Brown talks Kentucky Derby hopefuls My Man Sam, Shagaf
Edited from Churchill Downs press release
The Chad Brown-trained duo of Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables and Jay W. Bligh’s My Man Sam and Shadwell Stable’s Shagaf each jogged one mile Sunday at 8:30 a.m. (EDT), their first day back to the track after timed workouts Friday.
Even though there are several more accomplished horses in the field – and Brown even acknowledges this upcoming quote is a Derby cliché – the trainer insists he “wouldn’t trade these two for anyone else in the field” in light of how they’re coming up to the race.
My Man Sam finished an impressive second in the Blue Grass S. (G1) breaking from the outside post 14 and having to circle the field eight-wide into the stretch.
“He’s a hard trier, a brave horse, a strong-willed little horse,” Brown said. “He’s not afraid of anything. You put him in any situation and he’s very willing.”
His previous efforts and his disposition gives Brown reason to believe that jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will have the valuable option of leading My Man Sam wherever he finds daylight, whether it’s between horses or up the rail.
“Just being around him, he’ll chase you out of his space or if he sees another horse walking around him in the shedrow he might challenge him. He doesn’t care if the other horse is bigger than him.”
The talent and tenacity displayed by My Man Sam emerged as a bit of a surprise to Brown, who was frustrated by the colt’s lack of focus when he first came to the barn as a 2-year-old.
“I thought he’d be a nice horse but I never thought he’d be a Derby-caliber horse,” Brown said. “He got a late start for mental reasons. He was very unfocused in the summer. Originally he was sent to me as a turf prospect. I breezed him on the turf at Saratoga and I didn’t like the horse on the turf. So we just stuck to the dirt and gave him some time.
“It took him a long time to get his gate card and stuff like that. He just wasn’t all there. But he put it all together late in the fall and had some good workouts that led us to believe this horse was going to be OK.
“We weren’t thinking a mile-and-a-quarter dirt horse, by Trappe Shot and kind of small. But when we got him around two turns he really exploded and opened our eyes up to what we had. Sometimes that happens with horses. They all develop at different stages.”
The emergence of My Man Sam as a serious 3-year-old stands in stark contrast to his stablemate, Shagaf, who inspired Derby dreams from his debut, a six-length win at Aqueduct.
“To get an 88 Beyer and run a ‘9’ Ragozin going a mile on the dirt the first time you ever run, in November of your 2-year-old year, I don’t know if any horse in America did that,” Brown said. “It’s a big number first time out in the fall. Since then he hasn’t really moved forward, numbers-wise, but he’s had some excuses along the way and I’m willing to give him a pass because the horse looks really good right now.”
Chief among those excuses was a muddy track in New York for the Wood Memorial (G1), which resulted in a lackluster fifth as the favorite. Shagaf uncharacteristically dropped back almost immediately and made only a minor move into contention without ever seriously threatening the winner, Outwork.
“He caught a muddy track he just didn’t like and he didn’t get away from the gate,” Brown said. “When he did get a little momentum going he had to stop. Nothing really worked out for him that day and we’re taking the approach of just drawing a line through that race.”
The effort was especially disappointing because Brown had seen improvement in Shagaf after his winning effort in the Gotham (G3), a trend that has continued since arriving in Louisville.
“I’m not sure this horse liked Florida,” he said. “He just never was quite the same down there as he was in New York. After the Gotham we left him in New York and the horse really started to pick up his weight again and he just started to train more consistently. He was really coming into the Wood in fine shape before it rained. Since the Wood there’s been more improvement, more consistency; he’s gaining weight, getting stronger. The horse breezes by himself now; he was always one that needed company. He’s had two fabulous works here at Churchill, by himself, effortlessly.
“You can debate his numbers and how fast he runs but, to me, the horse is really peaking right now.”
Brown also spoke of his Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender, Lewis Bay.
“She’s doing great,” the trainer said. “When I handicap the race, I see a handful of horses that can win it but she is one of that handful. I’ve been impressed with several of the Oaks fillies this week watching them train here. It’s a wide-open race.”
When Brown hangs out on the outside rail in the mornings he follows more than just his own charges, especially on days leading up to big events such as the Derby or Breeders’ Cup.
“I always like to see what I’m running against,” Brown said. “It doesn’t affect how I prepare but it helps me to handicap the race. It gives me a feel for the level of competition for that race. Also I might pick up a couple of things about how another trainer is preparing for a situation that I can learn from. I’m always open to a different way of doing things.”
Shagaf photo courtesy Churchill Downs/Coady Photography.