LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Chad Brown acknowledges he has lacked either the right horse or the right luck to win the Kentucky Derby.
Brown almost gushes when talking about Good Magic, which might position him to finally break through in Saturday’s 144th Run For The Roses at Churchill Downs. If the chestnut colt’s name alone doesn’t suggest a positive vibe, then consider his resume’ that includes last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Eclipse Award as the top 2-year-old male.
Good Magic is hitting stride at the right time entering horse racing’s marquee event, standing second in Derby points with 134 after claiming the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 7. Five career starts have yielded two wins, two seconds and a third for Good Magic, allowing Brown to envision winning horse racing’s crown jewel after falling short four previous times.
Brown would like to remove himself from conversations about which up-and-coming trainer is due to break through.
“We have to think that with all the opportunities that keep coming our way, we have a good shot of doing this,” said Brown, 39. “Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.
“I’ll say this: for me this is our best chance. Seems that way, anyway.”
Brown earned his first Triple Crown series victory in last year’s Preakness with Cloud Computing before Breeders’ Cup wins with Good Magic and filly Rushing Fall helped claim his second consecutive Eclipse award as top trainer. His success has stoked a belief that beating 19 other horses over 1 1/4 mile is just a matter of time and opportunity.
Having a special horse is most important, and Brown’s bright outlook speaks volumes after previous entries have finished out of the money on racing’s biggest stage.
Practical Joke was fifth last May. Normandy Invasion led after a mile and in the stretch in 2013 before fading at the end and finishing fourth, leaving the trainer to ponder some what-ifs with his strategy.
“I think sometimes about our first try, some things I could’ve done a little bit differently in the race and maybe got a little bit more out of him,” said Brown, from Mechanicville, New York.
Two other entries were forgettable. Shagaf didn’t even finish in 2016, a day in which Brown’s other pupil, My Man Sam, was 11th.
To be fair, even the top trainers have endured their share of Derby disappointments before everything came together.
Consider Todd Pletcher, who has often brought multiple entries to Churchill Downs. Before winning in 2010 with Super Saver — one of four entries that year — 24 other pupils yielded a best of second in 2001 with Invisible Ink.
Pletcher earned just two thirds among 17 horses dating back to 2011 before Pletcher won his second Derby last year with Always Dreaming from a trio of entrants. The struggle to get there, even with the numbers, is why Pletcher takes nothing for granted.
“I’ve always said that I had a tremendous appreciation for the race itself and how difficult it is to win,” said Pletcher, who will try to go back to back with four horses this year. “To have won it twice is beyond anything we could have hoped for.”
Brown meanwhile aims to join the exclusive club with a horse he believes is developing right on schedule. The promising factors don’t stop there.
Jockey Jose Ortiz, who won last year’s Belmont Stakes on the way to earning the Eclipse as top rider, will make his fifth consecutive start atop Good Magic.
With Brown’s confidence comes a bit of caution not to get ahead of himself with so much needing to fall in line in the Derby. The challenge for him is waiting until the weekend to see how everything plays out for Good Magic.
“He’s giving me all of the right body language that I’ve seen from other horses going into big races over the years,” Brown said of Good Magic. “In a way, you try to treat this race like any other big race and that’s what we’re doing, and he’s giving us all of the right signs.”