By: Robbie Fazzone
HOW HE GOT HERE
When making his first career start in a Maiden Sp. Wt. going five and a half furlongs at Churchill Downs last June, Disarm was a step slow breaking from the gate, leaving him near the back in the field of ten. He would go on to put in an outside rally, while running a bit green in the stretch, to finish a good third behind a horse who came back to win the Grade 3 Sanford at Saratoga in his next start. You could see from the running of that debut that Disarm had ability, but was a horse who undoubtedly needed that initial run. His next start would come seven weeks later, where he was stretched out to seven furlongs in a Maiden Sp. Wt. on Whitney Day at Saratoga. Breaking from the rail, he broke a tad sluggish to sit an inside trip just behind the leaders, before angling off the inside at the head of the stretch and rolling through the final furlong on his way to an easy victory. He was a much improved horse from his debut on this day and you could clearly see by the way he pulled away from the field that he was a promising two year old with a future.
That promise, however, would have to be put on hold, as Disarm was stopped on after that maiden score and wasn’t seen in a race again until he showed up in a non winners of two allowance race for three year olds going one mile at Oaklawn in February. In that race, after a step slow start, he rode the inside behind the eventual gate to wire winner, but couldn’t reel him in when angled out in the stretch and would finish 2nd. All in all it was a good race for a young horse coming back off a six and a half month hiatus and had him primed for the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby going 1 3/16 miles at the Fair Grounds for his second start back. While he would again finish 2nd, he certainly didn’t shame himself. The winner of that race, Kingsbarns, had everything to himself on the front end in wiring the field on a track that favored inner path runners. And while Disarm did ride the advantageous inside the entire race, he did have to slightly steady going into the far turn, causing him to lose a length or so in the process. He then went on to finish well through the stretch- albeit on the good part of the track- to secure the runner-up spot.
Next up for this colt would be the Lexington going 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland. Cutting back in distance for your final race before hopefully going on to the Kentucky Derby isn’t typically a move trainers do, but needing more points to get into the Derby and the Lexington being the final race to score points, this is what trainer, Steve Asmussen, chose to do. In the running of the Lexington, Disarm was a little head strong entering the backstretch and pulled on the rider a bit, before he was put into a drive from between horses on the far turn and lacking any real finishing kick through the stretch to finish a well beaten 3rd. Although not a great performance, it was enough to earn Disarm six points, giving him enough points for the opportunity to run in this years Kentucky Derby.
HOW HE FITS HERE
After that maiden win at Saratoga last year, I don’t think there were many people who doubted that Disarm would be a major factor in the upcoming 2 year old stakes in the Fall and into his 3 year old season. But the six and a half month layoff from August until February obviously set him back and he’s kind of been playing catch up ever since.
He now has three races under his belt since returning from that break heading into the Derby. Just to recap those races- The allowance race at Oaklawn was a good first run back, where he was up against it trying to run down the loose gate to wire winner over a track that played strong to inside speed. Same for the Louisiana Derby, when he again was trying to catch a horse controlling the pace on the right part of the track- even though he was on the good part of the track too. The Lexington was a tough spot for him. Shortening back up at Keeneland with the short wire of the 1 1/16 miles there, after the 1 3/16 miles Louisiana Derby, wasn’t the ideal spot for him, but they did what they had to do to get him in to the Derby.
There will have to be improvement from this colt for him to put in a competitive run in the Derby, as he simply hasn’t been good enough in his three races back this year to suggest that he’s in the upper tier of three year olds. That said, I don’t believe we’ve seen the best of this colt yet and a significant move forward on the first Saturday in May is by no means out of the question.
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
The title of “Best trainer to never win the Kentucky Derby” is a title Steve Asmussen currently holds and is one he would obviously love to rid himself of. He is now 0 for 24 in the race, but has run 2nd three times and 3rd twice. When Epicenter had the lead in deep stretch of last years Derby, it looked like Asmussen was going to get off the Derby schneid. It wasn’t to be as, Rich Strike, came up the inside to get up late and won going away to keep Asmussen winless in America’s biggest race.
As the owner of Epicenter, Ron Winchell, shared that pain with Asmussen and is also winless in the Kentucky Derby. Aside from Epicenter’s 2nd place finish last year, Winchell and Asmussen also teamed up for a 3rd place finish in the 2016 Kentucky Derby when Disarm’s sire, Gun Runner, had a narrow lead into the stretch, but would weaken in the stretch run to hold on to the show spot. Winchell and Asmussen will give it another shot this year with Disarm and will likely be mainstays in the Derby field for years to come. Winchell took over the breeding and owner operation of the horse business from his late father, Verne, who died in 2002 and the impressive list of horses that have run in the maroon and white silks of the Winchell’s over the years include: Tight Spot, Sea Cadet, Olympio, Tapit, Fleet Renee, Untapable, Tapizar, Gun Runner and Epicenter, to name a few.
Joel Rosario, who rode Disarm for the one and only time in his 2nd place finish in the Louisiana Derby, will jump back aboard for the Kentucky Derby. Rosario won the 2013 Derby aboard, Orb, and I’m sure Winchell and Asmussen are delighted to get him back. For my money, he is the best jockey in the country and if I had my choice of a rider for the biggest races, I want Rosario.
As for Disarm’s pedigree, he is a homebred son of the great Gun Runner, who has been every bit the terrific sire as he was a race horse. He is out of the mare, Easy Tap, who is by Tapit and as much as this colts sire accomplished on the track, the dam had only her maiden victory in five career starts, which came in a one mile Sp. Wt. at Remington Park. His pedigree says he should be okay with the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby, but I’m always more concerned with how these young horses handle the crazy atmosphere of 100,000+ people and the 20 horse field of the Derby. If they can’t handle the chaos that comes with the Derby, then they’re not getting the 1 1/4 miles on Derby day, regardless of pedigree. With the massive sea of people and the huge field, the Derby presents factors that these horses have never seen before and will likely never see again. So, how they react to it all plays a huge factor in how they will ultimately run in the race.
Make no mistake, Disarm is a good horse who’s going to get better as the year goes. You can’t do much better than a Winchell owned and bred horse, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Joel Rosario in a big race- top notch all the way. I’m confident that Asmussen will have him ready to run his best race thus far and that Rosario will give him the best trip possible. He worked a sharp five furlongs on Monday at Churchill with Rosario aboard and is doing as well as could be coming up to the race. As always, post position draw will be an obvious factor and will play a huge part in who gets the right trip. If all goes right, I can see him sitting relatively close to a pace that might not be as hot as some past Derby’s. I believe he has the acceleration to get into striking range by the time they turn for home and if he is, Rosario will get every ounce out of him from there. What kind of finishing position will that equate to? I’ll just say that I will not be the least bit surprised to see Disarm squarely in the fight in the final furlong at what will be a big price and I wouldn’t be at all comfortable leaving him off my 2023 Kentucky Derby tickets.