The connections of WinStar Farm know what it’s like to stand in the winner’s circle following a Kentucky Derby. WinStar’s colors were carried across the wire first in the Run for the Roses by Super Saver in 2010.
WinStar is back for Kentucky Derby 138 with undefeated Gemologist, winner of the Wood Memorial (G1) in his last start.
“To be undefeated at this point, he has definitely proved himself to be special,” said WinStar’s Elliott Walden on Tuesday’s NTRA Road to the Triple Crown conference call. “Gemologist is a very intelligent horse. When you look at his eye you see something that looks back at you. That’s the only way I know how to describe it.”
Gemologist, son of Tiznow, has won at four different tracks, including Churchill Downs when he captured the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs as a juvenile.
“He doesn’t need to take his racetrack with him, and that’s important,” Walden said.
In the Wood, Gemologist had to dig deep to fend off a game and charging Alpha in the final furlong. He proved best by a neck in that 1 1/8-mile test.
“I was very nervous at the sixteenth pole,” said Walden. “I think he comes by it naturally. It reminded me of his daddy, Tiznow.”
Gemologist has displayed plenty of speed in his five lifetime starts. As far as how the Derby will play out, Walden isn’t concerned about the abundance of early speed horses targeting the race.
“You have some very good horses in there,” he said. “I could see Gemologist being the favorite or the third or fourth choice. In lighter years, a horse like Gemologist could be even-money.
“He shows speed in his races, and I think that speaks to his athleticism,” he added. “He’s not a horse that needs the lead. When a horse in there gets in front of him, he can rate nicely. I can see him five, six, seven, eight or 10 lengths back early come Derby day.”
New Jersey Nets head coach Avery Johnson was on hand at Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial victory. Walden said he expects his close friend to be in attendance on Derby day as well.
“He has followed Gemologist’s career very closely,” Walden said of Johnson. “He’s coming to the Derby. He’s excited about it. Horse racing needs more people like him. He is a true fan of the sport.
When asked if Johnson offers any instructions on race day, Walden said: “He doesn’t give me any instructions at the track because he knows I would give him instructions for the Nets.”
Gemologist will be saddled by trainer Todd Pletcher on Derby Day. All told, Gemologist is perfect in five starts and has earned $784,855.