By Richard Rosenblatt
AP Racing Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Chad Brown had a pretty good run the first time he took a horse to the Kentucky Derby three years ago. When he likely returns in four weeks, one of the nation’s top trainers could have not one, but as many as three horses in the starting gate.
His words may be measured, but there’s no doubt he’s looking forward to another Run for the Roses after a fourth-place finish with Normandy Invasion in 2013. He’s got some pretty classy 3-year-olds, too.
“Well, it’s very exciting,” the 37-year-old trainer said this week. “It’s definitely an area we want to become a major player in.”
He’ll have his chance on Saturday in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York and in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Both are major preps for the Derby on May 7.
In the 1 1/8-mile Wood, Brown will send out undefeated and 2-1 morning-line favorite Shagaf as well as 8-1 shot Flexibility in a field of eight. In the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass, he’s got 10-1 long shot My Man Sam in a full field of 14.
After watching Shagaf gallop around Belmont’s training track on Wednesday, Brown figures his colt is ready to roll after a win in the Gotham extended his record to 3-0 for owners Shadwell Stable. Ditto Flexibility, who finished fourth in the Withers in January but has trained well since.
“This whole process, it’s race to race,” Brown said. “There’s still a lot of time between now and the Derby. As a trainer, I know anything can happen.”
Brown’s ascent to the upper echelon of trainers has been a rapid one. He attended Cornell with intentions of becoming a veterinarian. After working for Hall of Fame trainers Shug McGaughey and then Bobby Frankel, Brown decided training horses was the way to go, and started on his own nine years ago.
In the last two years, he’s won five Breeders’ Cup races — three in 2014 — and was an Eclipse Award finalist as the nation’s top trainer. Among his big winners are Stephanie’s Kitten, Dayatthespa and Lady Eli.
A native of Mechanicville, N.Y., not too far from Saratoga Race Course, Brown finished second to Todd Pletcher in purse earnings last year with more than $20 million. He’s currently seventh on the earnings list at over $2 million.
Brown has high hopes for his growing stable, especially with Triple Crown season around the corner.
“I think it’s just a matter of time, if me and my staff are given the opportunity to work with these young dirt horses, that we’ll be able to get them to these Triple Crown races, like we’re seeing that now,” he said referring to Shagaf, Flexibility and My Man Sam.
Shagaf, a son of 2006 Preakness winner and 3-year-old male champion Bernardini, is 3-for-3; Flexibility ran second twice to Derby contender Mohaymen before winning the Jerome; and My Man Sam ran second to Matt King Coal (the second choice in the Wood) in a top-level allowance in his last race.
“These are three very capable horses,” he said.
The Wood carries 170 Derby qualifying points, with 100 to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth. The Derby is limited to 20 starters. If more are entered, the field is determined by points.
Shagaf has 50, more than enough to make the field. Flexibility has 12 points, and My Man Sam has no points. At least 20 points are needed for a chance to make the field.
Normandy Invasion ran second in the 2013 Wood behind Verrazano, and ran fourth behind Orb, Golden Soul and Revolutionary in the Derby.
For a moment, Brown said in a 2015 interview, he thought he had a chance to win that Derby. It’s a moment like that, he added, that “drives you to get back there.”
The field, from the rail out is Shagaf (2-1), Adventist (10-1), Trojan Nation (30-1), Tale of S’avall (20-1), Flexibility (8-1), Matt King Coal (3-1), Dalmore (12-1) and Outwork (5-2).
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