LOUISVILLE — He has yet to notch a stakes victory, never mind one of a graded kind, and his last win came against a field of allowance horses back in February.
In many ways, Dunkirk is among the least proven horses Todd Pletcher has ever brought to the Kentucky Derby.
Yet the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer believes the son of Unbridled's Song represents the best chance he's ever had to finally claim his first blanket of roses.
Just as Big Brown did a year ago, Dunkirk comes into the Kentucky Derby light on experience but loaded with respect.
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After winning his first two career starts by a combined 101/2 lengths, the gray colt — who is out of 2000 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status — finished a game second to Quality Road in the Grade I Florida Derby on March 28.
A $3.7 million yearling, Dunkirk did not race as a 2-year-old. No Kentucky Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 has skipped a 2-year-old campaign.
Still, Pletcher said Dunkirk has more upside than any of the 21 previous starters he has had on Derby Day.
"I feel like, at this point, this is the best chance that we've ever had," Pletcher said. "Obviously we're up against a lot of history but ... he's had a lot thrown at him in those three races.
"When you look at the margins of victory in his wins and the track record time it took to beat him in the Florida Derby, in just his third start, to me he's just a very talented horse."
Win Willy out of Derby; Zito's Nowhere to Hide in
Trainer Mac Robertson declared Grade II Rebel Stakes winner Win Willy out of the Kentucky Derby on Wednesday morning after X-rays revealed what veterinarians termed a "suspicious" line in the colt's left front ankle.
Win Willy was the third Derby contender to be scratched in as many days with Florida Derby winner Quality Road being declared out on Monday with a quarter crack and Square Eddie being pulled out Tuesday with a shin injury.
"I always told myself if I got a good horse like this I wouldn't push on with him if I suspected something," Robertson said. "He's too nice a horse to take chances with."
The loss of Win Willy allowed the Nick Zito-trained Nowhere to Hide to get into the field at the 11th hour.
Nowhere to Hide has one win in eight career starts and was most recently fourth in the Grade II Illinois Derby.
Missed opportunityfor IEAH Stables
They own part of Kentucky Derby favorite I Want Revenge, but IEAH Stables could have had the top choice in this year's Kentucky Oaks as well.
Hal Wiggins, trainer of Oaks favorite Rachel Alexandra, said IEAH was close to buying the filly last year but backed off when a small chip was discovered in her left ankle.
"If she hadn't had that chip, I wouldn't have her today," Wiggins said. "They would have bought her and probably would have run her in the Derby. So fate has a lot to do with it.
"It was just a real small chip, we didn't even know she had it, and the veterinarian told me 'she'll never know she's got this.' So we took her to Dr. Larry Bramlage, and he took it out, and it went perfect."