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NEW ORLEANS, LA – If trainer Bret Calhoun has his way, lightning will strike twice at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on March 20.
Two years ago, the Calhoun-trained By My Standards broke his maiden on the Risen Star (G2) undercard and parlayed that score to a win in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Run Classic is in position to pull off the same feat three weeks from now in the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby.
Tom Durant’s Run Classic, a 3-year-old son of Runhappy, has the look of a late-bloomer for Calhoun, as he didn’t make his career debut until January 16 at Fair Grounds, finishing a good second over 6 furlongs. He built on that effort on the February 16 Risen Star undercard when he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles, pulling clear for a 3 1/4-length win that brought obvious comparisons to By My Standards.
The path of the two may be similar, but there are some differences as well.
“We were lucky enough to make this move once before, but By My Standards had had a little more seasoning,” Calhoun said. “Unfortunately, this horse is a little lighter on seasoning. I think and hope he can make it up with talent and was able to learn enough in those 2 races to have enough.”
Allied Racing Stable’s By My Standards broke his maiden in his fourth career start and was able to learn some lessons along the way. That experience came in handy when he upset the Louisiana Derby at 22/1. Run Classic, who has proven to be a bit more precocious, is still learning on the fly, but he’s clearly shown the ability to be a top horse.
Calhoun admitted the Louisiana Derby has been on the radar, but he wasn’t disappointed when Run Classic drew the rail in his debut and then fell short of reeling in the speedy Blameworthy.
“I think sometimes you get upset when you don’t win, but him running second that day from the inside was beneficial moving forward and to maybe get to the Louisiana Derby,” Calhoun said. “The fact he had to overcome some things, face some traffic; I think him getting beat that day was the best thing to happen. It allowed him to run two turns against maidens and get some more seasoning.”
Run Classic put it all together in his first two-turn start, as he settled in third early, tracked the leaders, opened up in midstretch, and drew off convincingly. The win was a culmination of sorts for Calhoun, along with Durant, who paid a hefty $475,000 for Run Classic at the 2020 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company March Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training.
As a son of Grade 1-winning sprinter Runhappy, who never won going 2 turns, Calhoun new the price tag was a big one. He also knew it could have been a lot more.
“I think physically, he looks like that kind of horse (that will go long),” Calhoun said. “Pedigree-wise, he was a little bit suspect for distance, and I think that’s why he didn’t bring $800,000 or more. We did our homework and heavily put all of our faith into the physical aspect of him. When we bought this horse, this is what we bought him for.”
Run Classic will be spotting a lot of experience to some very talented horses, should he start in the Louisiana Derby. The top 3 finishers of the Risen Star – Mandaloun, Proxy, and Midnight Bourbon – are all expected back and are clearly at the top of the local heap, while some talented new shooters will line up as well. Calhoun knows the hurdles, but he also knows the playbook to get it done.
“It’s a huge step forward, going 2 races with maidens to the LA Derby horses, but we think he’s up to it,” Calhoun said. “The fact I’ve done it before, how I had them prepared, it gives us confidence. I still think he was a little green and inexperienced. He ran and won on pure, raw talent. He’s a pretty smart horse and I think he’ll figure things out pretty quickly, and if he does, and moves forward mentally, I think physically he’s there.”
Durant has been in the game for over 20 years and has played it at a high level while not shying away from spending big in the sales ring. He also got a taste of the Triple Crown Trail in 2017, when Silver Dust ran in a trio of Derby preps at Oaklawn Park for then-trainer Randy Morse but was unable to advance on to the Run for the Roses. Calhoun is hoping Run Classic takes the final step for an owner who has put his time in.
“This is why Tom plays the game,” Calhoun said. “He loves horse racing in general, but he loves running in the top end and that’s what he’s striving to get to and he’s very excited about. He’s allowed us to go to the sales and improve the quality of horses he has. He’s thrilled right now and hopefully we can keep going.”
As for By My Standards, the son of Goldencents is still going strong and is gearing up for a 5-year-old campaign. He followed up his Louisiana Derby win with an 11th-place finish in Louisville, then was given the rest of the year off.
The break proved a beneficial one, as By My Standards came back last year to win a trio of Grade 2s and was second to champion Improbable in Saratoga’s Whitney (G1) in August. He’s now 6-for-14 lifetime with over $1.8 million in earnings, and there’s clearly only one thing left to accomplish.
“Our biggest goal this year would be to win a Grade 1 with him and we’ll be in search of that,” Calhoun said. “Our whole schedule would be to try and get a Grade 1. I think he has the potential to take another step forward this year. He’s a horse that’s gotten better throughout his career so far. He’s remained very sound and physically he’s gotten better all the time.”
By My Standards returned to the work tab for the first time February 15, going an easy 3 furlongs in 38.60 at Fair Grounds. As an older horse with plenty of furlongs under him, Calhoun indicated it won’t take his stable star long to get ready, and races like Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (G2), which By My Standards won last year, and their Stephen Foster (G2), a race he finished second in, could be early season goals this spring and early summer. Regardless, By My Standards gives Calhoun plenty of reasons to think he’ll be better than ever this year after what he saw in his first work back.
“We got exactly what we wanted,” Calhoun said. “He went off very slow and picked it up at the end. He’ll move to a 1/2-mile this week and he’ll progress very quickly.”
“When you give older horses time off, you always hope they come back mentally the same and with the same desire,” Calhoun continued. “That’s yet to be determined, but he seems to be mentally and physically very good and we’re optimistic we’ll have a big year with him.”
Calhoun took over the training of Silver Dust a couple of years ago. The now 6-year-old son of Tapit was last seen finishing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) November 7 at Keeneland. The veteran is 6-for-31 and has earned $885,677 in a distinguished career, and one that figures to resume soon.
“Silver Dust is pretty much ready to run,” Calhoun said. “I’m not sure where he’s going to show up. We’re just searching for a race.”
Although Silver Dust has enjoyed a stellar career, Durant certainly hopes that Run Classic puts it all together much more quickly. If he does, the Road to the Kentucky Derby might come calling.
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