Arlington Million

Barn Notes: Saturday, August 3, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/03/2013 #
  • Draw Two winning at Belmont Park (NYRA photo by Adam Coglianese)

In Today's Notes: Draw Two Could Be Number One in Secretariat for Nihei

The Virginia Derby has been a key race leading up to the Grade I $500,000 Secretariat Stakes since its inception.  At essentially the same conditions and situated a month beforehand, it has often provided a great preview for the Arlington feature, including four of its last 10 winners subsequently finishing in the Secretariat exacta.  While any of the top three who finished in a tight photo finish – War Dancer, Charming Kitten and Jack Milton – look to be cornered into favoritism if they compete at Arlington, it is one who finished behind them who looks like the ‘buzz’ horse. 

That charge is Dennis Narlinger’s handsome gray colt Draw Two, a hard-luck fourth that day at Colonial.  Slow to begin, the lightly built son of Macho Uno dropped back to last before settling and closing strongly on the turn.  When entering the home straight and trying to angle out, Draw Two collided with the driving Fear the Kitten in cringe-worthy fashion and then was left with minimal room to continue his rally.  Unable to change leads during the disastrous stretch run, the Michelle Nihei-trained colt still managed to finish only 3¼ lengths behind the top three.

“It says a lot about him, being a small horse and hard as he got hit, to run like that.  I was thinking during the race ‘how could more things go wrong here?’” explained an obviously upset Nihei.  “He had just a terrible trip.  I think he would have been right up there with the top three.” 

Nihei, who was a junior professor in neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University before taking out her training license in Dec. 2007, also worked as a an exercise rider and eventual assistant to America’s leading trainer, Todd Pletcher.  During those tenures she galloped and/or assisted in the training of champions Wait A While, Ashado, English Channel and Lawyer Ron. 

Since going out on her own, she has especially excelled as a trainer of quality turf route stock.  Her first stakes win, coming only seven months after her first win as a trainer, was in the Vivacious Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf at River Downs.  Additionally, her best horse so far was Grade I winner Prince Will I Am, who won the Grade I Jamaica Handicap, Grade II Mac Diarmida Handicap and Grade III W. L. McKnight Handicap – all grass routes. 

Given her experience with Pletcher, Nihei knows a good young horse when she sees one.  “Draw Two is a very good colt.  As far as the Secretariat, he deserves a shot and I couldn’t be happier with him, honestly.  I think he’s a horse who is a little bit on the light side and doesn’t take to a lot of heavy duty training,” she explained.  “I have put a couple works into him since the Virginia Derby because he didn’t really get to do much (at Colonial).  Yesterday’s work (five furlongs on the Oklahoma training track’s turf course in 1:01 flat) was brilliant!”

Despite only having two wins in five starts and running three of those in maiden races, Draw Two has an impressive résumé behind him.  In his career debut, he closed from 11 lengths back to finish third in a turf sprint at Belmont in July 2012.  In his next start at 1 1/16 miles on the Saratoga turf course, the $65,000 purchase chased home a buzz saw named Noble Tune – the same colt who would finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf two races later.  Next out, in his third race, Draw Two impressively walloped a field of eight – including the well regarded and subsequent graded stakes-placed Chamois – by 7¾ lengths over the same distance at Belmont Park.  That October 17 event would be the colt’s last race of 2012. 

“He had a busy campaign for a 2-year-old, so we gave him time off by design after that.  We knew he was very good, so we’ve let him develop.  We tried to start him at Gulfstream and then in Kentucky at Keeneland and kept having something get in the way, including him getting the flu at one point.  Finally, when we got back to New York, we got a race,” Nihei reported. 

On May 10, after a seven-month layoff, Draw Two came back on the same course and distance upon which he won his debut, and made a sharp closing move down the stretch to win an allowance over Stormy Len – a colt who would go on to finish a strong third in July’s Grade III American Derby.  “I know Stormy Len is a very talented horse and David (Donk) is a really great trainer.  David was very congratulatory afterward, too.  After that, I knew he belonged in the Virginia Derby,” Nihei reflected. 

“He’s a workmanlike horse.  His big drawback is that he might be too good of a horse – he’ll do what you want him to do,” Nihei laughed.  In this, the trainer also believes the colt is more versatile than his deep-closing running lines suggest.              “His running style is a mischaracterization, I think.  In his first race of the year he was a little rusty at the start, and he just didn’t break that well last time (in the Virginia Derby),” Nihei continued.  “He doesn’t need to drop back.  He will do whatever the jockey tells him to do.”

After three straight soft turf performances, including two wins, bettors might peg Draw Two as a horse in need of “give” in the ground.  Nihei is at variance with that assumption.  “I think he’ll run on any ground.  Personally, it doesn’t matter to me how the track comes up that day.  I know he runs well on the soft going and I have worked him on the firm going at Saratoga (Race Course) and he gets over that very well.  He will run on anything, as long as it’s grass.   He’s a classic turf horse,” she explained with satisfaction. 

In the end, Nihei is very confident in Draw Two’s chances in the Secretariat. “He is working well and overcomes adversity.  You never know with racing, but we know that he belongs.”