The world got an idea during a workout at Churchill Downs Sunday morning, but Win Win Win is nothing if not competitive. His people have known since the beginning.
“He’s the alpha,” said Bruce Hill, general manager of Live Oak Stud, where the Kentucky Derby entrant was foaled. “If the red line is on 8,000 he runs about 7,200 all the time. He’s got a lot of class but there’s a little edge right there. With the wrong move it could get out of hand in a hurry.”
In between discussing training schedules, past races and coming breezes at Fair Hill Training Center last week, trainer Mike Trombetta shifted gears multiple times to talk about the dark bay colt’s personality.
“He just can’t help himself,” said Trombetta, whose horse spends most of his day wearing fuzzy ear plugs just to minimize the distractions. “He’s good 95 percent of the time, but there’s a little portion of him that scares the living (stuff) out of me. He’s got that thing. He’ll go off and try to kick you or come after you or rear up.”
Is he mean?
“I don’t know. Maybe. Yeah, a little bit, a little bit. He’s one of those sneaky ones. You go to sleep on him and he’ll get you. I think he’s thinking about what he can get away with – all the time.”
As an example, Trombetta re-created a scene from the Keeneland test barn after Win Win Win finished second to Vekoma in the Blue Grass April 6. The hard-charging, last-stride rally into the place spot clinched a position in Saturday’s Derby with 19 others. Win Win Win ran into traffic and got stopped on the turn, then passed seven horses in a bit more than a quarter-mile. After running 1 1/8 miles, the hard way, he should have been tired. The edge should have been gone.
Trombetta saw his horse coming around the corner of the barn after technicians had collected blood and urine samples for the post-race test, and felt sorry for him. The trainer started to tell his groom to remove the lip chain, to give the horse a break and allow him to walk back to the barn with a simple chain over his nose, but Trombetta paused and decided to stay quiet.
“He didn’t get one foot out of that barn before he started leaping and lunging and diving and kicking,” Trombetta said. “If he’d have had the chain off of his lip, we’d still be chasing him around Lexington.”
OK, maybe that’s a stretch but most people who know Win Win Win have a story.
Groom Luis Barajas can find marks on his arms. They’re small, but they’re there.
“He bit me a few times,” Barajas said last week while waiting for the Brook-Ledge van to take him to Chuchill Downs. “There is nothing I can do. He thinks it’s a game.”
On cue, Win Win Win glanced over his shoulder with a, “Who me?” look.
After breezing at Fair Hill last week, Win Win Win cooled out in the shedrow, stopped to drink water from a blue bucket by the door and caught his breath for a solid 15 minutes. Then he decided to play, rearing straight up and pawing the air like Silver. Then he went back to walking.
“He just can be a little bit of a character,” said Trombetta, while holding his charge for a bath a few minutes later. “He’s a boy, he’s a colt. He’s got the biting thing going on, but every now and then he’ll go up on you. He did it right here. You’d think he’d be tired after that breeze. He’s like that today, after a breeze. You can imagine what he’s like the day before he breezes or when he’s coming up to a race.”
Assistant trainer Sarah Shaffer put it even more simply.
“He can be naughty,” she said. “He’s a lot of horse when he wants to be.”
While breezing Sunday at Churchill, he wanted to be, and passed Derby rivals Tacitus and Country House in the stretch and again on the gallop-out. The on-top-of-each-other moves were not by design, just the product of a small training window after the harrowing break. The track is reserved for Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses, but everybody is on the same schedule and everybody wants a fresh track to work on. Tacitus and Country House were working five-eighths of a mile, Win Win Win and training mate Souper Courage a half. And they shared some space. Win Win Win (with jockey Julian Pimentel aboard) was the most aggressive but stayed wide and everybody got in their workouts. Officially, it was a half in :47.60 for Win Win Win (fourth fastest of 76 on the day). He galloped out five-eighths in 1:00.20 – only .20 slower than the full 5-furlong workout of Tacitus and Country House.
Maybe some of that determination came from his early days at Live Oak, owner/breeder Charlotte Weber’s Thoroughbred nursery in Ocala, Fla. The 4,500-acre property mixes equine and cattle divisions, hosts an international combined driving event and raises and preps racehorses of all shapes and sizes. The goal is success on the racetrack, even if that comes with some attitude.
“We raise our horses tough, we don’t coddle them,” said Hill. “They live outside. They come in so they know they can be separated from their friends and be comfortable by themselves, but 95 percent of their life is spent outside as young horses. We feed them outside and if they don’t want anybody to steal their meal, they better pin their ears.”
NOTES: Win Win Win drew post 14 for the Derby and has been installed at 15-1 on the morning line. Favorite Omaha Beach (4-1) drew post 12 while Improbable (6-1) is in post five. Two-year-old champion Game Winner (5-1) is in 16 while Roadster (6-1) is in 17.