Dullahan looks the part of a star. Alert and well-muscled. Long-striding and so elegant in looks he could come out dressed in long tails and spats in a movie starred in by dancer Fred Astaire.
Dullahan is so eye-appealing he wouldn’t even need the wide white blaze he has that runs the length of his head. He is high of shoulder and thick of girth. And his chestnut coat was at its shiny best when he was returned to the winner’s circle a couple Saturdays back after setting a stakes record when winning the Blue Grass at the Keeneland Race Course in Lexington.
When he split horses on the synthetic Polytrack stretch surface at well-populated Keeneland, overtaking the front-running Hansen in the process, thick-set and long-striding Dullahan joined the widening pool of this year’s Kentucky Derby favorites.
The crowd of 40,617 at flowery Keeneland was the most the architectually pleasing facility had ever seen for a day of racing and hobnobbing by the fans. It seemed appropriate that Dullahan would also set a track record with his powerful, late-running performance.
The rust-colored dynamo had won the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland at age two. His fondness for the synthetic surface has gained him a place in the large field in the Kentucky Derby, fast approaching and only a weekend away when it arrives on May 5.
The Blue Grass Stakes was a Grade I, $750,000 race. It was contested by 13 thoroughbreds at 1 1/8th miles, a quarter mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby. When Dullahan came from a full 10 lengths behind pace-setter Hansen, he stamped himself as a bloomer whose time on the most brilliant of three-year-old thoroughbred stages was coming at just the right time.
An impressive win with a come-from-way-back run in a race just a quarter-mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby makes impressions. While most of the other owners of Derby contenders are asking themselves, “Can my horse get the distance in The Derby?”, Dullahan’s trainer (Dale Romans), jockey (Kent Desormeaux), and owner (Donegal Racing) all look at The Derby’s 1 1/4-mile distance as the perfect length for their reddish charge.
But while the Dullahan stretch run in the Blue Grass showed him to be ready for the longer mission he faces on May 5, those with other contenders will quickly point out the fact that in Louisville at The Derby, Dullahan will be running on a dirt surface.
The owners and trainers of the others will note what happened in the Blue Grass. And they will tell anybody within earshot of their opinions that their horse wasn’t there that afternoon, that the calvary charge of 20 horses in The Derby could compromise a stretch runner if he has positioning problems or gets boxed in and can’t find racing room in the Churchill Downs stretch, or that Dullahan was only fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes that was run on the same Churchill dirt.
Besides Dullahan, eight other thoroughbreds from the 2011 Juvenile Stakes have won either Graded or Group (Europe) stakes this year. The Kentucky Derby could be weighted with logical favorites the public sees as the possible winner.
When Dullahan (which means “without a head” in Irish and describes a fairy usually seen riding a black horse and carrying its own head under one arm) was bought at auction for $250,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale some of the reasoning behind the buy was because he is a half-brother of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird.
When Desormeaux had dismounted and was talking to the media after winning the Blue Grass by 1 1/4-lengths, he said, “He’s as live as they come.” Desormeaux has won three times in previous Kentucky Derbys. A win on Dullahan in The Derby would put him on even footing with Bill Shoemaker and only one Run for the Roses win behind Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack.
“He switched leads, and he just exploded. as soon as he straightened (turning for home), there was a hole. He ran through that. I asked him to kerep going. He was very strong all the way to the wire,” said the jockey.
Dullahan was almost like the “thoroughbred du jour” on Blue Grass Weekend. He jumped into the deep water where Union Rags, Hansen, Bodemeister, and Gemologist were already swimming as established Kentucky Derby contenders.
Those championing Dullahan can find him dwadling back in any field. Desormeaux’s silks consisting of green blocks, yellow blocks, green cap, and the word “Donegal” printed in black block letters on his back can be found sitting tallest in his stance aboard the tallest of the horses in most any field.
Dullahan is a shimmering copper-colored colt whose appearance shows him with one white sock. His long tail swirls behind him when he is walking. His mane is the same reddish color as his tail. And is he tall and chesty. Mentioning his look and bold resemblance in the same sentence with Secretariat is dangerous stuff, but Dullahan could be a faint reminder of the train-engine that was “Big Red”.
He won’t be among the leaders in this year’s Derby. But if he moves with the same authority as he did with three furlongs left in the Blue Grass, he will be found flashing through the Churchill stretch in a bid to swamp the pace setters as they travel through the last quarter-mile.