Friday, December 18, 2009

5: Musket Man Serves Notice in the Tampa Bay Derby

Sometimes you see a race that's more of an announcnement from a young horse that he's done fooling around and is ready to win, even when the conditions aren't favorable. It's a rare pleasure. When this doesn't go through the predictable channels, you get a refreshing perspective of the equine and human brillance, heart and tenacity it takes to mount a successful Triple Crown campaign. Musket Man is not regally bred, he doesn't come from a top barn, and Tampa Bay Downs is more an outpost for second stringers and afterthoughters than an oval for those with Louisville ambitions. Yet this is where Musket Man announced he was ready and willing to gut through the most arduous races the game presents -- and ended up hitting the board in the two Triple Crown races that he competed in. Mine That Bird, at his peak, was the only other horse to hit the board in more than one. And Derrick Ryan, one of my new favorite trainers repaid Musket Man with a nice long vacation.

Down to the can of Guinness he enjoys with his feed every morning, Musket Man is a horse of the people. But I've put this race in the five slot, not as class warfare, but for the reasons above. The Tampa track is deep and somewhat quirky, the stretch is pretty short, so races can be stolen on the front, and that's exactly what Join in the Dance was trying to pull off, until Musket Man decided to fire down the lane and nip him at the wire. Before this Musket Man had the reputation of being lazy, a reputation he'd leave behind like the rest of this field. He was ridden aggressively and had a rough trip, you can see the jock standing in the irons along the turn for home and muscling him into his correct lead in the stretch. It was a tough race, one that many horses would have let keep them from performing at their best. But Musket Man put in an amazing propulsive bid just when you thought it was over. He'd knock off hometown hero Giant Oak at Hawthorne -- another quirky track that the trainer did not fear and chose against the owner's wishes -- on his route to Louisville. And, yeah he had second all the way in the Derby.


  1. I love this painting so much. Musket Man looks like a sweetie.

  2. I like the Musket Man too, and had the pleasure of seeing him win the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, but for the record, Pioneerof the Nile nosed him out for second in the KY Derby.