Were it not for a handful of inches, Trojan Nation’s Kentucky Derby experience would look a whole lot different.
At the finish of the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 9, Trojan Nation got the short end of the bob as Todd Pletcher-trainee Outwork just got his head down over the 81-1 shot to his inside to lock himself into the Kentucky Derby field.
Though Trojan Nation just missed pulling off the upset that day, the 40 qualifying points he earned for that runner-up finish was enough to make him Louisville-bound as well. He brought with him a distinction that, while unglamorous, puts him in position to make a first impression that is a career-maker.
Trojan Nation has yet to win a race in his six career starts. When he breaks from the dreaded No. 1 post in the first leg of the Triple Crown, he will carry more than the weight of 126 pounds on his shoulders as just the 10th maiden starter in the Kentucky Derby since 1937 and the first since Nationalore in 1998.
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Only three maidens have ever won the Kentucky Derby — Buchanan in 1884, 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton and Brokers Tip in 1933. Realistic as Trojan Nation’s connections are being, jockey Aaron Gryder got enough from the bay colt in their last-to-near-first charge in the Wood Memorial that he wouldn’t call it the craziest thing should his mount’s maiden winner’s circle voyage come Saturday.
“He doesn't know he lost,” said Gryder, who is riding in his first Kentucky Derby since finishing 13th aboard Songandaprayer in 2001. “He was in front a jump before and a jump after, and he galloped out in front. It’s the first time he had been in front of a horse at the end of the race. I think he came out of that race with a lot of confidence.
“You’re going to get a lot of things thrown at you in the Derby and it’s good to know that a horse like him has matured in the right ways and he obviously took a huge step up in the Wood Memorial.”
Trained by Patrick Gallagher, Trojan Nation was making his stakes debut in the Wood Memorial in what was also his first start outside of California. He was third behind eventual Rebel Stakes winner Cupid in a 1 1/16- -mile maiden test at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 7.
“Now he’s a grand, big horse and he might have liked the mud last time (in the Wood Memorial) when he ran so well. But remember, he’s a maiden,” Gallagher said. “The owner says he’s well-bred and (that) because of it he should like a mile and a quarter. And the people at the farm where he was are loving this. And it surely is better being here than not and we’re keeping the positives right up front.”