Kentucky Derby: Long Range Toddy's run for the roses began in OKC
Several years ago, Scott Wells came to the realization that it would be difficult to get a Kentucky Derby winner to race at Remington Park.
“We almost got (2009 Kentucky Derby winner) Mine That Bird to run in the Oklahoma Derby, but he was going to be running in the Breeder’s Cup Classic,” said Wells, president and general manager of Remington Park.
“It hit me that a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby in May is probably not going to run in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby in September. He is either not going to be running or he is headed for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”
Remington Park then began to focus on the kind of races with purses to attract 2-year-old thoroughbreds who could become Kentucky Derby contenders as 3-year-olds.
The $400,000 Springboard Mile in December is the final stakes race of Remington Park’s thoroughbred season. It really was a springboard for last year’s champ, Long Range Toddy, who drew the No. 18 post position for Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
“It helped start him on his road to the Kentucky Derby,” said Willis Horton, owner of Long Range Toddy, of the horse’s victory at Remington Park in the Springboard Mile.
It is the second straight year a racehorse in the Springboard Mile has qualified for the Kentucky Derby. Combatant, a racehorse partially owned by Horton who finished second in the 2017 Springboard Mile, qualified for last year’s Kentucky Derby.
Long Range Toddy is the second horse to start his racing career at Remington Park and eventually make the Kentucky Derby. The first was Suddenbreakingnews, who finished second in the 2015 Springboard Mile and fifth in the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
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The Kentucky-bred Long Range Toddy is trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen of Arlington, Texas, who won his first training title at Remington Park and set a thoroughbred season earnings record at the Oklahoma City racetrack last year.
Asmussen will be looking for his first Kentucky Derby win on Saturday. For horsemen like Asmussen, the Kentucky Derby is the horse race.
“The Derby is it for us,” he said. “The layman cannot imagine how much people spend on young horses and pedigrees and everything. It (Kentucky Derby) is pretty much the goal of all that time and money and energy.
“For someone involved in horse racing 365 days a year, it is the most important one of those days.”
Horton, 79, said he has been in the horse breeding business for more than 50 years and attempting to win the Kentucky Derby for the past 20. He is constantly trying to improve the bloodlines in his stables to achieve his ultimate dream. Long Range Toddy is the Marshall, Arkansas, resident's third racehorse to make the Kentucky Derby field.
Will Take Charge, another Horton racehorse and the first Springboard Mile alum to ever qualify for the Kentucky Derby, finished eighth at Churchill Downs but was the 2013 Eclipse Award Winner for 3-year-olds.
Horton said the jury is still out on whether Long Range Toddy, who also won the Clevor Trevor Stakes in November at Remington Park, will become his best racehorse. Long Range Toddy upset Improbable to win the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in March but finished a disappointing sixth in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in April.
“It come a flood that day,” Horton said. “He stepped in a hole or something on the track and kind of pulled a muscle in his stifle. He quit running when that happened, but we’ve got him over that and he’s in fine shape.
“He is ready to go Saturday. I am really optimistic. I just hope it is not raining and we can get a fair track for everybody.”
Asmussen, who jokes that he’s had more horses entered in the Kentucky Derby than anyone who has never won one, has twice finished second and twice finished third in the run for the roses. Long Range Toddy is a long shot to win Saturday. His betting odds are 30 to 1.
Whatever happens in the race Saturday, Asmussen again will revel in being part of the biggest event in horse racing.
“It is all encompassing, the excitement of it, the excitement before it,” Asmussen said of the Kentucky Derby. “The anticipation and the walk over and the cheering crowds. That anxiousness before, and then after defeat, the emptiness and the long walk back and immediately you are thinking about next time and another chance and wanting it again. It’s so weird. It stirs you up.”
Wells, the former president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the Kentucky Derby is the hardest race to win.
“The Saudi Arabian sheiks have won nearly every major race in the world, but they have never won the Kentucky Derby," he said. "You just can’t buy it. Everyone knows about the Kentucky Derby and everyone knows it’s one of the rarer achievements in sports.”
When: 5:50 p.m. Saturday
Where: Churchill Downs; Louisville, Kentucky
TV: NBC (Cox 4/HD 704, Dish 4, DirecTV 4, U-verse 4/1004)
Remington Park schedule
9:30 a.m.: First simulcast race from Churchill Downs
Noon: Live quarter horse racing begins
2 p.m.: Derby Day Hat & Tie Style Contest begins on track-level north. Free to enter with $3,000 in prizes.
5:15 p.m: 12th and final Remington Park race of the day
5:50 p.m: 145th Kentucky Derby simulcast