WinStar Farm's owner, president keep their faith in Creator
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - With his devout Christian faith, WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden had been waiting for the name Creator to become available through The Jockey Club, the official registrar of North American Thoroughbreds.
There are rules about naming racehorses, including time periods before a name can be reused, a time frame that's longer if the horse has had a breeding career.
So Walden, the former trainer who was second in the Kentucky Derby with Victory Gallop in 1998 and Menifee the next year, kept an eye out and nabbed the name when he had the chance.
Then Creator took six attempts to win a race. Not necessarily the way you want to honor God. Or win the Kentucky Derby, for that matter. Very few Derby winners need more than four starts to win, with about two-thirds requiring only one or two starts.
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Once a winner, Creator was third in Oaklawn Park's Grade II Rebel, the big gray colt's first in a stakes race. That was followed by a late-running surge to a 1 1/4-length victory in the Arkansas Derby over Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore, a pair of horses joining Creator in Saturday's 142nd Arkansas Derby at Churchill Downs.
But what if he'd been a bum?
Walden didn't lose his faith in Creator the horse, either.
"We left that to God," Walden said Monday morning at Churchill Downs, not long after Creator worked an easy half-mile in 50 3/5 seconds, the typical work by a Steve Asmussen-trained horse six days before a race. "All we're trying to do is bring glory to Him. So that doesn't mean he's going to have any special luck on Saturday. He might finish last. All we're trying to do is express our faith in such a way that people might give it a second thought."
According to The Jockey Club, the name Creator was released for new use in December 2014, several months after WinStar paid $440,000 at Keeneland's September Yearling Sale for the son of the world-class stallion Tapit. The previous Creator, a gelding, was 10 and hadn't raced in five years.
Walden claimed the name later that month, and gave it when Creator turned 2.
"We felt like he was our best of the crop," Walden said. "But we named a horse this year New Testament, and he's worth about $20,000. We named a horse Benediction and he's worth about $20,000. It just happens that way sometimes."
Creator, who has never raced shorter than a mile and 70 yards, did have four second-place finishes in his first five starts, The exception was a fifth in his second start on turf, a surface chosen so the colt could get experience without having dirt kicked into his face. When he was second behind a nice horse in a tough Churchill maiden race on dirt, his camp thought Creator surely would knock out his first victory in his next start.
When Creator still hadn't won in two more attempts at the Fair Grounds, the decision was made to ship him to Asmussen's Arkansas division. Walden concedes he's never had a top horse take so long to win. (But he also was happy to hear that 1998 Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet required seven races to prevail.)
"Look, the two times in New Orleans were complete throw-outs," he said. "In my mind, it took four times to break his maiden. He did run the other two, but they went so slow — watch the race — he's swallowed up, had nowhere to go. The way they run in New Orleans, they all ride tight. There was no space for him to get through.
"I called Steve and said, 'Take him to Oaklawn and get him back in (a race) as soon as you can.' That's what he did, and he really put on a show. And here we are."
Creator was the first horse that WinStar sent to Asmussen, in large part because the trainer has had so much success with sons and daughters of Tapit, including 2014 Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff champion Untapable.
Walden said Creator last year was a lot like Japan's Lani, also a gray son of Tapit, has been while at Churchill preparing for the Derby.
"Screaming, hollering, rearing up, unfocused," he said. "I just didn't feel like he should go to Saratoga with the other young 2-year-olds, in that environment. Steve was the most logical choice in the Midwest for us."
Asked the do's and don'ts with Tapit offspring, Walden said, "They're extremely talented, ultra competitive, but they're high strung. I think that comes from (Creator's) grandfather as much as anything, Pulpit. Remember how washy he was, how nervous he was? But they're worth the trouble."
The payoff came this spring as Creator, relocated from the Fair Grounds in New Orleans to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, ripped off a maiden victory by 7 1/4 lengths, rallied from last while racing very wide out of the turn to take third in the Grade II Rebel and then snaked through traffic to capture the $1 million, Grade I Arkansas Derby at 11-1 odds.
"He gave us indicators for the Arkansas Derby pre-race that his focus has come around at the right time," Asmussen said. "He went around in the maiden win. Went around in the Rebel. But in the Arkansas Derby, I thought he showed a maturity and focus that will come in very handy for him in the Kentucky Derby. The progression of Creator from a result's standpoint is how he's finishing off."
With that surge and his strong training at Churchill Downs, Creator has created a lot of believers.
"I've got to be careful about getting too high on them, because the Derby, you don't have to be the best horse to win sometimes," said WinStar owner Kenny Troutt. "But we talked about this way before he really started getting good, that if he'd just grow up that how he could go the distance of ground. He sets up for the Derby, that mile and a quarter. You got 20 horses, five of them will really get the distance. This is something that should set up well for him."
WinStar won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver. Now the farm is trying to win a second with a horse carrying the banner for Walden and Troutt's spiritual beliefs.
"For Elliott to name a horse that, he knew that horse was really something special," Troutt said. "To win the Kentucky Derby would be unbelievable."
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