When one runs a Thoroughbred racing partnership, as Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin does, one of the challenges is keeping all of the invested parties happy.
Should Howe Great carry Team Valor's silks into the winner's circle in Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the task might become even more difficult for his principle owner.
With fellow Team Valor horse Went the Day Well sitting in 19th place on the graded stakes earnings list for Kentucky Derby contenders, Howe Great could bump his stablemate out of the Derby field — which is limited to 20 starters — should he earn the $450,000 first-place purse for the Blue Grass and another horse currently outside the top 20 wins Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby.
Though Howe Great has earned four wins in five career starts, the son of Hat Trick has done his best running on turf, as evidenced by his win over fellow Blue Grass contender Dullahan in the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes in March.
By contrast, Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes winner Went the Day Well is regarded by Irwin as a more classic horse and showed his affinity for the dirt when he broke his maiden going 11⁄16 miles at Gulfstream Park on March 3.
Since the two colts are owned by different partners, potentially holding Howe Great out of the Derby in order to get Went the Day Well in is not really an option.
So as thrilled as Irwin is to have multiple contenders one year after Team Valor won its first Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom, there will be some mixed emotions if Howe Great becomes a Grade I winner Saturday.
"Our hands would be tied because they're owned by two different partnerships so we can't favor one over the other even though the other horse (Went the Day Well) to me is a for real, bona fide Derby horse," Irwin said of his potential quandary. "He's got a real shot if he gets in. If I had a preference, I would choose Went the Day Well but I'm not going to be in the position to even exercise my preference.
"I have a conflict of interest too because I own the dams of both of them. I just won't vote if it ever came to pass. I wouldn't want to face it."
Complicated as it might make things, Irwin couldn't deny Howe Great a chance to prove his talents can stand up to some of the best in his division.
After running second in his career debut at Parx Racing on Sept. 20, Howe Great broke his maiden on the dirt there next time out in October but switched to the Gulfstream Park turf to close his juvenile campaign in December.
In the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 21, Howe Great toyed with his stablemate Lucky Chappy to win in front-running style by 21/2 lengths.
Though his morning workouts border on lackluster at best, Howe Great has routinely awed his connections by how easy he makes things look in his races.
"He sucks (in his workouts), he really does," Irwin said. "Every once in a while he'll be even with a horse but, mostly, he gets outworked. He just doesn't really care that much. But the one thing about him is when you press the button, you get some action and he's really explosive.
"If he can accelerate on this surface (Polytrack) like he does on turf then we've got a live horse."
Howe Great, named for hockey great Gordie Howe, has been on or near the lead in all of his starts, but trainer Graham Motion doesn't think that is a product of the colt being one-dimensional.
"I've never thought of him as a front-runner, but he's always been forwardly placed," Motion said. "I think that has been due to a lack of pace. He's not a real aggressive horse, and I think he'll be forwardly placed Saturday. But I think there will probably be an abundance of speed, and I wouldn't be surprised if he sits off the pace a little bit."
Motion also conditions Went the Day Well for Team Valor so he, too, will have a keen eye on how the graded stakes game plays out.
One thing both Motion and Irwin said they would not do is enter Went the Day Well in next Saturday's Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland simply to try to get him more earnings if needed.
"He ran a huge race (in the Vinery Spiral at Turfway) and I think it would be detrimental to this horse to run back in the Lexington in order to get into the Derby," Motion said. "Now if it really looks like we're not going to get into the Derby, then it becomes a possibility that we consider running him in the Lexington as a prep for the Preakness.
"I realize we're going to be on the edge. But hopefully things work out and I think he's got a good shot of getting in. I'd be thrilled if Howe Great (won the Blue Grass) and that were a problem."