Mighty punches to fine finish

3-year-old's victory in Louisiana has trainer thinking ahead to Ky.

March 13, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS -- Mighty soared from the back of the pack to win the $750,000 Louisiana Derby yesterday at the Fair Grounds Race Course and become a major contender for the Kentucky Derby.

After finishing second in his previous three races, Mighty unleashed the type of powerful late charge that often wins the longer Kentucky Derby. Last in a field of 10, he began splitting horses entering the far turn, swung wide at the top of the stretch and then wore down the courageous front-runner More Than Ready to win impressively by two lengths.

"He's a mile-and-a-quarter horse, no question about it," said Mighty's trainer, Frank Brothers. "Anytime you win one of these prep derbies you want to think the first Saturday in May."

On May 6 in the Kentucky Derby, the country's best 3-year-olds will race 1 1/4 miles for the first time in their lives. The 88th running of the Louisiana Derby, the year's toughest Kentucky Derby prep so far, covered 1 1/16 miles and showcased six major Kentucky Derby contenders.

Four led the parade under the wire: Mighty (6-1), More Than Ready (5-1), Captain Steve (2-1) and Exchange Rate (3-1). Country Only (6-1) and Tribunal (6-1) staggered home ninth and 10th.

After completing the course in 1 minute, 43.29 seconds, Mighty paid $14 to win. The exacta returned $103.80, the trifecta $384.60.

A dark-brown son of Lord At War and the Mr. Prospector mare Madame Gold, Mighty impressed his trainer as a 2-year-old but had frustrated him this year. Last year, Mighty won the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs and finished second in the Grade I Sanford at Saratoga and Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill.

His second-place finishes (five in nine races) created the impression that here was a colt with talent not yet fulfilled.

"He's been a mature colt physically," said the Kentucky-based Brothers. "But he's been immature as far as knowing how to run."

At times, Mighty would try to run off like a loose freight train. Other times, he'd give up at the end of races. He's finally learning, Brothers said.

"He's gotten better as a 3-year-old," he said. "He's pretty professional running inside and outside horses, running behind them and things like that."

Brothers said Mighty would race once more before the Kentucky Derby, perhaps in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 15 at Keeneland. Mighty's jockey, Shane Sellers, said he was impressed with the colt's response to his stern urging -- "unlike the last time [Risen Star Stakes] when he was hesitant when I asked him. Today, he gave it to me."

Todd Pletcher, trainer of the runner-up More Than Ready, was delighted with his colt's gritty performance around two turns for the first time. He led by three lengths turning for home before succumbing to Mighty's charge.

"It was a giant race," Pletcher said of More Than Ready's effort. "This should help him down the road."

Bob Baffert, trainer of the third-place finisher Captain Steve, said the race should also strengthen his colt for his next race, perhaps the Santa Anita Derby on April 8 at Santa Anita Park. Captain Steve had missed two weeks of training with two bruised feet.

"He came into this only about 80 percent," Baffert said. "He got really tired, but he fought it out."

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