Virginia Connections Head to Churchill Downs

While most of Virginia’s eyes will be on the Gold Cup on Saturday, a few Virginians have different reasons to look forward to tomorrow’s race card from Churchill Downs. The first Saturday in May is here, and Virginians Maggie Bryant and Anne Poulson both have an interest in the Kentucky Derby.

Mrs. Bryant, who is a member of the Centennial Farms syndicate that campaigns Grade I Wood winner Wicked Strong, will watch tomorrow as her Hard Spun colt breaks from the outside post. Centennial Farms syndicate Don Little, Jr. purchased the colt for $375,000 last year under the moniker Moyne Spun, and renamed him Wicked Strong in memory of the Boston Marathon bombing victims. Mrs. Bryant became involved with the group shortly thereafter, one of several Centennial syndicates that bloodstock manager Cindy Tucker has guided her into.

“We were fortunate to get him,” Little told the Boston Herald. “We had to stretch our budget, but he stood out. He’s very keen-eyed, he didn’t miss a beat. And when we got to our farm in Middleburg, Virginia, he was a dominant horse of the group. He impressed me from Day One.”

The colt carries not only the hopes of his connections, but also the potential to donate a huge chunk of cash to the victims of last year’s bombing: 5 percent of Wicked Strong’s Derby winnings will be donated to the One Fund.

“Everyone, all the syndicate members, had agreed long before the Derby to donate 1 percent of this horse’s purse earnings back to the Boston One Fund,” Tucker told the VTA. “Then for the Triple Crown, we upped that to 5 percent.”

That means that of the $702,000 Wicked Strong has earned to date, $7,000 has gone to the One Fund. If Wicked Strong wins tomorrow, that number could jump into the five-figure range – roughly $70,000, Little told Boston Herald Radio.

Wicked Strong began his career in a Belmont maiden in the fall, where he ran second. A 2-length winner next out, the bay colt jumped straight into the Grade II Remsen in November, running a green third to Honor Code and Cairo Prince, defeating fellow Derby entry Intense Holiday in the process.

After his promising showing in the Remsen, Wicked Strong threw a pair of clunkers at Gulfstream over the winter in an allowance and the Grade II Holy Bull, before returning to upset the Grade I Wood by 3 ½ lengths.

“Last fall, when he ran in the Remsen, we thought maybe we had a live one,” Tucker said. “We had a couple of races in Florida that left us a little puzzled. A lot of horses don’t like Gulfstream, and apparently he didn’t. But obviously, you can’t win the Wood and not go to the Derby!”

Wicked Strong goes off at 8/1 morning line odds.

Not far from Wicked Strong’s Middleburg home, D.C.-based Anne Poulson will watch from Great Meadow as the colt she bred and sold enters the 8-hole. General a Rod, out of the Hare Forest mare Dynamite Eyes, comes into the Derby off of a third-placed finish in the Grade I Florida Derby.

“It’s a tough field. Any one of them could jump up,” Poulson said. “But I think if you’re kind of in that middle [post position], you can’t complain. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the tactics, whether they let him go to the front where he likes to be, or whether they rate him behind.”

General a Rod was impressive from the start, breaking his maiden first out at Keeneland in the fall and returning to be second after a wide trip in a Churchill allowance. He won the Gulfstream Park Derby in January before running a head second to Wildcat Red in the Grade II Fountain of Youth.

The son of Roman Ruler has never been out of the money – something that doesn’t surprise Poulson too much. General a Rod was a $100,000 Fasig-Tipton July yearling, and according to Poulson, has always been a good-looking colt with a lot of the Dynaformer substance you would expect from a horse out of a mare by that sire.

“I went down to see him in the paddock at the Fountain of Youth and he’s just done nothing but blossom,” Poulson said. “He’s got a lovely frame and nice scope and a pretty head and eye. All the things that you hope would give a young horse an advantage later on, he had.”

A victory on Saturday, if it comes, will be bitter sweet – Poulson lost the mare during foaling last year. The Awesome Again colt survived and will sell with Gainesway as a yearling this year, either at Saratoga or Keeneland September.

“This particular mare came out of the Sam-Son farm program,” Poulson said. “She was a good allowance winner, she was a pretty Dynaformer mare, and she was in foal to a not-too-fashionable sire, Vindication, which made her buyable. We look for horses like that that are coming out of proven breeding programs by proven sires, when we’re trying to fill spots. She produced five nice foals for us.”

Fortunately, Poulson also retains a 4-year-old daughter of Tapit named Winter Wonderland, who will return to training with Graham Motion at Fair Hill in two weeks. Some niggling training issues have kept the filly from making her first start, but Poulson says she is training beautifully.

General a Rod goes off at morning line odds of 15/1.

Good luck to all Virginia connections at the Derby!