When David Fiske looks at Pyro, the racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds doesn't see a radically different colt from the one that had the racing world on its ear three months ago.
He still has the same stunning frame that makes him a standout in any post parade and the same fluid stride that has earned him more than $1 million in his young career. What has changed for Pyro in recent months is his standing in this year's 3-year-old division.
On Saturday, the colt who pundits were once ready to declare the class of his crop will try to prove he hasn't become an also-ran.
Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred Pyro will make his first start since his eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby when he headlines a field of seven in the Grade III Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs. The 11⁄16-mile Northern Dancer is one of five graded stakes on the undercard of the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap Saturday.
An Eclipse Award finalist for champion 2-year-old male last season, Pyro started his sophomore campaign in stellar form by posting back-to-back multiple-length triumphs in the Grade III Risen Star and the Grade II Louisiana Derby, both at Fair Grounds. The months since those races have been filled with more questions than accolades for the Pyro camp, however, as his Kentucky Derby outing was preceded by a shockingly lackluster 10th-place run in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes over the Polytrack at Keeneland in April.
”We've never been able to find anything physically wrong with him, no soreness, no lameness, he scoped fine,“ Fiske said. ”If you throw out his race at Keeneland, he's really only had one bad race in the Derby and he didn't have the best of trips there.
”I don't think we ever lost a lot of confidence in him.“
If there is a possible culprit behind Pyro's fall-off in form, it might be found between his dark bay ears. His start in the Blue Grass was his first over a synthetic surface and his apparent distaste for the track might have thrown him a mental curveball.
”I think when you say mental, it's got to be mental because of not having the results that he wanted,“ said trainer Steve Asmussen, who will also send out reigning Horse of the Year Curlin in the Stephen Foster. ”He's just a very nice, competitive horse that expects good things to happen and when it didn't go his way, it hurt his feelings — just like the rest of us.“
While the divisional crown is still Big Brown's to lose, a strong performance by Pyro on Saturday could set the son of Pulpit up for a possible run in the Travers Stakes this summer.
”After his last two races, we're just thinking about Saturday. We just want to get by that,“ Fiske said. ”If he shows some improvement we'll look toward the next goals. Hopefully a little break in his schedule has done him good and he will vindicate himself.“