rachel

rachel

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dunkirk

Dunkirk came into Palm Beach Downs in March of his 2-year-old year. He was one of the first 2-year-olds in. Not because we expected him to be extremely precocious, but because he had done everything right on the farm and was ready to come in. We got him and did a little bit of gate work with him at Palm Beach Downs. Actually breezed him once or twice there and then took him to Keeneland. He breezed a couple more times there and did some gate work. We weren't thinking of running him 4 1/2 furlongs or anything, we were just bringing him along in his training.

We brought him to Belmont and breezed him a couple of times and he started to get a little bit of a sore shin. Minor. But we felt with a colt bred like he is and who was expected to improve with time and distance that we would stop on him and give him a rest. He went to Ashford Stud (in Versailles, Ky.) and got a vacation there and rejoined us in October at Keeneland.

When he got to Keeneland we saw he had grown a bit; lengthened a bit. He trimmed what little baby fat he had. He looked well. He started back galloping and was doing well. We brought him to Palm Meadows on Nov. 1.

When he had his first breeze at Palm Meadows in the middle of November - that was kind of when everything seemed to come together. It became obvious at that point he was potentially exceptional. After that first breeze we kind of got excited. It was only a quarter-mile breeze, out three-eighths, but he did it very impressively. Subsequently every breeze since then was more of the same. That first breeze he basically went 24 and out in 36, with his neck bowed. It was the ease at which he did it.

His first race (at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24) he didn't get away from the gate quite as well as I anticipated. He sort of got shuffled back the first part. One of the things we had done leading up to his first race was have him behind horses in the morning. I told Edgar (Prado) that he acted like he would take dirt fine in the morning. Of course, it's hard to duplicate in the morning what he found in the race, an 11-horse field. He leveled out fine after the start. Edgar bided his time and made a decent move around the turn on the inside and then angled him out and he won going away, which was what we hoped he would do. At that point we thought about what we could do to put him in the position, if he was good enough, to get on the (Kentucky) Derby trail.

A couple days later, I called Doug Bredar (the racing secretary at Gulfstream Park) to see when the next one-other-than was in the next (condition) book and he told me, so we started pointing to that with the idea if he ran well in there, the Florida Derby would make sense. Then everything pretty much fell into place after he won the one-other-than (Feb. 19).

We had a horse in the first race the day of the Florida Derby and they went crazy fast. I thought at that point - I was concerned that the surface might not suit Dunkirk's style because he wouldn't be close to the pace. I figured we would be a little bit up against it the way the track was playing. Subsequently, he got a little further back in the Florida Derby than I hoped he would and made a huge middle move. He got right to Quality Road (the winner of the Florida Derby). It was a good effort (Dunkirk finished second) and I wasn't discouraged by his race at all.

I was disappointed (by Dunkirk's 11th-place finish as the second choice in the Kentucky Derby) but after watching the replay, it was pretty obvious to me that he didn't handle the going. One of the things we saw in his gallops at Churchill was that he seemed to like galloping when it was really sloppy. But one morning when it was a muddy-to-good track, he didn't seem to like it as well. The one thing we were hoping for on Derby Day was if it was going to be an off-track that it would properly rain. It was overcast and there was no wind, and the track just kind of got to that sticky point.

I probably decided (to pass the Preakness) before the Derby because if he didn't win the Derby, there was no way I was going to run him back in the Preakness. I don't like to run horses back in two weeks as a rule. He's not a tremendously robust horse that carries a lot of weight. He's just a naturally light horse and a lot of (the progeny) of the Unbridled's Song's I've been around - a lot of the good ones, actually - tend to be that way. Some of that is good because they are an athletic type - long and slender. We've always been conscious of trying to keep enough weight on Dunkirk.

I think he has done very well since the Derby. The main thing I wanted to see was him get back into the feed tub with a good appetite and he has. He's trained enthusiastically. I feel good about the way things have gone.

We decided in his most recent work (May 23 at Belmont Park, five furlongs in 1:00.72 in company with stablemate Munnings) we would let him do the most that day. We didn't want to have a really strenuous work a week before the Belmont. I would rather have it two weeks out. We will probably have an easy work next time (Saturday or Sunday) without company.

Johnny (Velazquez) will ride him for the first time in the Belmont. Obviously, he has been our go-to rider for a long time and we've had a lot of success together (Velazquez was aboard the Pletcher-trained Rags to Riches when she won the 2007 Belmont). Garrett (Gomez) had ridden Dunkirk twice and expressed interest in riding him back, and Edgar rode him twice, and he wanted to ride him. We just felt like given the history with Johnny and everything, it was a good fit. It was a tough decision; both those guys are really good riders and had ridden him before.

The opinions and views expressed by contributors to NTRA.com are not necessarily
those of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association or its affiliates.

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