Two horses owned by Tom Benson and wife Gayle have had impressive 3-year-old campaigns and will run in the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
A third Benson 3-year-old, however, has languished off track, an ankle injury and the subsequent healing time snatching away his season. There has been no chance at running in the big races at his home track, the Fair Grounds, and therby thoroughbred racing’s glamor events, the Triple Crown.
However, Tom’s D’Etat, a big bay son of Smart Strike, is on track to begin his career imminently, trainer Al Stall said with measured excitement.
“He’s on schedule for a start either Friday, the sixth (of May) on the Kentucky Oaks card, or Saturday, Kentucky Derby day, and both would be in a maiden allowance race,” Stall said. “He’s been approved by the (Churchill Downs) starter, which you have to have before you can make your first start.”
On the morning of the Louisisna Derby, March 26, Stall began training Tom’s D’Etat in breaking from the starting gate at the Fair Grounds. Tom’s D’Etat then was shipped to Churchill Downs to continue work there.
He’s had two hard workouts, the second of which was Thursday, that were needed to ascertain how soon he could enter a race. On Thursday, an apprentice jockey was aboard when he broke from the gate. Before, there were exercise riders.
“He had a nice five-furlong gate workout Thursday and ran 1:01,” Stall said. “He’s just getting closer to the race.”
What race is the question, and that depends on Tom’s D’Etat’s condition and where he is with his training. Some of it, though, may just be gut feeling.
The maiden allowance on the Oaks card on May 6 is 6½ furlongs long, and the one on the Derby card is a mile. Tom’s D’Etat, who has former Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Curlin as a sibling, is bred for distance. He’ll be entered the week of the races, but indications seem to be that he’ll run on May 7.
“He’s not a super speedy horse, with early speed,” Stall said. “He’s bred to go long; he looks like he wants to go long. So, we’re just trying to figure out if we’re going to start him short then go long in his second race or go straight to a long race.”
Tom’s D’Etat will have has three more hard workouts, each about six or seven days apart.
“We did somewhat of a simulated race (last week) with an older horse so he could get competitive with him,” Stall said. “We want to continue to keep working on his cardio, fitness.”
Just as important will be preparation for what simply goes on in a race. For instance, Stall said, he’ll have Tom’s D’Etat run behind two other racehorses in sort of preparation drills.
“We want to get some dirt kicked in his face,” Stall said.
Of the three Benson horses, Tom’s D’Etat was the most expensive purchase at the 2014 Keeneland yearlings sale, costing $330,000. Since then, it has been speculated he may be better than the Benson’s two top 3-year-olds — Tom’s Ready and Mo Tom, which are 10th and 12th respectively in the points standings to receive a berth in the Kentucky Derby.
Stall balks at that, saying Tom’s Ready’s second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, “is extremely hard to top,” and citing Mo Tom’s body of work that inlcudes three first-place finishes, including the Lecomte.
In July, 2015, Tom’s D’Etat prepared for his fall 2-year-old season, the start of his career. However, he came out of a workout at Churchill with a chip fracture of his left front ankle.
“Horses will get that with the flexation of the joint,” Stall said. “Sometimes, a tiny flake will pop off a bone.”
It was removed by world renowned surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage, whom Stall said is the “Dr. James Andrews of horse doctors.” The healing usually takes 60 days.
“We gave him 100 days,” Stall said. “You have to give that joint time to heal. Then he started growing so much, it was a no-brainer that we go real slow with him, let him come into his own.
“Then, we had to start from scratch.”
Tom’s D’Etat is nearly 16 hands tall and is well filled out, a big receiver, Stall says, like the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones, if he had to describe him in football terms.
“He stands over a lot of ground, and he travels well. When he runs, he’s a very fluid horse. He’s smooth, athletic.”
Stall said horses missing much of their 3-year-old career is not uncommon, noting it happened with Curlin.
“Tom’s D’Etat is going to need some racing,” Stall said. “He’s just not one that’s 100 percent ready to go right off the bat. His pedigree says that, also. Smart Strike’s first outers were not high finishes. (His colts) get better with age.
“(In his first race,) I’d like to see him finish up, close toward the end of the race. That’s what you want to see in a young horse who wants to go the distance.”