Whatever Else he might be when he arrives at Churchill Downs for the 118th Kentucky Derby on May 2, A.P. Indy won't be the darling of the hunch players and underdog lovers. How can you fall in love with a horse whose name is so ugly that you have to wonder if his jillionaire Japanese owner knew he was buying a racehorse instead of a race car? Whose taciturn trainer, a British expatriate named Neil Drysdale, has all the warmth of a well-chilled mint julep? And whose $2.9 million yearling price tag means that his riches-to-riches story isn't exactly going to challenge Black Beauty as the all-time equine tearjerker?
But since it's always wise to bet with your head and not your heart, it is abundantly clear in the wake of A.P. Indy's gritty 1¾-length victory over Bertrando in last Saturday's $500,000 Santa Anita Derby that anybody who dismisses the long-striding brown colt on Derby Day may be making a huge mistake. A.P. Indy's jockey, Eddie Delahoussaye, says he has never gone to Louisville with a more courageous contender, and Delahoussaye won the roses in '82 with Gato Del Sol and in '83 with Sunny's Halo.
The only thing that bothers Delahoussaye is the way A.P. Indy drops his head when he digs in to make his customary come-from-behind move in the stretch. "He's a funny horse to ride," Delahoussaye says. "I wish he wouldn't drop his head so low. It's like pushing downhill, with your tail up in the air. You can't get any sense of rhythm with him."
A.P. Indy's win in the Santa Anita Derby means that he will go to Louisville with a five-race winning streak (his only loss was in his 2-year-old debut). He will also have the best family tree in the race. A half brother to 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, he's by Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner, out of Weekend Surprise, a daughter of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat. As breeding goes, that's about as good as it gets. Still, he didn't scare off the three colts who finished within six lengths of him last Saturday. Also heading for Louisville are Bertrando, who led all the way before tiring in the stretch; Casual Lies, who lost the place to Bertrando by only a neck; and fourth-place Hickman Creek, who ran well enough to convince training magnate D. Wayne Lukas, who has had at least one starter in every Kentucky Derby since 1981, that he deserves a shot.
Those three—and all the other Derby contenders—will have their hands full with A.P. Indy. At the 1990 Keeneland yearling sales he fetched the top price paid for a yearling in the world that year, compliments of Tomonori Tsurumaki, a real estate developer in Japan.
A few months later Drysdale was hired to train some of Tsurumaki's U.S.-based horses. But Drysdale communicates better with his horses than he does with the media. Last week he kissed off the press breakfast at which post positions for the race were drawn, sending an assistant in his stead, and he turned down an interview request from Jim Murray, the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He's not exactly the best ambassador for a sport that desperately needs every iota of upbeat publicity it can get.
But before anybody worries about how Drysdale may react in Louisville if an untutored reporter asks if he's related to Don, it should be made clear that the trainer has done a superb job in developing A.P. Indy. Not one to rush his horses, Drysdale didn't even consider running A.P. Indy in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. And now he is going to Louisville with a fresh colt who figures to love the deep, tiring Churchill Downs track.
As for the seven-horse Santa Anita Derby, it unfolded pretty much as predicted. The speedy Bertrando took the early lead, Hickman Creek and Casual Lies lay just off the pace, and A.P. Indy settled into fourth place. Delahoussaye sat chilly on A.P. Indy, though it meant taking him four wide turning for home. At about the 16th pole, with A.P. Indy in third, Delahoussaye went to the whip and the colt accelerated into the lead. "He's still a little green," Delahoussaye said later. "He doesn't respond until you get after him. I got after him today. When he switches leads, he's got that extra gear." Indeed, nobody was gaining on him at the end of the 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ-mile race, though the winning time was a dawdling 1:49[2/5].
Said Drysdale, "He's got a pretty good stretch run, and he can accelerate in the final 16th, where it generally matters the most." It certainly matters in the long stretch at Churchill Downs, where A.P. Indy should be a formidable contender on Derby Day.