Racing is a Rollercoaster – Please Stay Seated

March 4, 2020

Dennis Albaugh brought 35 or 40 “buddies” out just for the occasion; it was a celebration, a reunion, a party. It was, so to speak, Dennis’ moment.
But then his Dennis’ Moment faded to last as the 6-5 favorite in Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth Stakes. Suddenly the music stopped, the balloons popped, the soufflé flopped and the cork went back in the bottle. Nothing like finishing last with a highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospect to turn the lights out on a party. 

“That was not great timing,” Dennis Albaugh said, or understated, and then added, with extraordinary graciousness, “But it was still a great time being with all my friends.”

Horse racing is bipolar, a game of extremes. Its highs can take you soaring over the moon, and its lows can cast you down into the Mariana Trench, the precipitating events sometimes occurring within moments of each other. It’s life on a rollercoaster — please remain seated.

“In this business, I’ve seen a lot of lows,” Albaugh said, reflecting on the Fountain of Youth. Based in Iowa, Albaugh is the founder and chairman of Albaugh LLC, a fertilizer and pesticide company; he’s also the foremost partner in the Albaugh Family Stable, which has indeed had its share of highs, such as the Blue Grass victory of Brody’s Cause, and lows, such as the career-ending injury to the sensational juvenile Not This Time. “But I look at the big picture.”

That big-picture perspective has him looking forward to Saturday and Santa Anita Park’s San Felipe Stakes, where Thousand Words, who’s owned in partnership by the Albaugh Family and Spendthrift Farm, will be one of the favorites. “This game is amazing,” Albaugh said, reflecting how on one Saturday and he can be dumbstruck by disappointment and then a few days later be so expectantly hopeful that he’s preparing to travel across the country to see another promising horse. 

But the search will continue, he said, to discover what went wrong with Dennis’ Moment. Blood tests, X-rays, scans, etc. — everything is being examined. More tests were scheduled Wednesday. The family, unknown to Albaugh, gave the horse a special name because everyone thought he was a special horse. “We’re not giving up on him,” Albaugh said. “He didn’t have any injuries; we just have to figure out what went wrong.”

“We’ve started the process of evaluating him, but so far we can’t pinpoint anything,” said Jason Loutsch, a partner in Albaugh Family Stables and their racing manager, about Dennis’ Moment. “We know he has a lot of ability.”

The plan is to address whatever problem is found, resolve whatever problem, Loutsch said, and then aim Dennis’ Moment at one of the final Derby preps, most likely Keeneland’s Blue Grass, with the hope of “getting where we want to go,” which, of course, is Churchill Downs on May 2. “It can happen; it can be done.”

Yes, it can. In 1993, Sea Hero had two dismal races in Florida, three if you count the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile from the previous October. In February, he finished ninth, 12 1/2 lengths back, as the even-money favorite in the Palm Beach Stakes; a month later, he beat two horses as the 6-5 favorite in an allowance race. Having seen enough, the great Mack Miller got the colt out of Florida and sent him to Kentucky, where Sea Hero finished fourth in the Blue Grass and then, three weeks later, won the Derby.

Dale Romans, the trainer of Dennis’ Moment, is no stranger to turnarounds. In 2011, he saddled Shackleford in the Fountain of Youth. He was beaten 23 1/2 lengths, but returned to finish second, a head behind Dialed In, in the Florida Derby, then fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and then, well, he won the Preakness. Brody’s Cause, also trained by Romans, gave a similarly dismal performance in Florida, finishing 12 1/2 lengths back in the Tampa Bay Derby, but then he won the Blue Grass with an explosive late move.

Yes, it can happen. And in the meantime, there’s Thousand Words.

“We think he has a big upside,” Loutsch said. “Bob (Baffert, Thousand Words’ trainer) called Monday and said he (Thousand Words) just had one of his best workouts. So we’re high on him. …You just can never give up in this game.”

Nobody’s giving up on Dennis’ Moment. And there are a thousand words urging patience.

Gary West is a nationally acclaimed turf columnist, racing analyst, author and handicapper who helped pioneer pace figures. 

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