Departing easily won the Illinois Derby in his last start (Photo courtesy Four Footed Photos).
Making the Grade, which will run right up until the Belmont Stakes, will focus on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the 2013 Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based on factors such as ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a look at Departing, winner of the Illinois Derby on April 20 at Hawthorne Race Course.
Sire (Father): War Front
Dam (Mother): Leave, by Pulpit
Owners-Breeders: Claiborne Farm and
Trainer: Al Stall Jr.
A third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby is the only flaw on Departing’s five-race resume. Each of his other four races has been a convincing win by at least 2 ¼ lengths. With three of the top four finishers from the Louisiana Derby coming back to run second, third, and fifth in the Kentucky Derby, it seems fair to assess that race as a strong prep on the 2013 Triple Crown trail. Departing encountered a wide trip in the Louisiana Derby but finished strongly for third in a race won by Revolutionary. Fourth-place finisher Golden Soul came back to run second in the Kentucky Derby and Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary was third in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. How will Departing fare in his first classic test? Let’s take a look and assess his chances in the Preakness on Saturday.
Ability: Much has been made leading up to the Preakness about the fact that Departing and Kentucky Derby winner Orb both were born and raised at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., and it is quite remarkable to think of two horses of this quality living under the same roof and romping and frolicking together in the same paddock. But for this blog, we are trying to determine if Departing can end Orb’s bid for the Triple Crown, so let’s shift gears to Departing’s ability.
A quick look at Departing’s past performances shows a promising and steady improvement in speed figures. He has improved his Equibase Speed Figure in each of his last four starts, including jumping from a 97 to a 106 in the Louisiana Derby and the taking a slight step forward to a 108 when winning the Illinois Derby.
The Louisiana Derby was a tough class test for Departing coming out of a small stakes race at Sam Houston Race Park and the pace was much quicker than it had been for his previous two races going two turn. Because of that he dropped a bit farther off the pace than usual and did not show as explosive finishing speed.
In the Illinois Derby, Departing dropped back to ninth after the first quarter mile behind a less testing early pace and then made a bold, sweeping move on the far turn to rally into contention. He took charge in early stretch and powered away to a 3 ¼-length romp. Perhaps the Louisiana Derby was a real positive learning experience for Departing, who looked like a more polished racehorse at Hawthorne and appears to be coming into his own at an ideal time.
Running style: Early in his career, Departing won his races from just off the pace, stalking the early speed and then unleashing his winning bid near the quarter pole. Forced to drop back well off the pace in the Louisiana Derby when encountering a brisk pace, Departing ran well but did not deliver quite as much late punch. It does appear that Departing learned from that race as he settled quite comfortably behind the speed in the Illinois Derby and when asked to accelerate, he did so willingly and powerfully for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
Departing could be closer to the pace in the Preakness if there is a leisurely tempo or he could rate well back of the speed if the early pace is fast. His rally in the Illinois Derby ironically looked a lot like Orb’s winning bids in the Fountain of Stakes and Florida Derby. One can easily envision a scenario where the two former Claiborne residents launch their rallies in tandem in the Preakness setting up a stretch duel between the former pasture pals that would surely provide for a great story.
Connections: Claiborne Farm has a rich history in the Kentucky Derby, having won the race in 1984 with homebred Swale and with the unique distinction of having raised 10 Derby winners on the property, including Orb this year.
In 2011, Claiborne Farm celebrated 100 years in operation. Located in Paris, Ky., Claiborne won Eclipse Awards as leading breeder in 1979 and 1984 and has been the leading North American breeder by purse earnings 10 times. A.B. Hancock Sr. established the farm in the early 1900s, transferring his operation from Virginia. Seth has been at the helm of the family farm since 1972.
Through the decades, Claiborne has been home to such major stallions as Bold Ruler, Mr. Prospector, Nasrullah, Princequillo, Round Table, Danzig, and Seeking the Gold, as well as 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
Claiborne was the co-owner and co-breeder (along with longtime farm client and family friend Adele Dilschneider) of 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame, who handed Zenyatta her only career defeat.
Other Derby winners raised on the Claiborne grounds, in addition to Swale and Orb, were: Gallant Fox (1930, Triple Crown winner), Omaha (1935, Triple Crown winner), Johnstown (1939), Jet Pilot (1947), Canonero II (1971), Riva Ridge (1972), Ferdinand (1986), Thunder Gulch (1995).
VISIT HISTORIC CLAIBORNE FARM
Trainer Al Stall Jr., a Louisiana native and resident, is best known as the trainer of champion Blame, but he also expertly handled the career of local favorite Star Guitar, the all-time leading Louisiana-bred by purse earnings. Stall has never saddled a runner in the Kentucky Derby, but he did send out Terrain to a seventh-place finish in the 2009 Preakness.
Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. has been aboard Departing in each of his five career races and showed in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic that he is a capable big-race rider when he guided Fort Larned to victory.
Pedigree: Like most Claiborne Farm homebreds, Departing brings plenty of pedigree punch to the racetrack. His dam (mother) Leave, by Pulpit, was not a winner on the track, but his second dam (maternal grandmother) and third and fourth dams (maternal great-grandmother and great, great grandmother) all were stakes winners who went on to produce multiple stakes winners.
Leave is a full-sister (same dam, same sire [father]) to multiple stakes winner Laity and a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to multiple graded stakes winner Trip and stakes winner Joke, the latter the dam of multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Zensational. Both Trip and Laity were stakes winners at 1 1/16 miles, but much of the top-end talent in the first four generations of this female family slants toward speed.
War Front was a Grade 2 winning sprinter on the track who has shown versatility as a sire with multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter The Factor – a graded stakes winner going two turns on the main track – Grade 1 turf winners Data Link and Summer Soiree as well as Soldat and Departing, both winners of major Triple Crown prep races from only three crops age three and older. He also is the sire of Lines of Battle, winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby this year on the synthetic main track at Meydan and seventh in this year’s Kentucky Derby.