For the third year in a row, Don Lucarelli left Churchill Downs scratching his head.
Monba, the colt he co-owns with Jack Wolf and Paul Saylor, ran last of 20 in the Kentucky Derby, beaten more than 59 lengths.
“It’s definitely not the effort we wanted to see,” Lucarelli said. “This is really a big letdown.”
Watching from section 316 with dozens of family and friends, Lucarelli, a Schenectady native, had initial concerns for the horse’s health. Ninety minutes later, trainer Todd Pletcher reported that Monba appeared to be physically OK.
“The only thing Todd said was that he didn’t have a very good trip and got jostled around and just sort of lost his composure, I guess,” Lucarelli said. “Naturally, they’ll do all the tests, but there were no visible signs of any injury. I guess we’ll live to fight another day.”
Under Ramon Dominguez, Monba broke cleanly from post 14, the last stall in the main starting gate, and was quickly swallowed up by the field. Aboard for the first time, Dominguez felt the horse never got comfortable in the pack.
“My horse just didn’t run any good,” Dominguez said. “He got in between horses on the backside, he was jumping up and down and didn’t run at all in the last part.
“Actually, going into the first turn, it looked like [Adriano] was being pushed by someone on the outside and [Big Truck] was getting the worst of it. I was behind him, and I chose to circle the field at that point as I was forced to go wide. The second half, I was able to save ground, but it didn’t matter because my horse really wasn’t into it today.”
Monba was coming off a gutsy neck victory in the Grade I Blue Grass April 19 on the Polytrack at Keeneland, his first start since finishing last in the Fountain of Youth, a race where he got squeezed early and suffered a torn hoof that delayed his return.
Lucarelli wondered if Monba might have had trouble breathing during the race, which may have explained his lack of interest.
“I don’t know. It seemed like he lost all his power. Maybe he flipped [his palate],” Lucarelli said. “He had a tongue-tie on. It’s just unfortunate. I really didn’t get a good view the whole race.”
In his previous Derby tries, Lucarelli was last of 20 with Keyed Entry in 2006 and ninth of 20 last year with Sam P., also ridden by Dominguez.
“This is a tough race to win, there’s no doubt about it,” Lucarelli said. “We just don’t have too much luck in it. This horse was bred for it. He had the pedigree to do it. I reallly thought this horse had the stamina and the talent. What the answers are, I don’t know yet.”
Lucarelli gave credit to the winner, who overcame several obstacles including post position and inexperience to be an easy winner.
“That horse is definitely the real deal. He proved it today,” Lucarelli said. “It’s good for racing. It’s good for the sport to have somebody like that who seems to be a real freak.”