Jeremy Noseda reckons there must have been nearly 10,000 people at Churchill Downs yesterday morning just to see the horses exercise.
Now if the people at Racing For Change could pull off something like that over here, that really would be something. The bad news is that it has taken 136 years to get here. The American Triple Crown is no overnight gimmick, and the 20 candidates for its first leg tomorrow are all seeking a role in one of the greatest romances in all sport. Only Noseda, however, is trying something without precedent in Kentucky Derby history.
A few hours after his hometown racecourse stages a still more ancient Classic – 19 colts were declared yesterday for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas – Noseda will saddle Awesome Act for a race that has never been won by a horse trained outside North America. Clive Brittain, his Newmarket neighbour, came closest when Bold Arrangement finished second in 1986. But Noseda is the first overseas trainer since then to have been sufficiently purposeful to give his colt a local preparation.
Convinced that Awesome Act would adapt to dirt, the man who shocked the Americans with Wilko in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile sent him over to win the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in early March. The Kentucky-bred colt – whose owners include the British Horseracing Authority chairman, Paul Roy – then ran third behind Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial over the same track. But Noseda felt he remained entitled to take on the runaway winner again, even before his withdrawal last weekend left a sudden void at the top of the market.
Chief among these was the "bounce", notorious in American racing when a horse tries to follow up a generous comeback effort. "I know it doesn't apply the same way, in British racing," Noseda observed, "because they don't go so hard from the beginning, and they don't tend to finish with their tanks totally empty, the way they can on dirt. To me, he was always going to regress from the Gotham, and that's what he did. Secondly, he lost his near-fore [shoe] coming out of the gate, and that's got to be a big factor on dirt. I was talking to [retired ace jockey] Jerry Bailey and he said that's going to cost you two to four lengths. Thirdly, the pace was very, very slow, and the horse was doing too much. I'd never have beaten Eskendereya, he was much the best on the day. But I do feel my horse didn't have the chance to show his best form."
Noseda, who first cut his teeth as a trainer in California, initially planned to keep Awesome Act in New York until this week but the record-breaking American trainer, Steve Asmussen, urged him to bring forward the colt's departure for Louisville. "I've had two really good men over here, in Wayne Tanner and George Windsor, but Steve and his team have also been a huge help," Noseda said. "You'd be a fool not to listen to him. And there's no doubt in my mind it was good advice – the horse has preferred training on this surface, and has really bloomed since coming here. He looks in great nick, he's trained really well and I couldn't be happier with his condition."
Noseda's sole reservation is the 10th furlong. "If the race were over a mile, even a mile and a furlong, I'd be pretty confident. But his pedigree suggests he will get the trip, and I do have those three reasons for putting the Wood to one side. The fact is that the distance is a question mark for the majority of runners in nearly every Classic."
Win, lose or draw, Noseda is determined to absorb every minute of an intoxicating challenge. "It's a huge buzz," he said. "The way I look at it, when the horse goes in the gate on Saturday, I can say that it's already a qualified success. We've got here, we've handled the dirt, we've won a Grade Three, and we've placed in a Grade One. He's a legitimate Derby contender. It was the right decision. After that, we can only hope. I want the big slice, of course – but if I can get a piece of it, I'd be absolutely elated."
*Chris McGrath's Nap
Rigidity (4.45 Doncaster) Starts in handicaps with a fair rating. Pedigree suggests he will flourish for the extra distance over this galloping track.
Jewelled Dagger (3.25 Musselburgh) Starts for a new stable off his lowest rating for a good while and has a fine record fresh.
*One to watch
Riflessione (R A Harris) In the form of his life in modest sprint handicaps and was an unlucky fourth at Bath on Sunday.
*Where the money's going
Coral go 9-1 from 10-1 about Fencing Master for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket tomorrow.Reuse content