Making At Derby 3-peat

May 05, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Mike Battaglia, oddsmaker for Churchill DownsSun Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- If the old saying "Third time's a charm" rings true, Arthur Hancock III hopes it applies to Derby winners.

Should his 3-year-old colt, Strodes Creek, win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, it will be the third Derby winner owned by Hancock, trained by Charlie Whittingham, ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye and sired by Hancock's stallion, Halo.

When Hancock was standing outside the horse's stall yesterday pondering just how many lucky threesomes applied to the colt, he glanced over and asked the horse if he'll win Saturday.

"Can you believe it? He shook his head three times," Hancock said.

The horse qualifies in "dotage" and Dosage. His trainer, Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham, is 81 and could be grouped in a long list of senior citizens, starting with 92- year-old owner Frances Genter and carrying through to octogenarian Paul Mellon last year, who have been successful in recent Derbies.

In the Dosage department, Strodes Creek possesses a stamina-laden pedigree and is in-bred to the great female producer, Almahmoud, an ancestress of Northern Dancer. Dosage is a mathematical formula determining the ratio of speed to endurance in a horse's pedigree.

But the horse is going to have to buck a lot of history to get the job done.

Strodes Creek didn't race at 2 and he has made just four lifetime starts. Only one Derby winner in history, Apollo in 1882, failed to race as a juvenile. And if Strodes Creek wins, he will have made the fewest starts since the filly Regret won in 1915 in her fourth career race.

None of which bothers Whittingham.

"After 112 years, someone's got to come along and change these things," he said, referring to Strodes Creek's failure to run at 2.

The horse didn't get to the races until Jan. 15 this year because "he got hurt as a 2-year-old and got behind," Whittingham said.

As Hancock described it, Strodes Creek was injured three times as a young horse, which prevented him from selling the colt at auction.

"He had an OCD [osteochondritis] lesion in his stifle as a yearling," Hancock said, describing a fairly common problem in young horses, especially big ones, who are slower to develop. "Then he had an undescended testicle as a 2-year-old and later jumped a fence and cut his shoulder."

When Hancock couldn't market the horse, he gave half interest in Strodes Creek to Whittingham if he would train him for free.

The horse also developed into a cribber, a nervous habit which means he chews wood and sucks in air at the same time. To remedy this, Whittingham feeds him in a tub on the ground.

L "Who would have thought we'd end up here?" Whittingham said.

Recently, Hancock and Whittingham sold a third interest to Robert and Janice McNair of Houston.

Although Strodes Creek never has won a stakes, Whittingham said he brought the horse to the Derby because of "his pedigree and he's a big, strong, sound horse."

Steve Haskins of the Daily Racing Form describes Strodes Creek as "the underlay of the year. He'll be something like 6-1," Haskins said. "But if somebody else but Charlie had him, he'd be 15- or 20-1. People think he's a miracle worker."

Whittingham thinks the horse belongs even if he's still "a bit green. When he ran in the Santa Anita Derby, he caught the leaders [Brocco and Tabasco Cat] at the top of the stretch. But he heard the crowd roar, and he hesitated. That's when they got away from him although he went back to running again and finished third. A sixteenth of a mile past the wire, he was in front."

Whittingham thinks the Kentucky Derby crowd, infinitesimally larger than the one in California, won't be that big of a problem. "They scream here as soon as they ring the bell," he said.

Whittingham sized up the field and said, "The quality is pretty deep. I like McAnally's horse [Valiant Nature]. He's a runner. Also, the 2-year-old champ [Brocco]. And you know any horse that wins [seven of eight] starts like Holy Bull has to be able to run. He might be a freak. Speed is always dangerous."

Holy Bull is stabled a few stalls down from Strodes Creek, and when Whittingham learned yesterday that the horse's trainer, Jimmy Croll, had been voted into Racing's Hall of Fame, he strolled over to the trainer and congratulated him.

"You know they give you a pin to wear and it gets you in free at any track in America," Whittingham said.

They swapped war stories -- Whittingham was a Marine, Croll served in the Army in a mounted Cavalry unit -- and complimented each other's animals.

"We've got the two biggest horses in the race," Whittingham said.

Replied Croll: "I've got the speedy one. You've got one to run me down. But," he added, "I hope mine can last."

RACE DATA

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

When: Saturday, 5:32 p.m. post.

TV: Chs. 13, 7 (coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.)

Field: Fifteen horses are expected to be entered when the official draw is held today (10:30 a.m., ESPN2).

Favorite: Holy Bull, winner of the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes.

DERBY ODDS

$Horse .. .. .. .. .. Odds

Holy Bull . .. .. .. 8-5

Brocco . .. .. .. .. 3-1

Tabasco Cat .. .. .. 6-1

Southern Rhythm . .. 8-1

Strodes Creek ... .. 8-1

Valiant Nature .. . 12-1

Blumin Affair ... . 15-1

Powis Castle . .. . 15-1

Soul Of The Matter. 15-1

Go For Gin ... .. . 20-1

Kandaly .. ... .. . 20-1

Mahogany Hall ... . 20-1

Meadow Flight ... . 20-1

Smilin Singin Sam . 20-1

Ulises .. .. .. . . 20-1

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