Trainer Chad Brown and owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms have a plan for Normandy Invasion, and they intend to stick to it.
Like the massive, complicated World War II operation with which the colt shares a name, things can — and often do — go wrong on the way to the Kentucky Derby.
If so, Brown said they won’t subject the son of Tapit to a mad scramble for Derby qualifying points just to make that race.
In the meantime, though, he’s the 5-2 morning-line favorite against a full and competitive field for today’s Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds, and represents the best Derby prospect the 34-year-old from Mechanicville has had as a head trainer.
“Anytime you head into the winter with a horse who a lot of people think is in the top five Derby contenders, it’s exciting, and you’re happy to have him in your barn,” Brown said on Friday.
Normandy Invasion earned that distinction by blasting a field of maidens by 91⁄4 lengths at Aqueduct on Nov. 2, then just losing a head-bob to Overanalyze in the Grade II Remsen three weeks later.
He’ll make his 3-year-old debut in New Orleans instead of in Florida for the other Derby prep today, the Fountain of Youth at nine-furlong Gulfstream Park, in part because Brown believes the configuration at one-mile Fair Grounds will better accommodate his come-from-behind running style, as well as the fact that the Gulfstream surface can be speed-favoring.
Then Normandy Invasion will get just one more prep, even if he finishes out of the money today and doesn’t substantially bolster his point total.
A win in the Risen Star, worth 50 points now that the points race has entered what is the first leg of the Championship Series, would guarantee a spot in the Derby starting gate.
“We looked at the timing of the race, and this worked if you work backward from the Derby,” Brown said. “What it came down to between Gulfstream and Fair Grounds, for this particular horse, he likes to be off the pace. Fair Grounds is maybe a little more fair to him.
“We’re not trying to manage this horse to solely earn points for the Derby. If he earns them, then he deserves to be there. If he comes up short on points, then we’ll have a nice horse for later races into the summer, like the Travers.”
Brown has had two Travers starters on his hometown track, Saratoga Race Course — Street Life last year and Bowman’s Causeway in 2011, but never a Derby starter.
Porter, best known for owning 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, bought Normandy Invasion, a chestnut out of the the Boston Harbor mare Boston Lady, for $230,000 at Keeneland’s 2012 April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
He went off as the 7-2 third choice in the Remsen behind three from the ubiquitous Todd Pletcher — the Mike Repole entry of Overanalyze and Micromanage, and Delhomme, who is scheduled to run in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park in March.
Normandy Invasion, seven lengths behind with three furlongs to go, made a big move in the stretch to catch Delhomme and nearly beat Overanalyze.
“We thought he had a lot of potential, but he still had a lot to prove,” Brown said. “It was his first stakes, first time around two turns. When you get in certain situations, I don’t care who tells you what, you never know until you get them out there and see what they’re made of.”
That goes for this season, too, if not moreso.
Normandy Invasion still hasn’t won a stakes, hasn’t won around two turns, but as of today, the operation will be set in motion.
“He’s still going to need another solid prep for the mile and a quarter, and we’re training him to win the Derby, not just get there,” Brown said.
“Me and Mr. Porter mapped out a path to get there, and then you also have to consider taking care of the horse, so we’re happy with our plan, and we’ll stick to it.”
Pletcher, and to a slightly lesser degree Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, is inescapable in the Derby prep races, and today will be no different.
In the Risen Star, Normandy Invasion and regular rider Jose Lezcano will have to contend with Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice, who broke his maiden by 31⁄2 lengths at Saratoga, and Pletcher has the undefeated 9-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth, Violence, who also broke his maiden at Saratoga.
Baffert has Code West in the Risen Star, and another familiar face on the Derby trail, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, brings back Oxbow off his 111⁄2-length in the Grade III LeComte at Fair Grounds.
“It’s a solid group, for sure, and you’ll see a lot of potentially promising horses,” Brown said. “It’s not an easy field, and it’s a full field, so working a trip will be a little challenging. But I like the way my horse is training, and the goal is not to be fully cranked. He’s got enough training where he’s not short, but we’re not hoping to peak now.”
That said, Normandy Invasion’s last two works at Palm Meadows Training Center were very sharp, a 47.88 that was the second-fastest of 74 for four furlongs on Sunday, and a bullet 1:00.44 the previous Sunday.
Brown said that didn’t indicate an effort on his part to get Normandy Invasion at full throttle for the Risen Star, but simply was evidence of what a fast, fit horse can do.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him,” Brown said. “I haven’t put the pedal to the metal on him, but we’ll see what happens.”
Palace Malice, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, was on schedule to run against stablemate Shanghai Bobby in the Hopeful at Saratoga before encountering some shin problems.
He began his 3-year-old season with a second to Majestic Hussar in an allowance over a sloppy track at Gulfstream on Jan. 19.
“I think he ran into a bit of a mud lark in Majestic Hussar, who has two wins in the slop now,” Pletcher said during a national teleconference on Tuesday. “And we didn’t want to make it into a full-out sprint. We wanted to run a smart race and maybe teach the horse something. When Majestic Hussar got the jump on him, that was the difference. But I was very, very pleased with that race. I love the way he did it and galloped out afterward.”
The Eddie Kenneally-trained Majestic Hussar will make his stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth, and the field will also include He’s Had Enough, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up to Shanghai Bobby from the same connections — trainer Doug O’Neill, jockey Mario Gutierrez and owner Paul Reddam — who won the Derby and Preakness last year with I’ll Have Another.
He’s Had Enough was cross-entered in the Risen Star, but O’Neill told the Daily Racing Form that they would head to Gulfstream to avoid what could be rainy weather in New Orleans. The colt drew difficult outside posts in both races.
Violence and He’s Had Enough will meet for the second time, after Violence won the Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park, where He’s Had Enough was fifth.
Violence, a son of Medaglia d’Oro owned by Black Rock Stables, has won at three different tracks and is a two-time graded stakes winner.
“We’re excited about getting him started again,” Pletcher said. “We feel like he’s a colt that’s already proven that he’s very good, he’s adaptable to different pace
scenarios, he’s now won around two turns. He’s even won on a synthetic track, so he seems very versatile, very professional, great mind, and we’re just looking forward to getting him going.”
The Rebel isn’t for another three weeks, but according to Starlight Racing co-managing partner Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg, lightly raced but undefeated Park City will make his next start in that race in an attempt to make the Derby field, along with his Starlight stablemate Shanghai Bobby, who is scheduled to run in the Florida Derby.
Park City won his career debut at Saratoga in his only start of 2012, and won at Gulfstream two weeks ago to start his 3-year-old season.
Besides Normandy Invasion, Brown has some other stakes runners today — Winslow Homer in the Super Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and Hyper in the Fair Grounds Handicap on the stakes-studded Risen Star card.
Winslow Homer was supposed to be a Travers horse for Porter and trainer Tony Dutrow in 2010, after winning the Curlin early in the Saratoga meet, but never made it to the race and has suffered some injuries that have limited him to just four races, all in 2011 for trainer Larry Jones, since then.
The 6-year-old grey son of Unbridled’s Song, who broke his maiden as a 2-year-old at Saratoga in 2009 to start a four-race winning streak that included the Holy Bull at 3, hasn’t raced in almost 16 months and has only 10 career starts.
He came to Brown’s barn in December.
“He looks really good,” Brown said. “He’s got a lot of class and some great races. We’re just trying to get him back on track. He clearly has had some health issues.”
The Super offers an interesting matchup between Winslow Homer and Capt. Candyman Can, who won this race in 2011.
Those two won at Saratoga a week apart in 2009, when Winslow Homer broke his maiden as a 2-year-old, and Capt. Candyman Can won the King’s Bishop on Travers Day seven days later on the disqualification of Vineyard Haven, who banged into him repeatedly in the stretch.
Hyper came back to Brown after owner Ken Ramsey sent him to England for two races last summer, losing both to stop a five-race winning streak.
The Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap will be his North American stakes debut, from nine starts.
Brown has three other good 3-year-olds, each who won at Saratoga last year, but they aren’t expected to run on conventional dirt and aren’t considered Derby prospects by any means, although two, Noble Tune and Balance the Books, may run in the primary Derby prep at Keeneland, the Grade I Blue Grass.
Noble Tune, who broke his maiden at Saratoga, and Balance the Books, who won the With Anticipation, finished second and third to George Vancouver in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
The filly Watsdachances, winner of the P.G. Johnson and Pilgrim, will look for a start at Keeneland, then focus on the second half of the season, when 3-year-old filly turf stakes such as the Lake George at Saratoga and the Garden City and Queen Elizabeth II, are held.
Balance the Books was supposed to run in the Palm Beach, but came down with a minor temperature and will try for Plan B — the Spiral and Keeneland — as a possible steppingstone to the Blue Grass.
Brown’s multiple graded-stakes-winning turf filly Dayatthespa has finally recovered from a badly cut tendon suffered in the Matriarch that struck a sour note and the only loss on her terrific 2012.
He said she’ll begin breezing soon to get in shape for one prep that would hopefully get her ready for the Grade I Just A Game on Belmont Stakes Day.
One area of uncertainty is whether she has any lingering physchological effects from the Matriarch.
She jumped shadows on the turn, propped and almost went over the rail and somehow still managed to finish fifth.
“You do worry about that,” Brown said. “She is high-strung, but she does race professionally. We’re way behind. If she looks 100 percent and is good enough to make that level — which she’s proven already — we want to make the Just A Game, with a prep.”
Besides the the Risen Star and Fair Grounds Handicap, the Fair Grounds card has the Gentilly; the Bayou, where multiple stakes winner Daisy Devine is 2-5 and will try to win her fourth straight; the Grade III Mineshaft for older horses at a mile and a sixteenth; and the Grade III Rachel Alexandra for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a sixteenth.
Optimizer is the 3-1 favorite for Lukas in the Fair Grounds Handicap off a convincing win in the Colonel Bradley at Fair Grounds on Jan. 26.
New Orleans favorite Mark Valeski and his usual connections — Larry Jones, jockey Rosie Napravnik and owner Brereton Jones — are 2-1 in the Mineshaft.
Other than winning the Peter Pan at Belmont last year, four of his last five starts have been at Fair Grounds, where he was second in the Risen Star and second in the Louisiana Derby last year.
After an eight-month layoff, he opened his 2013 season with a second to Infrattini, who is 5-2 in the Mineshaft, on Jan. 19.
At 7-2 is Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha in the Travers and is coming off an impressive win at Gulfstream four weeks ago.
The 5-2 favorite in the Rachel Alexandra is Unlimited Budget from Pletcher and Repole.
Her career consists of two November wins at Aqueduct by a combined 103⁄4 lengths, the second of which was the Grade II Demoiselle.
The Fountain of Youth card also includes the Grade II Davona Dale for 3-year-old fillies and Grade III Canadian Turf for older horses at a mile.
Pletcher and Stonestreet Stables will send out their classy filly Dreaming of Julia as the 4-5 favorite in the Davona Dale.
She won her first two career starts including a maiden race at Saratoga, by a combined 263⁄4 lengths before winning the Grade I Frizette, then was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey will saddle one of his turf stars, Data Link, in the Canadian Turf as the 2-1 favorite.
The New York-bred The Lumber Guy, one of the top sprinters in the country, is the 5-2 favorite in the Grade II seven-furlong San Carlos at Santa Anita.
He won the Grade II Jerome and Grade I Vosburgh before finishing second to Trinniberg in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Gulfstream Park’s elusive 10-cent Rainbow 6 was hit on Friday for a record $3,591,245.44.
The ticket was purchased at The Meadowlands in New Jersey and cost $3,118.50.
The previous record for a winning ticket on the Rainbow 6 was $791,364 on April 1, 2012. The previous record carryover was $5.1 million on April 23, 2011.
The Rainbow 6 is paid out when there is only one unique ticket with all six winners on the last six races of the day. Going into Friday’s last race, there were five live tickets. The winner in the last race, Feline Forum, returned $23.