Monarchos Made Big Move Into Derby Mix

Originally published on Sunday, March 11, 2001

Monarchos and Jorge Chavez exploded past horses in the final turn to win the Florida Derby by 4 1/2 lengths. "It was an older horse move," said his trainer, John T. Ward Jr. of Lexington. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Monarchos and Jorge Chavez exploded past horses in the final turn to win the Florida Derby by 4 1/2 lengths. It was an older horse move, said his trainer, John T. Ward Jr. of Lexington. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

By Maryjean Wall

HALLANDALE, Fla. — He’s Monarchos, named for a Greek ruler way back when.

In seven more weeks he might be ruler of the Kentucky Derby.

Monarchos exploded like a cannonball on the far turn yesterday at Gulfstream Park, shooting past horses and racing wide to win the $1 million Florida Derby with a move that belied his inexperience.

“It was an older horse move,” said his trainer, John T. Ward Jr. of Lexington, who like most in the crowd of 28,358 could not believe the move they’d seen from the gray colt ridden by Jorge Chavez.

Ward said he thought Monarchos might have returned a bit tired after winning his first Grade I race — an amazing effort considering he graduated only from allowance levels in his last start. He’s been taking huge steps all along. Early in January, the son of Maria’s Mon hadn’t even won his first race.

But tired or not, it didn’t matter. Monarchos was 4 1/2 lengths in front of Outofthebox at the finish reached in 1:49.95, with Invisible Ink in third place, another half-length back.

Monarchos had beaten the best of Derby hopefuls in the East — all, that is, except for his stablemate Hero’s Tribute, who was shipped from Florida to run today in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby.

The 1-3 finish of the betting entry of Monarchos and Invisible Ink (the $1.40 to $1 favorite) gave owner John C. Oxley and his wife, Debby, a double punch in the Florida Derby. Oxley also owns a piece of Peachtree Stable that races Invisible Ink.

But he confessed his eyes were only on the steel-gray colt Monarchos from the time he exploded on the final turn. The win set the tone for what could be a huge weekend for the longtime owner-trainer team of Oxley and Ward, with Hero’s Tribute set for the race today in New Orleans.

“It’s awesome. I’ve gone into orbit,” said Oxley, a thoroughbred owner for 28 years whose best horse has been the 1999 older filly champion and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, Beautiful Pleasure. He also won the 1995 Kentucky Oaks with Gal in a Ruckus.

Oxley’s strength in racing has almost always been with fillies and mares, and he only recently began changing his program to buy colts with the Kentucky Derby in mind.

Now the team has a triumvirate of Derby hopefuls that also includes Holiday Thunder. His next race is Turfway Park’s Spiral Stakes on March 24.

Monarchos will race next in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and Hero’s Tribute, if all goes well today in New Orleans, will run at Keeneland in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

Oxley says he got Kentucky Derby fever after Gal in a Ruckus won the Oaks — and two of his colts finished 15th and 17th the next day in the Derby. He has not run a horse in the Derby since that year.

Ward, a lifelong horseman whose family has always trained horses at Keeneland, has had yet another brush with the Derby.

He picked out Fusaichi Pegasus for Fusao Sekaguchi at the Keeneland Sales — then watched from the background when that colt won the Kentucky Derby last year with Neil Drysdale as the trainer. Ward has always said that the colt was intended to go to Drysdale from the start.

Still, he was asked yesterday if he ever wishes it were he who took Fusaichi Pegasus to the Derby as trainer.

“No; it just gives you confidence you know how to pick a Derby horse,” he said with a wry smile. This year, Ward might get his own true chance.

And it will be a true chance, for Monarchos drew raves yesterday from seasoned racegoers like Andy Beyer, whose speed figures are the standard for handicappers.

“It was the kind of move that wins the Kentucky Derby,” Beyer said.

Beyer said he wasn’t sure last night what figure Monarchos would earn from the Florida Derby, though “it will be more than respectable.

“Everybody was looking for the kind of lightly raced late bloomer to come along who had the look of a Derby horse — and this is it.”

Monarchos came from 11th in the field of 13 and was loafing, as Ward saw it, in the early part of the 1 1/8-mile race.

Jorge Chavez's early move aboard Monarchos proved to be a wise one when he took his colt around horses in the final turn. No one challenged, and Monarchos won going away. "It might have looked like I moved too early," he said, "but I didn't want to wait because somebody else might be coming." Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Jorge Chavez's early move aboard Monarchos proved to be a wise one when he took his colt around horses in the final turn. No one challenged, and Monarchos won going away. "It might have looked like I moved too early," he said, "but I didn't want to wait because somebody else might be coming." Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Trailthefox led the way. The leader was pursued first by Radical Riley, then by City Zip, who was followed by Songandaprayer. City Zip shoved his head in front coming to the final turn, but his look at daylight would be short-lived. Monarchos was coming. Track announcer Vic Stauffer caught the flash of gray and shouted into his microphone, “Here comes Monarchos. He’s four wide.”

Chavez indeed had taken Monarchos around horses in the final turn and to some, it might even have looked like he moved him early.

But Monarchos was rolling. He wasn’t stopping. He came like a big train steaming down the track, and the horses he passed were like mileposts stuck in the ground along the way.

“Oh, it makes you feel like you’re the king,” said Chavez, recounting the ride.

“It might have looked like I moved too early,” he said, “but I didn’t want to wait because somebody else might be coming.

“When I ask him, he just exploded,” Chavez said.

Exploded, indeed. No one watching the race could have missed that move.

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