Don't forget about Danny Boy

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

November 24th, 2014

Last week, Donegal Racing announced that promising two-year-old Danny Boy would be freshened ahead of his 2015 campaign, and a tilt at the Kentucky Derby trail. Although he has been beaten in three straight stakes, this talented colt has plenty of upside for trainer Dale Romans. He's eligible to make headlines next year -- surely on turf, and quite possibly on the dirt as well.

Donegal President Jerry Crawford explained the reasoning for giving Danny Boy a break now.

"Harlan's Holiday/Unbridled's Song (Danny Boy's pedigree) can be too precocious for their own good and need to be brought along carefully," Crawford reported via e-mail.

"This colt has exhibited tremendous potential and to race him again late in the year would be to take our eye off the prize (the Derby) at the expense of the colt. He has earned a couple of weeks of R&R and we have sent him to Ocala for that purpose. We will send him back to Dale at Gulfstream after."

A $260,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Danny Boy is by the much-missed Harlan's Holiday and out of the Grade 2-placed Unbridled Beauty, by Unbridled's Song. Both his sire and broodmare sire were beaten Kentucky Derby favorites, Harlan's Holiday finishing seventh in 2002 and Unbridled's Song a gallant fifth in 1996.

Danny Boy is a half-brother to the versatile Meal Penalty, a winner on three surfaces who scored his biggest victory in the 1 1/16-mile Arlington Classic on turf. The female line is redolent of speed. His dam, Unbridled Beauty, was runner-up in the Adirondack and Astoria during her brief career as a juvenile. His second dam, Dreamscape, is an unraced full sister to Hall of Fame sprinter Housebuster.

But Danny Boy has looked a natural router from the start. Debuting over a grassy mile at Ellis Park August 1, the gray settled kindly as many as 10 lengths off the pace, gained ground rapidly in hand on the far turn, and blew away Lawn Ranger (part of the favored entry at 6-5) by three lengths.

His maiden conquest left its mark on the youngster, however. Crawford later posted on that "the race knocked Danny backwards," and the colt wasn't at his peak for his ensuing two starts.

Trying dirt next in the Iroquois at Churchill Downs, Danny Boy got no pace help thanks to pedestrian fractions. He stayed on for fourth, good enough for a 96 BRIS Late Pace rating and a creditable performance in the circumstances.

Danny Boy reverted to turf for the Bourbon at Keeneland, again found himself too far off a slow pace, but closed steadily for second. He was beaten just a half-length by familiar foe Lawn Ranger, whom he'd dismissed in his maiden. A different pace scenario would surely have produced a different result.

Aside from gaining experience, Danny Boy was also finally putting on weight and strengthening up ahead of his crack at the Breeders' Cup. Connections had the option of either the Juvenile or Juvenile Turf, a choice made no easier by the fact that Danny Boy was training forwardly on both dirt and turf at Santa Anita. Indeed, Crawford hoped that Danny Boy's speedy works portended a better running style, not quite so far back.

Danny Boy ended up sticking to the turf, and his chances were dealt a blow on entry day when he drew the far outside. The experience went downhill from there. Bobbling at the break and getting away awkwardly, Danny Boy lagged further behind than planned. At least he was able to angle clear over to the inside and save ground, but that too caused trouble when he was bottled up with nowhere to go down the stretch. Just galloping under wraps much of the way, he reported home eighth, beaten all of three lengths in a race crammed with hard-luck stories.

Despite not ever really having the chance to lengthen stride and level off, Danny Boy garnered a 100 BRIS Late Pace rating. What could he have done with running room?

Although Danny Boy returned to the worktab at Churchill Downs November 16, and breezed a half-mile in a solid :48 1/5 on the fast main track, the Donegal brain trust decided that it was in his best long-term interest to head to winter quarters.

Plans are fluid regarding the choice of Derby preps next year. Crawford noted that it partly depends upon whether Gulfstream's main track is playing fair or heavily speed-favoring, and Danny Boy could end up shipping elsewhere in search of Derby points.

While Danny Boy is more proven on turf than dirt at this point, he is bred along the same lines as two others who made their presence felt on past Derby trails -- Denis of Cork and Intense Holiday. The ill-fated Intense Holiday, bred on the exact same cross as Danny Boy, captured last year's Risen Star and finished second in the Louisiana Derby. Denis of Cork (by Harlan's Holiday out of an Unbridled mare) went unbeaten through the 2008 Southwest and placed in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. 

Danny Boy needs to continue his progress to become an elite three-year-old of 2015. But his pedigree and physique suggest that he has the scope to do so, and in Romans, he has a trainer who knows how to nurture such development.