A horse must possess many traits if it is to one day be called a Kentucky Derby winner — and one of the most important might be the ability to look adversity in the eye and shrug.
If there was one common theme among this weekend's prep race winners, it was that they had every excuse to fail and won anyway.
Saturday's three Grade II winners — Lookin At Lucky (Rebel Stakes), Odysseus (Tampa Bay Derby) and Sidney's Candy (San Felipe) — all demonstrated they had the mettle necessary to overcome some of the obstacles that almost always come up on Derby Day.
No one had more questions surrounding them this weekend than reigning juvenile champion Lookin At Lucky, and no one answered them as impressively. In his first start over dirt and his first outing with blinkers, the son of Smart Strike was shuffled back early and nearly clipped heels with eventual runner-up Noble's Promise, but still unleashed a determined run in the stretch to win by a neck.
"He's a horse that can overcome," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's a great athlete and a great horse. He has that will to win, which is half the battle."
In his first stakes test, the highly regarded Odysseus left no doubt he belongs with the big boys in the Derby discussion. After sitting just off the pace in the early going, the son of Malibu Moon looked like a beaten horse coming around the final turn when Schoolyard Dreams blew by him to challenge pacesetter Super Saver.
Despite the Tampa Bay Downs track announcer declaring Odysseus "will have to wait another day," the chestnut colt re-rallied in deep stretch to get up between horses and edge Schoolyard Dreams by the hair on his nose.
"I think the sky could be the limit with this horse," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "He showed how he's got such determination to win."
If you're going to try and win the Kentucky Derby on the front end, you'd better have a horse who can relax in the face of pressure — and Sidney's Candy did just that in the 11⁄16-mile San Felipe, his first try around two turns.
The son of Candy Ride went an opening half in :48.55 despite having American Lion on his flank en route to earning his second graded stakes win.
Some adversity proves too much for any horse, however, as was unfortunately the case for Grade II winner Buddy's Saint, who was declared off the Derby trail by trainer Bruce Levine when a chip was discovered in his right ankle following a 5-furlong workout Sunday at Gulfstream Park.