The Derby Journey, Part 7: Last Stop on the Road to the Derby

The Derby Journey, Part 7: Last Stop on the Road to the Derby

Welcome to the sixth part in a series of articles chronicling the Kentucky Derby journey of Richard Keith, the owner of the promising three-year-olds American Dubai and Black Ops. This series will feature quotes and insights from Keith as American Dubai and Black Ops progress along the Derby trail and seek qualification points in the Derby prep races at Oaklawn Park. The previous parts may be read here. Enjoy!

American Dubai during morning training at Keeneland - Keeneland Photo
American Dubai during morning training at Keeneland – Keeneland Photo

After many long months, the road to the Kentucky Derby has nearly reached its end. Only five Kentucky Derby prep races remain to be run, and three of them—the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial, and the Blue Grass Stakes—will be held this Saturday.

The last-named race will be particularly important to Richard Keith, the owner of the talented Derby contender American Dubai. Earlier this year, American Dubai showed promise when running second in an allowance race and third in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park, but last time out, the son of E Dubai finished thirteenth in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II), a performance that may have led some to write him off as a Kentucky Derby contender.

But according to Richard Keith, American Dubai has emerged from the Rebel Stakes in great shape and is training better than ever heading into the Blue Grass Stakes. “After the race, he was back at the barn and he was just flat-out mad; angry if you will. When he walked by me, he would just glare at me… He seemed to get over it pretty well the next morning and has gone back to training with a vengeance. We two-minute-clipped him on Monday [after the Rebel] and had to gallop him Tuesday because no one could walk him. He is just getting stronger and stronger every day.”

Regarding American Dubai’s Thursday training session, in which the colt galloped before blowing out two furlongs in :23 and change, Keith said “He looked great this morning, maybe the best I’ve seen him move in a couple of months.”

Throughout his career, American Dubai has shown a great deal of early speed, and after rating a few lengths off the lead in the Rebel Stakes led to a disappointing performance, the plan is to have American Dubai race near the lead in the Blue Grass. “There are several [horses in the Blue Grass] that have not gone the distance yet, but have shown some speed in their last outing or so. I think they may try and jump out early, but I don’t think it will change our plan. We should set up front somewhere, just a bit off the pace if not on it… He has taken to this surface very well and everything looks to be timed right for this race.”

Keith added that he believes American Dubai needs to get out in front to run his best race. “When I was watching him run in the Southwest, my thought was not that he ran out of gas, but that he quit just a little. If you watch the race, when Whitmore first caught him he fought right back and pulled ahead again, [but] when Suddenbreakingnews came by on the outside and [American Dubai] saw him, he quit just a little. So I think if he feels challenged or overwhelmed, he might not have the mentality to stay in it to the end.”

American Dubai during morning training at Keeneland - Keeneland Photo
American Dubai during morning training at Keeneland – Keeneland Photo

With only two Kentucky Derby qualification points under his belt, American Dubai will likely need to finish first or second in the Blue Grass to qualify to the Kentucky Derby, but regardless of what happens at Keeneland, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico could be in the cards for American Dubai. “I am sure we will make a run at the Preakness with American Dubai should he make it or not make it to the Kentucky Derby,” says Keith.

Looking back on the journey that he and his team have taken to reach this point, Keith noted how fast time passes on the road to the Kentucky Derby. “What maybe most or all race fans and all fans of the Kentucky Derby may not understand is that even though this takes place in about five months, in reality it happens very fast with just a few actual opportunities to earn the points to make it to the first Saturday in May. When you are a small stable like we are, with just a few horses to campaigning on the trail, it has forced us to pick a much smaller choice of races. Some or most might not have fit our stable best, but you have to choose within the confines of the physics of the race game.”

Along the way, Keith and his team have done a lot to help promote racing, drawing new fans to the track and giving away American Dubai T-shirts at the Rebel Stakes. Now, on the eve of American Dubai’s final Derby prep race, Keith is hoping for the best.

“I am excited about the Blue Grass, but I think I am only about half as excited as Chris [Landeros, who will ride American Dubai], and that helps give me some confidence.”

The Turf Board wishes Richard Keith and his team the best of luck in the Blue Grass Stakes!

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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