He has taken on the monster, and Archer City Slew almost took him down.
No 3-year-old has received as much attention this season as the undefeated, regally bred War Chant. One Southern California handicapper called him the West Coast's most talented 3-year-old since Sunday Silence
in 1989, and there's no room left on the bandwagon.
The son of Danzig has the looks and pedigree of a champion, but Archer City Slew gave War Chant a
battle March 4 in the mile San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita. He stayed with
the marquee horse all the way through solid fractions on a wet track before
going down by only a half-length.
War Chant won't be in northern Kentucky on Saturday, which makes Archer City Slew the horse to beat in the $600,000 Spiral Stakes, the Turfway Park stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby. The colt worked a sharp 4 furlongs in 47 1/5 seconds on a wet surface at Turfway on Tuesday morning, and trainer Vladimir Cerin likes his chances in the Grade II, 1 1/8-mile
prep. ABC will show it live from 4-4:30 p.m. ET.
"I was awed of War Chant, and rightfully so," Cerin said Tuesday on a conference call. "He's a tremendous animal, but I think we gave him all he could handle. War Chant deserves the accolades he's been getting. He's probably a better horse (than Archer City Slew) now, but who knows what could happen in six weeks."
Cerin, a 46-year-old native of Yugoslavia, is a former soccer star at UCLA, where he earned a degree in kinesiology, the science of movement. Before becoming a full-time trainer of thoroughbreds in 1981, he worked with top human athletes, including NBA stars Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes and Kiki Vandeweghe and tennis champion Tracy Austin. He's never had a horse that
could compete at the highest level, and he's never started one in the Run for the Roses.
"I sort of wanted to have a real good chance of winning for my first trip," Cerin said. "I hope it will be this one."
The San Rafael was Archer City Slew's first start around two turns and beyond 7 furlongs, so the extra furlong of the Spiral is an unknown. Cerin is confident, though, saying, "He should get better as we go longer."
His bloodlines agree that it should be no problem, although his sire, Slew City Slew, didn't do his best work until late in his 4-year-old season, when he narrowly missed beating Alysheba, a Kentucky Derby winner and future
Hall of Famer, in the 1 1/4-mile Meadowlands Cup. Slew City Slew also won
two Grade I stakes at age 5, including the 1 1/4-mile Gulfstream Handicap.
The distance blood is there on the mare's side, too. Miswaki, Archer City Slew's maternal grandfather, has sired a winner of the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic and the 1½-mile Arc de Triomphe.
Archer City Slew has shown the ability to rate off the pace in sprints, which will help if he makes it to the Triple Crown series. "I think it's almost impossible to win a Kentucky Derby on the front end," Cerin said. "It would be better to have a horse learn to relax and come from a bit off the pace."
The Spiral, known as the Jim Beam Stakes from 1982-98 and as the Gallery Furniture.com last year, has produced the winners of one Derby (Lil E. Tee. '92), three Preaknesses (Summer Squall '90; Hansel, '91; Prairie
Bayou, '93) and one Belmont Stakes ('91). This edition has not come up particularly strong, so Archer City Slew is in a good spot to boost his Triple Crown stock. If he approaches his effort in the San Rafael, the Blue
Grass Stakes on April 15 at Keeneland or the Arkansas Derby the same day at
Oaklawn Park is the next step.
"If he runs well, ever if he doesn't win, we'll look to go to one of them," Cerin said.