Dominguez hopes first time is magic

Tapit's jockey making Derby debut

past tends to offer clues to classic

Kentucky Derby notebook

Horse Racing

May 01, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ramon Dominguez led North American jockeys in wins in 2001 and 2003, but he hasn't ridden in the Kentucky Derby. Today, he rides one of the favorites, Maryland-based Tapit.

"I'm sure I'll be excited," Dominguez said. "But I try to stay as level-headed as I can. I understand the responsibility that's in my hands."

Dominguez first rode Tapit in his second race, the Laurel Futurity in November. That's the race in which Tapit gained national notice. He was trapped throughout and didn't break free until the stretch. Then, he accelerated to a 4 3/4 -length victory.

"He was extremely rank," Dominguez said. "I thought, `This is going to be a disaster.' After being so rank, I never thought he could win. That was an extremely impressive performance."

Dominguez lost the mount in the Florida Derby to Edgar Prado, but regained it after Tapit finished a lackluster sixth. Dominguez and Tapit teamed to win the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. It was Dominguez's first Grade I victory.

Michael Dickinson, who trains Tapit at his Tapeta Farm in Cecil County, didn't think Tapit was fit enough to win. Dominguez was more confident.

"I knew what this horse is capable of," he said.

Dickinson said that after the race he received about 100 e-mails, faxes and phone calls. Most of the time, he said, such contacts simply offer congratulations and seldom mention the jockey. About 40 percent of these praised the decision to put Dominguez back on for the Wood and suggested keeping him on for the Derby. Tapit's connections decided to do just that.

"He's got a big following," Dickinson said.

A native of Venezuela, Dominguez immigrated to the United States in 1996 and began riding in South Florida. In April 1998, he relocated to Delaware Park and has ridden in the Mid-Atlantic ever since.

Tracking trends

Picking Derby winners often comes down to knowing history. Trends seem to hold true for the Derby perhaps more than any other race.

The only Derby winner who didn't race as a 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882. Song of the Sword didn't start racing until Feb. 4 this year.

The last Derby winner with only four prior races was Exterminator in 1918. Tapit has raced only four times.

The last Derby winner who hadn't raced farther than 1 1/16 miles before the Derby was Middleground in 1950. Minister Eric hasn't raced farther than that.

The last Derby winner who didn't race within a month of the Derby was Needles in 1956. Friends Lake and Read the Footnotes last raced March 13. Birdstone last raced March 20.

The last Derby winner who finished worse than fourth in his final prep was Iron Liege in 1957. Action This Day finished sixth in the Blue Grass. Birdstone finished fifth in the Lane's End.

The last Derby winner to enter the race unbeaten was Seattle Slew in 1977. Smarty Jones is 6-for-6.

The last first-time trainer-jockey combination to win the Derby was Bud Delp and Ronnie Franklin with Spectacular Bid in 1979. This year, the first-time trainer-jockey combinations are Norberto Arroyo Jr.-Jennifer Pedersen with Song of the Sword, John Servis-Stewart Elliott with Smarty Jones and Dickinson-Dominguez with Tapit.

The last Derby winner with only two preps as a 3-year-old was Sunny's Halo in 1983. Lion Heart, Friends Lake, Birdstone, Read the Footnotes, Castledale and Tapit have raced only twice this year.

No Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner (Action This Day) has won the Derby. Of the 19 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winners, eight did not run in the Derby. Of the 11 that did, the best finishes were thirds by Timber Country in 1994 and Chief's Crown in 1984.

No Derby winner started his career in Europe. Master David started in England, Castledale in Ireland.

Five `dual qualifiers'

The "dual qualifier" system is a handicapping tool for picking Derby winners that targets stamina and experience. A "dual qualifier" has a Dosage Index of 4.00 or lower (an indicator of stamina) and has been weighted at 116 pounds or higher in the Experimental Free Handicap (a rating of experience). The "dual qualifiers" in this year's Derby are Action This Day, Birdstone, Lion Heart, Read the Footnotes and The Cliff's Edge.

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