Barbaro did it. So did Animal Kingdom. Faced with “put up or shut up” in their final Kentucky Derby preps, both colts punched their tickets to Louisville. Next up: Normandy Invasion. Known for his explosive late kick, Rick Porter’s chestnut colt will have one final chance to earn his way into the Derby in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racecourse on April 6.
In the new Derby qualifying point system there is no more piling up graded stakes earnings in less challenging graded races earlier in the season. This year the final prep races in April are back-loaded with points. Each winner earns 100 points, the runner-up gets 40. A poor race in one of those seven preps probably knocks that contender right out of one of the coveted 20 spots in the Derby. Many believe it will take at least 40 points to turn up in the starting gate May 4.
Normandy Invasion was primed and the betting favorite (3-2) for the $400,000 Risen Star in New Orleans the end of February. Trainer Chad Brown’s plan was for jockey Jose Lezcano to get good position going into the first turn. Poof! Breaking slowly from the gate and then stumbling, the son of Tapit was wide on both turns including seven wide heading into the stretch. Tenth with three-sixteenths of a mile to go, the chestnut colt rallied to finish a fast-closing fifth, beaten by only 1 1/2 lengths in his 3-year old debut.
“He was flat-footed leaving the gate, which Chad believes was the result of not getting a real good warm-up and then had a slight stumble a few strides into the race,” owner Rick Porter related. “He had a very wide trip, but was making up ground at the end and might have won had the race been another 50 to 70 yards longer. Normandy earned a career best 6 Ragozin (speed figure, the lower the better) with his effort, and we’re excited by that. He has progressed like a top horse, getting a better Rag number with each start.”
Porter is best known for owning the filly Havre de Grace who was the 2011 Horse of the Year and for runner-up Derby performances by Hard Spun in 2007 and Eight Belles in 2009.
Finishing fifth in the Risen Star, Porter’s colt did not earn any points. With only four points for finishing second in the Remsen Stakes (Grade-2) last December, he needs to finish first or second in the Wood to secure a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.
The colt has shown flashes of brilliance but needs to step up significantly in the Wood which promises to have a full field. There will be little margin for error. The late running colt will need some racing luck or make his own luck navigating through traffic coming into the stretch. Veteran jockey Javier Castellano has been hired to ride the colt in the Wood.
“Javier will stick with us as long as Normandy Invasion is running well,” said owner Rick Porter. “He rides for Chad and he knows him very well. Javier will breeze Normandy before the race. I expect Javier will have him on his toes in the gate ready to go in the starting gate.
“I would certainly like for him to get to the Derby, but he’s a really nice horse and ultimately the long- range plans are more important. This summer we’ll be pointing toward the Travers.”
Normandy Invasion is from the fifth crop of red-hot stallion Tapit who has produced three champions and numerous Grade 1 winners. His top offspring include 2011 champion two-year-old colt Hansen; 2008 champion two-year-old filly Stardom Bound; and Grade 1 winner Careless Jewel, who captured the 2009 Alabama at 1 1/4 miles. Tapit is proving to be an outstanding source of both speed and stamina. He also sired this year’s top Southern California Derby contender Flashback.
Normandy Invasion finished fifth in his career debut, a Belmont sprint, last September. Two months later he raised some eyebrows winning a one-turn-mile maiden race at Aqueduct by more than nine lengths.
In the Remsen Stakes in November, Normandy Invasion broke from post 10, a difficult outside spot. Sitting eighth of nine going into the far turn, he made a sweeping move into contention coming into the top of stretch and held it down the lane catching Delhomme, but lost a tough head-bob to Overanalyze.
“The Remsen was his first stakes, first time around two turns,” trainer Brown noted. “He looked like a winner turning for home, but to the other horse's credit, he really dug in and fought back," Brown said. "They're two really good horses. I'm sure they'll meet again."
Porter named the horse for the greatest seaborne invasion in history along France’s Normandy coast in June 1944. He purchased Normandy Invasion, a chestnut out of the Boston Harbor mare Boston Lady, for $230,000 at Keeneland’s 2012 April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
As for Brown, he has been on the fast track since he struck out on his own in 2007. Raised in the shadows of Saratoga Racecourse, he worked there for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey before taking a job as an assistant trainer for five years to the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel. Brown won his first Breeders' Cup race with Maram in 2008 and followed that up with another Breeders' Cup victory in 2012 with Zagora.
Brown, who has been training for Porter over the past two years, is not short on confidence.
“I’ve only had four crops of 2-year-olds since I’ve been on my own,” said Brown, 35. “I feel like I have a résumé that shows I know how to develop horses, whether they’re turf horses or dirt horses. Dirt, turf, long, short - the better trainers figure out how to work with each horse individually rather than work with just one program.”
Normandy Invasion has spent most of the winter at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida.
“He is a very talented horse,” Brown related. “He’s still learning the game. Distance won’t be a problem for him moving forward. He has a great disposition about him. He's a very smart horse. He’s got a beautiful frame and a wonderful way of going. I think those long legs are going to serve him well going forward.”
*Derby contender Vyjack was an impressive winner in Gotham Stakes, a Derby prep race, at Aqueduct in early March. He was at the Fair Hill Training Center for about four months last year with Bruce Jackson at his Equine Therapy Center getting his early training. Vyjack’s Gotham victory earned him 50 points and a spot in the starting gate for Derby 139 on May 4.
*The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition reported that slots revenues at Pennsylvania's six racetrack casinos -- also known as Category 1 casinos -- took significant hits for the month of February, dropping by 14.3 percent compared to the same period in 2012. That decrease resulted in a corresponding drop of $3.47 million in funding to the Race Horse Development Fund, which supports live horse racing and breeding in Pennsylvania.
*Penn National set a monthly handle record in January, averaging $1,260,173 per card. The old record was $1,237,341 in April 2009.
*Parx is making history once more. The Bensalem track is presenting an all-star card that features the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (Grade-2) and the $1 million Cotillion (Grade-2) on September 21, six weeks prior to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. Other than those Breeders’ Cup cards, this will be the only card in America with two million-dollar races. The supporting feature will once again be the $300,000 Gallant Bob for 3-year-olds sprinters.
In a bold move towards the uniform regulation of medication and drug testing in North American racing, the regulators of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Massachusetts have committed to implement a uniform medication and drug testing program.
The program divides medications into two new categories--controlled therapeutic substances and prohibited substances. The controlled therapeutic substances category will limit horsemen and veterinarians to 24 medications that have been recognized as appropriate for therapeutic use in racehorses to treat illness or injury. Under the rules, furosemide (Lasix) will be the only drug permitted within 24 hours of a race.
The presence of these and any other medication or drug in a sample collected from a horse will be strictly prohibited. Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission Chairman Duncan Patterson, who also is the current ARCI chairman, hopes other states join.
“This is indeed a historic moment for racing and long overdue,” Patterson said. “It demonstrates that the racing industry has the means and wherewithal to join together to protect the integrity of our sport and the welfare of our horses. I urge all racing jurisdictions outside the region to immediately join in this effort so that we can achieve long-elusive national medication and drug testing uniformity.”
During the period between April 1 and December 31, the regulators will be working with horsemen and veterinarians to ensure compliance when implementation occurs. In addition, work is ongoing on a new penalty system that will discourage initial and repeat violations and identify repeat offenders who fail to comply with medication regulations.
This move represents the most dramatic change in medication regulation and testing in the last 50 years and could pave the way for national uniformity.