The only luck Dallas Stewart has been afforded over the past few years at the Kentucky Derby has been bad luck.
But the multiple graded stakes winning trainer said he believes his colt Tale of Verve may be able to help turn his luck around in Saturday’s 140th running of the Preakness Stakes at Baltimore’s Pimlico racetrack.
“We’ve been keeping our fingers crossed all week,” Stewart said. “If everything works out the way we hope, I think we’ll have a shot at running a good race.
“But obviously, things don’t always go the way you want them to.”
No one knows that better than Stewart, who has had to deal with his fair share of disappointment at Churchill Downs over the past few years.
Stewart trained the horses that finished in second place in both the 2013 and 2014 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, and added Tale of Verve late as an also-eligible for the 2015 race.
The Charles Fipke-owned colt needed three different horses to withdraw from the race in order to be entered into the field, and indeed, three horses did eventually withdraw from the field before the race began — including Louisiana Derby winner International Star.
Unfortunately for Stewart and Tale of Verve, two of the withdrawals happened after the deadline to set the field before Saturday’s race, preventing Tale of Verve the opportunity to show what he was capable of matched up against an elite field of 3-year-olds in the Derby.
“We were looking forward to seeing how he looked on a big stage like that against some of the best, but unfortunately things didn’t work out for us,” Stewart said. “I’ve wanted to get him in some races with longer distances that allow him to run those long stretches where he can display his speed and his ability to rally.
“Things just haven’t worked out the way we wanted them to.”
Stewart has said the same thing about Tale of Verve during the times he has ran at the Fair Grounds this year, as well.
He said he believes Tale of Verve, a 30-1 underdog, should be considered as one of the elite 3-year-olds in his class — and his inclusion in the Kentucky Derby field, despite never winning a stakes race suggests that may be true — but Tale of Verve has come up short in his opportunities to prove that during his races in New Orleans this year.
Stewart and Fipke entered Tale of Verve into three different races at the Fair Grounds in 2015, and didn’t come away with a win in any of the three.
Stewart said that he believed that Tale of Verve’s struggles were a product of running shorter races that don’t necessarily fit him — and the results suggest that may be true.
In Tale of Verve’s first two starts at the Fair Grounds, he ran in races that had a distance of one mile and 70 yards, finishing in seventh and fourth place, respectively, in the two runnings.
In his third showing on the Fair Grounds track, Stewart entered the colt in a 1 1?16 mile race, and he responded, coming in second place.
“I think he’s more of a come-from-behind type of horse that looks really good when he can stretch out his legs and show what he’s capable of,” Stewart said. “I think if some of those races at the Fair Grounds had went a little longer, he probably would’ve finished better.”
Tale of Verve’s next race at Keeneland showed just how right Stewart was about the colt’s ability in long distances. Tale of Verve came away with his first career win on March 23 in a maiden race at Keeneland in a 1 3?16 mile race that showed just what he is capable of.
The Preakness also happens to be run at 1 3?16 miles, so Stewart hopes Tale of Verve will be able to carry that performance over to Saturday’s race.
But maybe more than anything else, Stewart knows one thing in particular may be the difference between winning and losing Saturday.
“With a little luck, I think we’ll have a shot,” he said.