He’s got the nation’s hottest rider competing for him on the sport’s biggest stage.
And more importantly, he’s got a horse that’s drawing enough smart money attention to make a lot of folks believe this outcome will be decidedly unlike his previous two appearances.
But no matter how the Kentucky Derby turns out for trainer Tom Amoss of New Orleans, he still sees himself as little guy in the hierarchy of horse racing.
“I’m just a big player,” said Amoss, who will be saddling Mylute on Saturday at Churchill Downs. “I’m not the guy they say, ‘Oh, Tom Amoss has one in this race’ about.
“There’s an adage that winning the Kentucky Derby changes your life. Well, I’m 51, and I can tell you that it will not make me a different person.”
But certainly Amoss, who recently won his 10th Fair Grounds trainer’s title but has only one Grade I stakes victory in his career, will find himself at least sharing a huge spotlight should Mylute prevail.
That’s because Mylute, the runner-up to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby, will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, the winningest jockey in the country for 2013.
That’s drawn her considerable pre-race attention, including a profile on 60 Minutes. No female jockey has ever finished better than ninth in the Derby, and that was Napravnik aboard Pants on Fire in 2011.
Napravnik was to have ridden Shanghai Bobby in the Kentucky Derby, just as she did in winning last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile.
But when Shanghai Bobby surprisingly finished fifth in the Florida Derby and failed to qualify, Napravnik chose to go with Mylute and Amoss, with whom she teamed for 19 victories during the Fair Grounds meet, including an allowance race in December that was Mylute’s most-recent victory.
Napravnik, who is expected to sign a lucrative endorsement deal on Wednesday, acknowledged that she has much at stake professionally in the race. Her best chance to win then, she said, was with Mylute and Amoss over some other higher-profile horses and trainers.
“Tom and I have really clicked this year,” Napravnik said. “The thing I appreciate about him is that he is a true horseman who pays attention to detail.
“He is very straightforward when there is an issue with a horse and then works with you to fix it. Not all trainers are like that. That’s what I appreciate most about him.”
Understandably, Amoss is fan of Napravnik, although it took until the end of her first season at the Fair Grounds, 2010-11, for him to use her regularly.
“I know that she’s going to get a lot of attention this week,” Amoss said. “But she won’t let that distract her.
“She’s a professional who knows her job and will tell you what’s on her mind.”
So how much does that improve Mylute’s chances of winning?
“That’s hard to say,” Amoss said. “But I know we’ve got a good team.”
Indeed, Mylute is the best three-year-old Amoss, whose stock-in-trade remains low-budget claimers, has ever had.
Mylute is the son of Midnight Lute, a two-time Breeders Sprint champion that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert called “the perfect thoroughbred” and the best horse he’d ever trained. Mylute is the grandson of 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet though Stage Stop, a stakes winning sprinter/miler. As a yearling, Mylute was purchased for $150,000 by Paul Buhlman, owner of GoldMark Farm in Ocala, Fla.
“Mylute could have dominated the sprint division, but he’s a massive, good-looking horse who’s shown he can go for distance,” Todd Quast, head trainer of GoldMark Farm. “I worked with Grindstone (the 1996 Kentucky Derby winner) and Charismatic (the 1999 winner), and he fits the mold of the kind of horse who can overcome adversity.”
So has Amoss, who has about 50 horses and 28 employees under his guidance during the current meet at Churchill Downs.
“Not everybody likes it, but that’s part of the business,” said fellow local trainer and longtime friend Al Stall Jr., whose Departing recently won the Illinois Derby and is being pointed toward the Preakness. “Tom pays attention to his horses and makes sure they’re in the right races.”
Quast said he was first impressed by Amoss while watching him doing commentary on TGN and taking GoldMark horses for the past four years.
“Tom is very professional, very methodical in his approach,” Quast said. “He doesn’t treat every horse the same.
“That’s why we felt he was the perfect person to train Mylute.”
This is the second time GoldMark, which began operations in 2006, and Amoss have teamed up in the Kentucky Derby.
In 2010, Backtalk, trained by Amoss, finished in 20th out of 20.
“Mylute has a much better pedigree than Backtalk or Lone Star Sky (15th out of 16 in 2003).” Amoss said, “They were good horses, but they couldn’t take their talents to a longer distance.
“They probably would have finished last and next-to-last in anybody else’s hands. It’s yet to be seen, but I feel this horse (Mylute) can compete.”
Mylute is an off-the-pace horse who challenged the Todd Pletcher-trained Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby, taking the lead at the 1/16 pole, only to fall short by a neck.
Since that March 30 race, he’s had three workouts, all with very good results.
Also, Mylute shouldn’t be bothered by the hoopla of the day. This is his 10th race, more than any other horse in the field. He’s run on five tracks with six riders.
“Anything can happen in a race with a big field,” Amoss said. “But Mylute knows how to come through traffic, and Rosie is fearless in those situations.
“He came within a neck of beating Revolutionary, and Revolutionary is going to be one of the favorites. That makes us a player, plain and simple.”
Still, Mylute doesn’t figure to be any better than the 12-1 shot he was in the Louisiana Derby, if that much.
Unbeaten Verrazano, Orb and Overanalyze along with Revolutionary are the horses to beat.
Those may be long odds, but Amoss pointed out, this may be his best opportunity.
“For any trainer, competing in the Kentucky Derby is something you always aspire to do,” he said. “But having done it twice, I can tell you that the mind has a way of playing tricks on you and have you daydreaming about the possibilities of winning it.
“I hope I’m smart enough and wise enough to not let that happen and just be prepared to let the chips fall where they may. My job is to make sure my horse is prepared as well as it can be.”