Brooklyn Strong ready for improbable next step

Friday, April 30th, 2021

Brooklyn Strong, champion New York-bred male in 2020, gallops Friday at Churchill Downs. Coady Photography.

By Tom Law

Brooklyn Strong looked poised to mix it up on the Triple Crown trail last December when he gutted out a narrow victory over Ten for Ten in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct.

The New York-bred gelding by Wicked Strong ended the season with three wins in four starts – the lone blemish a decent third in the Bertram F. Bongard at Belmont Park in his stakes debut – and was on his way. Until he wasn’t.

Winter weather in the Philadelphia area, where Danny Velazquez trains at Parx Racing, derailed some of Brooklyn Strong’s training and a mild illness led to more delays that put key preps for the Kentucky Derby in jeopardy. Brooklyn Strong missed the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in early March and seemingly needed a good result in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial in early April to earn sufficient points to guarantee a starting spot in the gate on the first Saturday in May.

That didn’t materialize when Brooklyn Strong finished fifth, beaten less than 5 lengths, in the Wood Memorial. He was deep on the list of points earners with just 10 – all earned in the Remsen – after all the key preps were complete by mid-April.

“It’s been extremely hard, nothing’s been easy with him,” Velazquez said. “Start and stop, the weather, he got a little sick on me, it’s just been extremely hard.”

The road proved difficult but Brooklyn Strong, Velazquez and owner Mark Schwartz made it to Churchill this week for the 147th edition of America’s biggest race after a string of defections last week and weekend.

Brooklyn Strong will start from post 3 in the Derby with jockey Umberto Rispoli aboard for the first time. They’re 50-1 on Mike Battaglia’s morning line, but they’re in the Derby instead of an alternative choice of still back home waiting for the Preakness Stakes in two weeks.

“Last week Churchill Downs got in touch with Mark or Mark got in touch with Churchill. They said, ‘hey, listen, you guys can come and enter the Pat Day Mile and AE in the Derby if something happens you might get to run,’ ” Velazquez said. “My thought was, ‘that’s a little crazy.’ We would have looked good in the Pat Day Mile though, I looked at the race. After that Sunday morning (and the defection of Caddo River) we got the call, they said ‘are you ready to come?’ It literally came together fast, I got a plane ticket, got the horse here. It’s been a little chaotic, no sleep.”

Brooklyn Strong arrived in Louisville early Tuesday morning, walked the shedrow Wednesday, jogged on the sloppy main track Thursday and jogged and galloped over the drying out track labeled good Friday. He was one of the last horses on the track Friday morning during the designated training time for Oaks and Derby horses.

Saturday Brooklyn Strong will attempt to add his name to the list of New York-breds who fared well in recent editions of the Kentucky Derby. Tiz the Law finished second as the favorite in last year’s race, run in September because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ny Traffic also ran in the 2020 Derby and finished eighth. New York-bred Florida Derby winner Audible finished third in the 2018 running while Samraat (fifth in 2014) and Went the Day Well (fourth in 2012) also ran well.

Funny Cide flies the flag for the Empire State as its lone Derby winner, pulling the upset in 2003 over Empire Maker. He also won the Preakness, the first New York-bred to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Bred by Cheryl Prudhomme and Dr. Michael Gallivan out of their Medaglia d’Oro mare Riviera Chic and foaled at their Shamrock Hill Farm in Fort Edward, Brooklyn Strong originally sold as a weanling for $30,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga fall mixed sale. He RNA’d on two subsequent trips through the sales ring – for $42,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale and then for $6,000 as a yearling at the OBS October mixed sale – before Schwartz bought him for $5,000 at last year’s OBS Spring sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Brooklyn Strong won a maiden claiming race for a $40,000 tag in September at Delaware Park before a third in the Bongard and a victory in Belmont’s Sleepy Hollow Stakes on Empire Showcase Day. He turned heads with a mild upset victory over a field that also included eventual Florida Derby winner Known Agenda in the Remsen to end his 2-year-old season.

Brooklyn Strong comes to the Derby with two breezes since his Wood Memorial effort – a half in :49.55 April 19 and 5 furlongs in 1:00.92 Monday. He worked five times prior to the Wood Memorial.

Despite the winding road to make the Derby and Brooklyn Strong’s long odds, Velazquez remains confident taking on a field led by undefeated champion Essential Quality, unbeaten Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World, Florida Derby winner Known Agenda, Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie and others.

“Safe trip. Not to be bland, but just a safe trip. A good showing,” Velazquez said when asked what he was looking for Saturday. “I have zero pressure. I’m the underdog and nobody expects much from me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but don’t sleep on him either. This horse belongs, he really does. He belongs, he has the numbers, he has the class, his paper looks great. He really does belong.

“Obviously I wish I had more time to school and go over to the track and let him see everything but that’s the card I was dealt.”

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