There is a purveying thought in America that love is purely unconditional and that money is no object when compared to our love for our spouses. This case was most famously made by Jennifer Lopez with her 2001 hit “Love Don’t Cost A Thing.” Jennifer Lopez is now engaged to Alex Rodriguez, who signed a $250 million dollar contract to play baseball, twice. We want to believe in this notion of love, that it is a holy sacrament, when, like all great things, it’s complicated. The next time I see a doctor and a doorman get together will be a first. We all have standards. We all have acceptable minimums. You have a number of what you want in your head right now, and I haven’t even asked you. There are just some things we have to accomplish in life to get what we want. This lies true in the Kentucky Derby as well, and to become a never-forgotten champion of Churchill, one of those bare minimums is to break from the gate on time. Country House would scoff at this notion.
Just a one time winner, Country House is a confirmed closer, or moreso, a vulture in horseflesh, exploiting other horse’s inability to finish late in the stretch after his foes have done all the dirty work on or near the early lead. He has enough class to hang with the big boys of this division, as he was a closer-than-it-looks second behind War of Will in the Risen Star, but he’ll need some risk factors to go his way.
Country House’s gate issues are actually a tad overblown. He has broken poorly from the gate, most notably in his maiden win at Gulfstream, but he’s seemingly overcome this and has come out on time since then. Because he has no early speed whatsoever, he’s regulated to the rear in every start. In a twenty horse Derby field, this deficiency will likely be amplified as he could very well be twenty lengths off the backstretch leaders. A clunker in each of his three stakes tries, Country House is bred to stay the mile and a quarter and will be picking up pieces late. This is a consistent trait of his, one we are convinced he will give maximum effort to pull off once again in the Derby. However, he will need quite a pace collapse to challenge for the lead down the lane; a test Country House has failed in all three of his stakes tries. In the Risen Star, we felt Country House had every right to go up and challenge leader War of Will in the stretch run of that race but him lugging in to the inside throughout the stretch disabled himself from doing so. He beat himself. He has improved this nasty habit since, but we found him a bit distracted in midstretch in both of his Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby efforts.
Due to his lack of Ky Derby points, Country House was wheeled back in three weeks to make the Arkansas Derby, where his third place finish earned him enough points to participate. The cerebral hall of famer Bill Mott must see something in Country House to desperately get him to Louisville but he’s yet to breakthrough.
A bit slow on speed figs, Country House is going to need a lot to go his way — a fast pace that collapses late, a clean trip, and most importantly, a sharp improvement from his prior form. Country House will likely not be on top on any of our tickets come Derby day but may turn out to be the perfect underneath key in the tri or superfecta at Churchill, but who cares about money anyway?
Here are our trip notes of Country House:
Sixth career start: April 13th, Oaklawn, G1 Arkansas Derby, one mile and an eighth
Broke fine but with no speed once again, outside, angled out very wide into the far turn, which seemed to be the place to be, overland route while advancing rounding into the stretch, into a clear 3rd well behind top two, re-engaged some to hold off the oncoming Laughing Fox to his inside late in stretch to retain 3rd. The Arkansas Derby, a match race between Omaha Beach and Improbable, seemed like real proof that they are far and away significantly better than the rest of the group, with Country House simply besting the rest.
Fifth career start: March 23th, Fair Grounds, G2 Louisiana Derby, one mile and an eighth
Out fine with no early speed, taken outside into the first turn, made 4/5 wide move around the far turn, close enough to leader Spinoff to his immediate inside into the stretch but couldn’t sustain bid to challenge, flattened out in midstretch, held off by Sueno for third. This was a fine effort from Country House, but without a pace meltdown of any sort up front, and having to go so wide around the far turn due to his lack of positional speed simply cost him. He doesn’t have the talent to supercede those concerns at this time.
Fourth career start: February 16th, Fair Grounds, G2 Risen Star, one mile and a sixteenth
Country House is #9
Broke fine, no speed, settled inside behind a solid pace up front, got going in among horses far mid-turn, forged into 2nd on the outside not too far into the lane, continually lugging in, was completely behind leader/eventual winner War of Will for no reason for much of late stretch, couldn’t come close to challenging winner, held 2nd at wire. Country House proved some class here stepping up into stakes company, but his antics in the stretch really cost him here in what was an otherwise solid effort.
Trip notes of Country House’s first three starts can be found in the comments.