Magnum Moon’s connections aren’t scared of Apollo.
When asked what he thought of the so-called Apollo curse – no horse has won the Kentucky Derby (G1) without racing as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882 – owner owner Robert Low said, “We got to bust it up.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he expects to hear the name of the 1882 Derby winner a lot over the next three weeks.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I think trends with the winners in terms of days between races and number of preps has been changing the last 10-15 years, so it’s only a matter of time before this one changes, too. With two of the top choices this year, we’ll certainly be testing the curse.”
The other top choice is the likely Kentucky Derby favorite in Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Justify.
Magnum Moon has flashed a lot of talent in his three months at the races. He pressed the pace when winning his career debut on January 13 at Gulfstream Park, then was a bit farther back in winning a Tampa Bay Downs allowance on February 15 and the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park on March 17.
His win in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn on Saturday came gate-to-wire.
“I was very pleased with the effort,” Pletcher said. “He showed us yet another dimension by going to the lead. I was a little concern he drifted late, but it looked like he spooked at the tire tracks at the eighth-pole. He was pulling away from some nice horses.”
“That wasn’t fatigue,” Low said. “This horse can run as far as we want him to. He shied away from the tire tracks.
“What I was worried about watching the race was that he went to the lead; my heart just sank. I thought, ‘Oh, no, this is new territory,’ but he’s a smart horse and figured it out, and (jockey Luis Saez) rode him great.”
Low, 68, ranked this win as the top in his career. The Springfield, Missouri, resident grew up coming to Oaklawn Park. His only other Kentucky Derby starter was Steppenwolffer in 2006.
“We’d love to win the Kentucky Derby, but to win this was really special,” Low said. “I’m going to need to get some tranquilizers after talking to my physician to get through the next three weeks.”
Low bought Magnum Moon for $380,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The Malibu Moon colt was in Pletcher’s Saratoga barn the summer of his two-year-old year, but “baby issues,” as Pletcher called them, forced the team to give the colt more time.
“Todd’s dad, J.J. Pletcher, broke the horse, and we thought he might be a good one,” Low said. “Todd thought he was one of his top two-year-olds, and he just doesn’t throw around compliments. He had some issues, though, and we all decided to give him more time.”
The Arkansas Derby win – worth 100 of the Arkansas Derby’s 170 points – gives Magnum Moon 150 points for the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Pletcher has now won four of the seven Part 2 (170-point) races in the series.
“Hard to imagine having a better month,” Pletcher said. “We’re blessed to have the equine and human talent to make it happen. Hopefully everyone stays healthy the next three weeks and we’ll fire our best shots at Churchill Downs.”
Magnum Moon was never more than a length ahead of Quip through fractions of :23.34, :48.60 and 1:13.39 before opening up in the stretch and defeating that rival by four lengths with a final furlong in :11.99.
The points for the second- and third-place finishes – 40 and 20, respectively – are enough to get both Quip and Solomini, separated by a neck on the Oaklawn wire, into the Kentucky Derby, should their connections pursue that path.
“The race set up where we thought maybe we’d end up on the lead, but I thought (jockey Florent Geroux) did right to get a good spot,” said Quip’s trainer, Rodolphe Brisset. “He tried hard, and it was encouraging to see him run on and stay second. We’ll give him a day or two before coming up with a plan.”
It was another head back to Combatant in fourth. The 10 points give Combatant 32, which ranks him 20th behind Firenze Fire with 39 (the top 19 by points get in with the other spot going to the European Road to the Kentucky Derby winner – in this case Gronkowski).
Pletcher said that Magnum Moon would return to his Palm Beach Downs base before joining TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy, Wood Memorial (G2) victor Vino Rosso and Florida Derby (G1) scorer Audible on an April 23 flight to Churchill Downs. Pletcher expects each of his Kentucky Derby starters to have one workout in Louisville, Kentucky, ahead of the May 5 Kentucky Derby.