It’s a derisive word used by racing handicappers to suggest a horse has no chance.
Plus Que Parfait, the horse with the French name (it refers to the past or beyond perfect tense in the French language), bred and based in the U.S. and just off the plane back from Dubai where he won the UAE Derby (G2) to qualify for his start in tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby (G1), is a “toss” in the minds of many analysts.
A 30-1 middle longshot, he stamped his Derby ticket by becoming the underdog winner of the Dubai World Cup undercard race March 30 that awards 100 points and a virtual guarantee of a starting gate in the Run For The Roses under the existing points system. The runnerup in that race, Gray Magician, also earned Derby starting gate at 50-1, the longest current odds.
But for trainer Brendan Walsh, his horse and the rush up to the Kentucky Derby after Dubai are a godsend on the heels of a personal tragedy. Walsh arrived at Churchill from his family home in County Cork, Ireland less than a month after the funeral of his father, Patrick, who lost his own race against cancer.
“It was unreal,” recalls Walsh.
“The night before the UAE Derby, my brother called and said he wasn’t doing well. To spend the next morning knowing that and then for him to go out and win was just amazing. When I got back there was the last day he was coherent. He watched the race on television, so the last conversation we had was about that and Dubai. It was great, just great.”
UAE Derby winners have a sketchy history at Churchill Downs in America’s premier race. There was last year’s regally bred Mendelssohn who, along with European champion jockey, Ryan Moore, emerged from the race a mud-covered last place being slowed by Moore when it became apparent there was no chance.
He would go on to finish fourth in the Cigar Mile, third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and runner-up to Catholic Boy in the Travers Stakes (G1). He retired to Coolmore Kentucky last year.
In 2017, there was Thunder Snow, this year’s consecutive winner of the Dubai World Cup. He began bucking out of the starting gate, refused to run and was pulled up by jockey Christophe Soumillon. Some attribute his behavior to the wet track conditions, others to the fact he started in gate two, close to the possibly distracting starting bell not used in the UAE or in Europe. He remained in the U.S. that year and finished second to Discreet Lover in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and third to Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before returning to Dubai to win consecutive Dubai World Cup (G1) races. He is still active and has earned $16,350,500 to date.
Lani was a U.S.-bred who came from Japan by way of the UAE Derby in 2016. His misbehavior during Derby week—whinnying at and attempting to bite other horses while sometimes refusing to run in training or refusing to leave the track after a training session—made him a fan favorite. He drew the number eight post, but was brought out first in that year’s post-parade…just in case. That son of equally volatile Tapit finished ninth to winner Nyquist, but would continue on the Triple Crown road that year and finish third in the Belmont to Creator.
Mubtaahij earned an eighth place finish in the 2015 Derby and challenged Triple Crown winner American Pharoah on the final turn in that year’s Belmont only to finish fourth. He had a respectable career after the Derby, finishing out of the top five only once in his final 16 starts, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic. He earned $5,780,332 over his 24-start career.
Still, despite their often fine performances after the Kentucky Derby, the rap against UAE Derby winners and claims of the travel-inflicted “Dubai Bounce” continue.
But it might be different this year for Plus Que Parfait. The ridgling son of Point Of Entry is bred for the 1 1/4 mile distance. He also is a U.S.-based colt who has raced before on a soggy track at Churchill Downs, finishing second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), and the prediction for Saturday is for rain.
“The prediction is for a wet track. He has a lot of turf in his pedigree, so I don’t think a wet track will bother him,” says Walsh. “He looks great.”
Following his races in the U.S., he went on to Dubai for his UAE Derby win, demonstrating he can handle travel.
Plus Que Parfait drew the reasonable number nine post for trainer Walsh. That post position has gated four Derby winners.
“The draw worked out really well,” says Walsh, “so I think he’ll find himself mid-pack going into the first turn because most of the speed horses are inside him.”
Yet another advantage this year might be the scratch of favored Omaha Beach and the possible scratch of Haikal. So Plus Que Parfait may see his stock rising and the odds narrowing come post time.
There has been a jockey change. Ricardo Santana Jr. will pick up the ride after Jose Ortiz, who guided the colt to his UAE Derby win, has chosen to remain on Tacitus.
“Ricardo has ridden the horse before and won his maiden win,” explains Walsh. “I had a hunch Jose would not be able to ride the horse, so straightaway I thought of Ricardo. He fits the horse good and he knows the horse. It worked out perfectly. I won’t give him any specific instructions. A clean trip is key.”
Oh, and posse compose? That’s present perfect tense in French—exactly what Walsh envisions for Plus Que Parfait on Saturday.
The full field of 19 will line up this way, after a scratch from Haikal:
The Kentucky Oaks (G1) for three-year-old females, aptly known as ‘Lilies for the Fillies,’ ran on Friday. Serengeti Empress under Jose Ortiz went gate to wire for trainer Tom Amoss to win after the 13-1 choice withstood a stretch challenge from 38-1 longshot runner-up Liora. Heavy 9-5 favorite Bellafina finished fourth behind Lady Apple.