LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Dr Devious has already been getting his wake-up call to the Kentucky Derby for a couple of weeks.
It's all part of a plan to accustom this English colt to American racing. An alarm clock has been used at the starting gate on his training grounds in England, to get him used to the sound of the starting bell that is not used in Europe.
He'll also get dirt thrown back in his face by another horse's heels when he gallops the course this week at Churchill Downs. Dr Devious arrived here Sunday on a European flight with preparations already under way to help him adjust to American racing.
It's an odd sort of battle that has brought Dr Devious thousands of miles from his English home. He was bought in March by an American, Jenny Craig of weight-loss fame, as a $2.5 million birthday gift to her husband, Sid. Yet while Dr Devious will run this race on American soil for his new American owners, the colt he has to beat is another European.
This could lead to one of the most bizarre scenarios in 118 years of Derby history.
What if the European superhorse, Arazi, were to get beat in the Derby -- by none other than another European?
Ron McAnally, who took over Dr Devious' training upon his arrival in the United States, thinks if any colt can beat Arazi it will be another European. Along with Arazi and Dr Devious, an Irish colt, Thyer, arrived on the European-Kentucky Derby air express.
"The quality we've had that I've seen myself has not been that good this year," McAnally said as he reviewed in his mind the American prep races for the Derby. "The Santa Anita Derby [won by A.P. Indy] to me was one of the toughest ones, but on the other hand they ran that race in 1:49-1/5 while on the same day they had a 1 1/8 -mile race run in 1:47.
"So I think the European horses will have the edge this year," said McAnally, who once trained the legendary John Henry, and has had six Derby starters.
"It's a big disadvantage flying across the ocean," he said, "but Arazi proved he can do it."
In fact, it will be tough for Arazi to live up to all the expectations that have built since he first swooped down from the clouds into Churchill Downs last fall, running from last to finish first in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Arazi underwent arthroscopic surgery on both front knees after that race, then returned to France to begin mounting his Derby campaign.
Sometime in December, before Arazi had even taken up training again on the grassy plains at Chantilly, McAnally got a call in California from Mrs. Craig.
"She said to me she'd like to buy something really nice for Sid's 60th birthday -- a Derby horse, because Sid loves the game," McAnally recalled.
"I told her, 'Jenny, that's a pretty big order. You'll have to spend some pretty big bucks. We all know nobody wants to sell a Derby horse. If you think you have a prayer to go in the Derby, you aren't going to sell your horse."
Yet Jenny Craig persisted. After all, that's the way you make a weight-loss program work, right? So McAnally flew to France in pursuit of one prospect, but that one failed to "vet out," or pass a pre-purchase veterinary examination.
McAnally followed up on few more leads but nothing panned out. "Then luckily, two weeks before his birthday, we hit on this one," McAnally said.
A bloodstock agent who knew about Dr Devious was in California on his way to Australia when he saw McAnally. The agent faxed information about Dr Devious to McAnally from Australia. Then McAnally flew to England and bought the colt.
Jenny Craig had also bought a backup horse, for $750,000, from American D. Wayne Lukas in case McAnally could not find a Derby prospect. Sid Craig learned about his gift horses from videos shown at his birthday party in Palm Springs.
"We were sitting at the next table," McAnally said, "and I looked at his face and could tell he couldn't believe it. Then he started thinking, and he told his wife, 'don't you think we paid too much?' "
Only Saturday's outcome will tell for sure just how high a price tag can be put on a Kentucky Derby prospect.
McAnally warns that Arazi will be tough. "Francois Boutin knows his horse. Whatever he does, I can't question."
McAnally thinks if Arazi might have one weakness, it will be because, "his first [and only] race was easy, and he might not have benefited enough from it. But he did come back after that and have a good, 1 1/8 -mile work."
McAnally added a few observations about his colt, who was trained in England by Peter Chapple-Hyam. McAnally flew to England to watch Dr Devious' prep race, the Craven Stakes on April 16 in which he ran second.
"I think he has a chance," McAnally said. "His prep race was run in 1:37-2/5 uphill, carrying 126 pounds. It was a tough, tough race. This horse's prep race was much tougher [than Arazi's] and the horse that beat him [Alnasr Alwasheek] is the favorite for the 2,000 Guineas.
"Arazi looks like some kind of superstar," McAnally said. "If we can beat him, we'll be a superstar."