Doolittle: Lots. There’s only eight of them this year which is a little disappointing but we’ve got a talkative bunch. Especially Chief Know It All.
Me: Well, let’s get started. And since they drew for post positions this morning let’s do it in post position order.
Doolittle: No problem. Sit yourself down and have a listen to what they told me.
Post position No. 1. Captain Will
“I know. I know. I haven’t come close to Trooper John the last two times I raced against him. He beat me by 30 lengths in the Count Lathum and by 25 lengths in last year’s Canadian Juvenile. But in the Count Lathum I was four wide most of the way. I had no chance. And how did I look in my last race when I romped home by six lengths?"
“So you think that was easier company than what I’ll face on Saturday? Well outside of the top three horses - Trooper John, Chief Know It All and Aqua Frio - I’m better than the others. At least that’s what I think. And I’ve got the rail which doesn’t hurt."
“A mile and three-eighths? Well none of the horses in the Derby have run that far before and I don’t care what you say; you don’t know if any of us can run that far until we try it.”
Post position No. 2. Trooper John
“What do I need to tell you pal? I’m the king around here. And everyone knows it. I’ve won my last five races in a row. And I’ve only run three times this year so I’m fresh, I’m happy and I’m more than ready. I won the Western Canada in my first start of the year. And that was only going six furlongs which for me is just the appetizer. I was only getting warmed up. I closed about five lengths midway around the final turn to the wire. Just got there. But I got there. Just like just about every time I’ve run."
“In the Ky Alta I was all over the place. I was inside. I was outside. I used all of the track that day. And again I won. Then my last start. The Count Lathum. Did you see that performance? It wasn’t just that I won by nine and a half lengths either. It was how I did it. They wanted me to come from just off the pace. But I had other ideas. And when I get an idea it’s pretty hard to change my mind. I had the rail and I kept it. Why not? I’m just glad my jockey, Keishan Balgobin, thought the same thing."
“The other guys in this race can talk about the what-ifs all they want. I’m the one who has proven it. And I’ll prove it again on Saturday. I was the first name out of the box on Wednesday for the post draw which meant my connections got the post they wanted."
“From post 2 I can see where I need to be spotted. If there’s no pace then I might just go wire-to-wire like I did in the Count Lathum. Or I can come from out of it. It really doesn’t matter to me because I’m that versatile.”
Post position No. 3. Big Kaz
“Yeah. Yeah. I know what people are saying: that my owner and trainer Tommy Rycroft is crazy for entering me. People said the same thing about Cowboys Don’t Cry and he ran third to Academic in the Derby two years ago. Academic, you’ll recall was trained by Tommy’s son Tim. And now Tim has got the favourite in this year’s renewal, Trooper John."
“To be honest I don’t think there’s any chance of me beating Trooper John but if I can run third to him like Cowboys Don’t Cry I’m sure Tommy would be very happy. Third money in the Derby pays pretty good as you know. I know I’ve only been running in $7,000 claiming races but I surprised a few people running second in the Grande Prairie Alberta Derby. Maybe I can surprise a few more people in here."
“One thing is certain. With Tommy we’re going to have some fun no matter what happens.”
Post position No. 4. Chief Know It All
“All I’ve heard since I got here is Trooper John this and Trooper John that. Well, Trooper John hasn’t seen the likes of me. My owners paid $100,000 to claim me out of my last race. That’s not chicken feed my friend. And they bought me just for this race."
“I’ve been running with the big boys. I won a $100,000 allowance race at Keeneland, Kentucky in April. Then they gave me a nice little rest which I have to admit I needed because I ran pretty hard for the previous nine months or so."
“Have I run a bad race? Not really. Yeah, I was up the track in the Southwest stakes but that was a $500,000 race and I had excuses in that one. I was five wide. Then I came right back and won that $100,000 allowance race I was talking about."
“I’ve beaten some real good horses. I beat a horse by the name of Warrior’s Club in my last two starts. Warrior’s Club just ran second - beaten by just a neck - in Saratoga to Neolithic who is one of the top horses in the world. He ran third to Arrogate in both the Dubai World Cup and the Pegasus. Am I talking too much for you? As you can tell, I like to talk."
“And nothing bothers me. My trainer, Robertino Diodoro likes to say that you can put a stick of dynamite in my stall and it wouldn’t scare me. And Robertino… Well, you know what he’s done. Came out of Alberta and became one of the top trainers in North America. And he’s already won this race twice. And then he was second last year. So he knows what he’s doing."
“I admit I’m not much to look at. Pretty average. But it’s what’s in the heart that matters and I’ve got a huge ticker. And I really like this track. I worked four furlongs the other day in :48 2/5. I was smoking. I was a little worried about how I was going to handle the tighter turns here but it was no problem at all."
“I’m confident I can get the distance. For that matter, I’ll be very disappointed if I don’t win this race. And you know who is riding me don’t you? Rico Walcott. The top rider at Northlands. That’s it my friend. Sorry to talk your ear off but I don’t get to talk to many people.”
Post position No. 5. Double Bear
“Yes, Trooper John has had my number. But at least I was second to him a couple of times including the Count Lathum in my last start and then second in the Canadian Juvenile last year. That race where I was sixth against Trooper John? The Western Canada? Throw that race out the window. I got left at the starting gate so badly that I thought I was in the next race."
“You know Muhammad Ali didn’t win every fight he was in either. Remember Buster Douglas? The distance isn’t going to be a problem for me. I can run all day. And you can talk about Robertino Diodoro all you want but my trainer is pretty special too. And he upset them all in the 1993 Derby with Cozzy Grey."
“I think I’m the speed in this race. I’m going to be rolling and they’ll have to catch me.”
Post position No. 6. Aqua Frio
“You think I’m here for the fresh air? I didn’t come all the way from Emerald Downs in Washington just to look around, see your Mall and just prance around the track. I’m here to win and I’m going to be very tough to beat. Did you look at my form?"
“I was second closing like a rocket in the Emerald Derby in my last start. I was 10 lengths out of it and lost by less than a couple of lengths. And That was going a mile and a sixteenth. This mile and three-eighths they are giving me here is right up my alley. I’ve also won at Emerald Downs - a stakes race two starts ago - and I’ve won in California - at Golden Gate."
“I’m not only the best looking horse in the race, I’m one of the best looking horses anywhere. Look at my face? Pretty aren’t I?"
“And my daddy is Uncle Mo, who just happens to be one of the hottest studs on the planet right now. He was a helluva runner too. He was the American champion Two-Year-Old of the Year. If he hadn’t got injured he would have won the Kentucky Derby just like his son Nyquist did last year.”
Post position No. 7. Dublin Day
“You know who won last year’s race don’t you? Ready Intaglio. His owners were Eurico and Robbin Martens and Robbin is in my corner now. Great people. I’d love to win this race for them. I should have won my last race but my jockey held me back too long. I was flying at the end and lost by only half a length."
“I’m probably the toughest horse in this race. And I admit I’ve got a mind of my own. You want me to go this way? Well, how about if I want to go in the other direction? Well, I’m going to win that fight. This one? Tough task. I’ll give you that much. Trooper John handled me pretty easily in the Count Lathum so it’s asking me a lot to all of a sudden make up 23 lengths."
“But who knows? If I can myself to relax and make one big run who knows? I might catch a piece.”
Post position No. 8 Alberta Strong
“People say I’m a punk. They think I’m like the Fonz - Arthur Fonzarelli - from the old Happy Days t.v. shows. You know the cool guy who always wore a black leather jacket. Well, I am cool too. And if you want to call me a punk… Eyy! I can live with that."
“I’m sure Aqua Frio said he was the best looking horse in the race. But look at me. I’m way better looking. Ask the ladies. They all love me. Eyy!"
“Anyway, I was bred to be a winner. Did you know my mother, City to City, won over $650,000 US? I just wish they had some turf racing here because my mama loved the grass. She won two Grade II stakes on the turf. And my daddy, Arch, was no slouch either. He won the Louisiana Super Derby. And he beat Belmont stakes winner Touch Gold when he won the Fayette Breeders' Cup and was good enough to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic."
“Having said all that it’s no wonder I think I’m 10-feet tall and bullet proof. I got stuck with the outside post but going a mile and three-eighths that isn’t going to matter. There have been a lot of upsets in the Derby. Remember that when you’re handicapping this race. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Eyy!”
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