He was an odds-on favorite in the first start of his career, so most certainly Discreet Dancer was no secret when he went to the post for the third race on opening day at Gulfstream Park last month and while records set over a relatively new surface there are hardly cured by the ages, 5 ½ furlongs in 1:02.34 and a 9 ¾-length victory will turn many heads.
This earned a FaceBook page for Discreet Dancer, who is perhaps the first 3-year-old of 2012 so glorified.
A spasm of premature exclamation is understandable in the wake of a year that ended with straight-faced people offering the absurd argument that a horse unbeatable in $5,000 starter allowances, most at backwater racetracks, be considered in Horse of the Year voting. Obviously, the sport needs a bit of resuscitation and at this time of year the task of generating excitement falls to the new 3-year-olds.
What a horse. It's almost scary how good he is.
”-- Jockey Javier Castellano
It's a long way from Louisville and four months from the Kentucky Derby, but the game is on after Discreet Dancer's second appearance on Saturday, again at Gulfstream, where he stretched out to a mile with consummate aplomb in a victory that was, if perhaps a bit less flashy in terms of pure speed, no less decisive. Apparently, Discreet Dancer is also tractable, a good trait in a horse blessed with extreme early speed.
"What a horse. It's almost scary how good he is," jockey Javier Castellano said after dismounting the 2012 season's first flash of 3-year-old promise. "He was quick out of the gate and just did everything right. I didn't want to be on the lead, but he just put himself there. He was just galloping. He was so comfortable. I didn't even really ask him that much today. I don't think there's a question he can stretch out. He galloped out really well after the wire. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that he stays healthy and happy."
If only it were that uncomplicated.
"He was very professional from the time he got to the paddock to the race," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "He handled the mile just fine and I was very pleased with the way he galloped out after the race. This race opens up a lot of options. The Holy Bull [Jan. 28] comes up as little too quick in three weeks. We'll see, but I wouldn't be afraid for him to stretch out after today."
With undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and the formidable Union Rags yet to be heard from in 2012, the stampede of Kentucky-destined 3-year-olds, more a procession in 2011, is already interesting. Alpha won the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct and Out of Bounds took the Sham at Santa Anita on Saturday. Both are talented, well-bred and connected colts with undeniable potential to progress, but Discreet Dancer stole the show over the weekend. Though at this early stage is it prudent to temper enthusiasm for any individual animal, Discreet Dancer may represent potential without limit. Those who followed his sire's career will find reason for pause, not for lack of talent but for the flaws that prevented Discreet Cat from becoming a genuine star.
Though chestnut rather than bay, Discreet Dancer is reminiscent of Discreet Cat, a horse of immense talent but ultimately a miler purchased by Godolphin for $5 million after a flashy 2005 career-debut at Saratoga, where flashy debuts tend to become fortunes. He did not race again at age two but won the UAE Derby the following spring. Sidelined by injury before the Kentucky Derby, he returned to win the Jerome Handicap and Cigar Mile in New York but was retired after a light, winless 2007 campaign, concluding his career with a third-place finish behind Corinthian in the first Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in the mud at Monmouth Park. Though his potential was probably never fully realized, Discreet Cat was undefeated while sparingly raced at ages two and three and equaled Easy Goer's Aqueduct record for a mile, 1:32.2. Not coincidentally, Discreet Cat was bred by E. Paul Robsham, who bred and owns Discreet Dancer.
Robsham's colt has yet to win a stakes races, yet to face two turns and is yet to meet a horse capable of offering more than token resistance. There are important questions not yet answered. Yet, perhaps this colt is more durable than his sire and will stay 10 furlongs. If so, his progress from a record-breaking debut and Saturday's entry-level allowance will advance incrementally to the important early spring Derby preliminaries and ideally will be more than interesting in a year that appears, at least at this early stage, deeper in talent than at least the last few.
After the last few, more than interesting will suffice. It has been a very long time since the road to Kentucky has been compelling. The year at hand holds that potential and compelling would be nice for a change.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.