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Hovdey: A little karma in Core Beliefs' corner

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Thirty horses qualify as a herd, by any standards, and what a handsome herd it will be going postward across the American landscape Saturday afternoon when the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, and Santa Anita Derby unite in a single afternoon of madcap Kentucky Derby previews.

The Wood, first offered in 1925, has been won by 12 colts who went on to finish first in the Kentucky Derby, including the heavily asterisked Dancer’s Image, who was disqualified for a supposedly bad test in Louisville. The Santa Anita Derby, launched in 1935, boasts 10 Kentucky Derby winners, while the Blue Grass, a foal of 1937, also can lay claim to 10 Derby winners, as long as you count Forward Pass, who was moved up on the Dancer’s Image DQ, and dismiss Alysheba, who was disqualified at Keeneland before his big day at Churchill Downs.

And in case anyone asks, 1965 Kentucky Derby hero Lucky Debonair won both the Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass when they were spread across the calendar.

From this year’s Wood we should learn if Enticed will give Godolphin a viable place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate alongside Mendelssohn and their Coolmore arch rivals. Champion 2-year-old Good Magic needs to light up the Blue Grass if he is going to be taken seriously in Louisville. And then, out West, Bolt d’Oro will take on yet another Bob Baffert rocket in the Santa Anita Derby, after spitting two decisions with Solomini last year and battling McKinzie to a virtual draw in the recent San Felipe. This time the name is Justify, a colt with two starts, two impressive wins, and one foot already in the Hall of Fame.

“Isn’t he amazing to watch?” said Pete Eurton, who gets an eyeful of Justify while training his own Santa Anita string. “We’ve heard all the raves about him. A lot of people are saying he needs to prove himself. But I think he’s pretty much proved he can run fast, and that’s what matters.”

Nevertheless, Eurton will be taking on Justify, Bolt d’Oro, and the Lecomte winner Instilled Regard on Saturday with Core Beliefs, a son of Quality Road who is coming off a smart maiden win in his third start, March 8. He’ll be a longshot, but if nothing else, Core Beliefs has karma on his side.

His owner, Gary Broad, suffered the worst of the equine casualties in the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center fire of last Dec. 7, when he lost 15 racehorses and one pony stabled there with Scott Hansen. Core Beliefs, who learned his early lessons with Hansen, was already at Santa Anita in Eurton’s care.

Broad paid $350,000 for Core Beliefs at the Barretts 2017 March sale of 2-year-olds. In his first race Jan. 13, he was a tantalizing third after a rough start going 5 1/2 furlongs, then in his second appearance he loomed in mid-race and then faded.

“What a letdown that was,” Eurton said. “He made that move early, which might have been more than he wanted to do, and he scoped clean, so we went ahead and tried him two turns.”

The result was a 3 1/4-length score at a mile and one-sixteenth over the Baffert colts Longden and Regulate, who pressed Core Beliefs on the lead but could not stay with him in the stretch. Longden, a Godolphin colt by Bernardini, came back to win a maiden race March 29.

“He ran fast and finished with his ears pricked, so I think he’s got something left,” Eurton said. “I did say to Mike, it looked like he was pumping all the way down the backside. Mike just smiled and say he did that to make the others think he had no horse.”

The injury that knocked McKinzie out of the Santa Anita Derby also removed Mike Smith from Core Beliefs. Smith rides Justify, leaving Eurton to go with Tyler Baze.

“Baze has never been on him, but he’s riding so good right now I’m not really worried,” Eurton said.

The idea that a veteran rider needs to “know” his horse has been effectively debunked on several dramatic occasions. Except for a workout, Chris McCarron had never ridden Sunday Silence before they won the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Smith’s first and only collaboration with Skip Away was a romp in the 1997 Classic. Gary Stevens made his first afternoon with Criminal Type count in the 1990 Whitney. And Arazi did not seem to mind that Pat Valenzuela was on board for the first time in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

When Baze mounts up on Saturday afternoon, he will find himself atop a colt of about 16-1 hands and 1,175 pounds, “wide and thick – a good doer,” in the words of his trainer. Still a work in progress, Core Beliefs needs to be on his best behavior, especially at the start, if he is going to have any chance to impact the race.

“He can get a little rattled in the gate, stand on three legs, or even go to sleep,” Eurton noted. “He’s not a bad gate horse. He just needs to learn to stand and be ready.”

Core Beliefs is on the outside of the seven entered.

“He’ll be the last one in and first one out, which gives me the opportunity to follow the favorites over,” Eurton said. “After that, we’ll find out if he belongs.”

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