Saturday, March 20, 2010

D' Funnybone: Router in disguise?

You have to hand it to a man who knows his limitations. Or his horse's.

But I can't help but wonder whether Paul Pompa Jr. and trainer Rick Dutrow haven't written off the Kentucky Derby chances of their brilliant charge D' Funnybone without really giving him a chance to prove whether or not he can handle the task. Pompa says the horse will eventually be pointed to the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, instead.

The Blood-Horse reported Friday that Pompa and Dutrow kept D' Funnybone -- four for six lifetime including three Grade 2 sprint wins -- entered in the 7-furlong Swale S.-G2 today at Gulfstream, rather than taking a crack at the Grade 1 Florida Derby at a mile and an eighth after the defection of likely favorite Eskenderyea, who will wait for the Wood Memorial-G1 before running again.

To be sure, the Florida Derby would be the bigger test for more reasons than distance. D' Funnybone is the 6/5 favorite for the Swale and will likely go off at a short price. Even with Eskendereya out of the Florida Derby and seven of 11 entrants in the race (including Barbaro's brother, Lentenor) having just one win each to their credit, the Grade 1 field still contains two top Kentucky Derby contenders. The 5/2 morning-line favorite is Rule, who has two G3 wins at route distances. The 3/1 second choice is Radiohead, a Group 2 winner in his native England (prior to a Breeders' Cup flop) who has come back in 2010 to win his 3-year-old debut in good fashion. And simply facing 11 opponents in the Florida Derby instead of seven others in the Swale suggests a more difficult task.

But Pompa says D' Funnybone isn't running in the Florida Derby because he "isn't a mile and a quarter horse."

Granted, he's Pompa's horse. And Rick Dutrow has plenty of experience as a trainer. They've seen the horse in the flesh, plenty. They've watched the horse work.

But they know that D' Funnybone "isn't a mile and a quarter horse" exactly ... how?

It isn't because they've worked him a mile and watched him collapse after seven furlongs. Of 11 published works for D' Funnybone available at, none have been longer than six furlongs.

I presume some of their decision is based on pedigree, though if Pompa and Dutrow looked more closely, they might be at least still be toying with thoughts of the Derby.

Their colt is by D'Wildcat, a sprinter who won the Swale Stakes in 2001, a feat his son hopes to repeat today. But even D'Wildcat wasn't exactly bred solely to sprint.

His sire, Forest Wildcat (likewise a successful sprinter), nonetheless sired G1-winning miler Forest Secrets, a filly who also was a G3 winner at 9 furlongs. Forest Wildcat's daughter Snow Dance won five graded-stakes at more than a mile on turf, including the G2 New York Handicap at a mile and a quarter. Son Behindatthebar won the G2 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland going a mile and a sixteenth. Daughter Brownie Points was a dual-surface runner who spent most of her time in stakes company running a mile to nine furlongs, including a runner-up finish to Zenyatta in the 2008 Apple Blossom H.-G1 at a mile and a sixteenth and a win at a mile and an eighth on turf in the Edward P. DeBartolo Sr. Memorial Handicap.

D'Wildcat's dam, D'Enough, won five times at route distances and was third in the Montauk Handicap at a mile and an eighth. Her sire, Secretariat's son D'Accord, won the Grade 2 Breeders' Futurity at a mile and a sixteenth as a juvenile. And of course her grandsire was the 1973 Triple Crown winner: Derby (10f), Preakness (9.5f) and Belmont Stakes (12f).

D' Wildcat is a young stallion. His 2-year-olds of 2010 are just his fourth crop to race. But among his five stakes winners, daughter Authenicat has managed to score in stakes company at 8.5 furlongs at Woodbine (she also has multiple sprint-stakes wins), and ill-fated daughter The Golden Noodle (who died in a farm accident while on layup) was Grade 1 placed at a mile and a sixteenth as a 2-year-old in the Hollywood Starlet.

Granted, there isn't a ton of stamina on the top half of D'Funnybone's pedigree. And there's a big difference between a mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth, and going 10 furlongs; a mile and a quarter. But not every horse you find oughta be running 400 yards against Quarter Horses, either. And on the bottom of his pedigree, there's plenty of evidence to suggest he can get a little bit of distance.

D' Funnybone's dam, Elbow (which resulted in her son receiving one of the truly creative names in racing today), was sired by Woodman, whose Grade 1 get included distinctly classic-distance horses in Preakness/Belmont winner Hansel, Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Preakness winner Timber Country, Whitney Handicap winner Mahogany Hall, Hawk Wing (English/Irish 3-year-old highweight from 9.5-11f), and Irish One Thousand Guineas winner Hula Angel.

Elbow doesn't just have stamina on the top side of her pedigree, either. She was out of the mare Elvia, who was by classic-distance sire Roberto and out of the 9-furlong G1-winning Lyphard mare, Chain Bracelet. And Elbow has produced runners at a distance; D' Funnybone's minor stakes-winning half-sister Dr. Kathy (Polish Numbers) was third behind champion Ashado in the 2003 Demoiselle S.-G2 at 9 furlongs, a marathon for 2-year-olds.

True, Pompa and Dutrow haven't ruled out running D' Funnybone at route distances. Pompa says that next up for his colt -- should D' Funnybone come out of the Swale in good shape -- could be the Grade 3 Withers Stakes going a mile at Aqueduct on April 24. If that goes well, the 9.5-furlong Preakness could await. Pompa believes the sixteenth-shorter distance of the Preakness vs. the Kentucky Derby could be the difference for D' Funnybone, and adds that the "tight turns" of Pimlico better suit the colt's running style. (On the subject of Pimlico's turns, this is worth a read.)

I'm not criticizing Paul Pompa and Rick Dutrow, per se. Second-guessing, maybe. Today and the Florida Derby would have been a great time to find out if their colt could get 9 furlongs as a stepping-stone toward getting 10 at Churchill.

But I have to credit Pompa with doing what he thinks is best for the horse, particularly at a time in a good colt's career where almost any owner of almost any horse with half a snowball's chance of making the starting gate at Churchill on the first Saturday in May is trying to beg, borrow or steal their way into the race.

Pompa notes that he got a chance to experience a Kentucky Derby win as a quarter-owner of Big Brown in 2008, after selling a majority interest to IEAH. So getting back there for him doesn't have such urgency. And he's concerned about ruining D' Funnybone, who is running well and building a decent stallion resume that would be cemented without classic-distance victories could he secure future wins in Grade 1 races like the Vosburgh Stakes, Breeders' Cup Sprint or particularly a one-turn mile like the Cigar Mile Handicap or the "Met Mile," which have often suited sprinter-types.

So I suspect D' Funnybone will run off with the Swale today and leave me wishing I could have seen him try to smash the Florida Derby field with equal aplomb.

I think the horse might be that good. And until proven otherwise, I'm reasonably convinced that he can run farther than his connections might think he can.


  1. I had been wondering the same thing. For whatever reasons they have chosen to over emphasize a bad effort in the BC Juvie. I thought I had my Derby horse with him at Saratoga. I guess I was wrong, won't be the last time.

  2. That's really a stretch, Glenn.

    It's one thing to argue that no firm conclusions can be reached about a young sire, but given that Forest Wildcat was so well-exposed, your case really falls apart.

    Citing a handful of FW's runners that were effective "routers" in the generic American sense is, in my view, more damning than compelling.

    While D' Funnybone's pedigree is, to a small extent, of salt-n-pepper variety, the likelihood that a horse with his acceleration over sprint distances would also be effective at 10f. is a fanciful stretch.

  3. Obviously I disagree.

    The way Americans train these days, and the way that most tracks card races, it's a wonder that every horse in the country isn't eventually written off as a sprinter. And when a horse shows brilliance in short races, this becomes particularly true; as Mr. Pompa is choosing (for the time being), if a horse can crush them at 7 furlongs and can do it for good graded money, why upset the apple cart?

    The notion that a horse with swift early foot can't be effective at a distance is debunked by the likes of Presious Passion, if nobody else. Oh, and maybe a fellow like Dr. Fager. Of course, Fager was a freak. But maybe D' Funnybone is, too. Won't know if he isn't tested.

    You might have touched on as big a reason to avoid the Derby as any, however. With 20 horses, there are always several vying for the lead, and even a really good speed horse can get worn down for the closers to take. (That was the tack taken by the Damascus camp in trying to beat Dr. Fager; employ a rabbit.)

    There is ancient history to suggest that speed horses rule Pimlico and the Preakness, and maybe that's also on the minds of Pompa and Dutrow (pure speculation on my part). But Andrew Beyer has shot down that myth with statistics showing that over the past 20 years or so, the Preakness has been a very fairly run race, with far more horses actually winning while stalking or even deep-closing than actually on or contending for the lead. ... Which makes Rachel Alexandra's Preakness win last year all the more impressive, really.

  4. The Preakness has, also for the last 20 years or so, been the most meaningful 3yo race of the American season.

    As for D'Funnybone: interesting points. I would have preferred to see him in the Fla Derby too, not least because I think he looks vulnerable in the Swale, while the Fla Derby field doesn't impress me that much (I find Rule overrated, but of course he can shut me up today).

  5. "The notion that a horse with swift early foot can't be effective at a distance is debunked by the likes of Presious Passion, if nobody else. Oh, and maybe a fellow like Dr. Fager"

    No one suggested that a horse of that description "can't" be effective beyond sprint distances, but a) we're talking about 10 furlongs here, and b) pointing out rare anomalies is not a foundation for an argument.

    Furthermore, you seem to be leaving out one of the most important variables of all: physical type. Which, in this case, further suggests that they are making the correct decision.

  6. Let's review.

    You wrote: "(T)he likelihood that a horse with his acceleration over sprint distances would also be effective at 10f is a fanciful stretch."

    Now, "fanciful stretch" isn't exactly "can't," but it is much closer to "can't" than to "can."

    And while we're talking 10 furlongs, how about Presious Passion's course record at Monmouth going 11 furlongs, after setting a blistering early pace and building a lead of more than 20 lengths?

    I'm sure I could find plenty of front-running distance horses; either leaders or close-stalkers. Presious Passion just immediately leapt to mind because he's so obvious. Likewise I mentioned Rachel's Preakness win; she has considerable early foot. ... It isn't the worst thing to be the speed of the speed, even going a distance. Nor to be able to stay in contact with the speed.

    As for physical type, he might be thicker than some, but what I've seen (only in photos and on video) of D' Funnybone doesn't suggest he's built to only go short or around one turn. If he were, wouldn't 9 1/2 furlongs around two turns at the Preakness be written off almost as quickly as the Derby?

    Honestly, I figure if he's hopeless at 10 furlongs -- and "he isn't a mile and a quarter horse" would suggest that they think he is -- then I wouldn't muck with 9 1/2, either. I'd run him in sprints and one-turn miles and still have a fantastic career, both on the track and possibly in the breeding shed. (It's always "possibly" in the shed until proven.)

  7. "It isn't the worst thing to be the speed of the speed, even going a distance. Nor to be able to stay in contact with the speed."

    I agree completely. But as you know, Glenn, winning races like the Derby or Preakness after racing on or close to an enervating pace is a tough task. This particular horse strikes me physically as more of a sprint type (probably effective to around a mile), and his action late in races also leads me to believe that to be the case.

    Should be interesting to watch the story unfold in any case.

  8. You may well be right. Or we may never fully find out, if he doesn't run in a race like the Preakness.

    The middle jewel of the crown is much less taxing beyond the fact that it's a sixteenth shorter. There's only going to be a maximum of 13 other competitors (often fewer than that) and you can't possibly draw the 20-hole.

    After winning the Swale Saturday, we'll see whether he comes out of the race well and moves on toward the Withers as suggested. If so, and if he wins the Withers well, then maybe we'll get a look at him in the Preakness.

    He very well might be a sprint-miler, or merely a sprinter. But there's a fair amount of stamina on his dam's side. Mostly distance influences, in fact, at least by American standards.

  9. He is not built for distance, nor do his final times or fractional times point towards distances. His running style has produced a senario, where it is almost impossible for him to win. He does have raw natural speed, which could enable him to be dangerous, if he learns to rate or is left alone on the lead, but proabably not beyond 8.5 or nine furlongs. Yesterday he was impressive with his ability to sit off the pace, but he still wound up finishing his final furlong in 13 flat, not exactly the time one wants to be finishing in a route. It is likely he will not have to face a pace that fast, but I wonder will he be able to lay off a slower pace or would he fight. The thing that made RA special was that she could not only run unbelievable fast, but she could finish her final furlong in 12 seconds, no matter the distance. So far however it does not look like he will be able to run a distance.

  10. I'd say 13 isn't a great final eighth at virtually any distance.

    But how far off the pace was he, really, a head behind at the quarter mile and a half-length ahead at the half? And it was just his second race off the layoff, and despite coming home a little slow, he still managed to win a Grade 2 with a very good overall time of 1:21.98.

    I'll go back to a prior statement of mine that if he's not fit for two turns and 10 furlongs, he isn't suited to the two turns and the 9 1/2 of the Preakness, either. Other than the hope, perhaps, that he can gut out a front-running win in a smaller (than the Derby) group as Rachel did last year, I don't see enough difference to take him from being "not a mile and a quarter horse" to "G1 winner at a mile and three-sixteenths."

    I'm realizing this is an interesting position I've taken, although I believe a completely fair one. In a sense, I'm going to be proven right either way. ... Either D' Funnybone can get two turns and 9 1/2 in the Preakness (if given the chance) and I can go on saying that maybe the Derby should have been an option, or he's going to flop at a distance. And while in the second case I would be wrong about the presence of his dam's family's stamina in this horse, I'd still be right that there's not enough difference between 10f and 9.5f to completely write off the horse at the former distance but think he's a potential G1 winner at the latter.

  11. "...I would be wrong about the presence of his dam's family's stamina in this horse..."

    No, Glenn, it's not that you would be wrong about there being stamina in his pedigree, it's that you would be wrong in having over-emphasized its importance.

    Given his speed, running style, body type, action, and top-line lack of stamina, that one variable is highly likely to be enough to allow him to be equally effective at anywhere near 10 furlongs.

  12. I'm saying that despite the stamina influences pedigree, it would be apparent that he had not benefited from them.

  13. Which does again beg the question, by the way, if 10 furlongs is absolutely a no-way-Jose sort of thing, why would 9 1/2 really be significantly better?

    If as you suggest D' Funnybone can't be effective "at anywhere near 10 furlongs," and you might be right, what's to recommend him at 9 1/2?

  14. And P.P.S., I'm not suggesting that you're endorsing D' Funnybone at 9 1/2 furlongs. I'm just trying to figure out Messers. Pompa and Dutrow.

    To me, either they have a sprinter (or sprint/miler) or they have a horse also capable of a classic distance, and thus a bit of a freak.

  15. Sorry Glenn, in my last post it should have read "highly unlikely".

    You understood it correctly, though, so thanks.


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