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When Churchill Downs first announced that the $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile would join the Road to the Kentucky Derby Series with a points distribution of 10-4-2-1, reactions were mixed.
Some felt that the Derby Series didn’t need another points race. Others were excited that the top race for 2-year-olds in the south was receiving recognition for its importance, while also offering points towards the Kentucky Derby.
Myself? I wasn’t really on either side.
You see, I’ve only been following horse racing for a couple of years. While I don’t know much, I do know the importance of this sport’s history to its longtime fans.
The one thing that bothers me in any debate is when someone makes an unsubstantiated claim. One commenter on a popular racing forum stated that the Springboard Mile was a terrible race that didn’t deserve to be part of the Kentucky Derby points system. No horses ever come out of that and do anything, he said.
That’s when I began my research.
What I set out to decide was the historical significance – or lack thereof – regarding the Springboard Mile. Whatever your preconceived notion of this race, there’s one thing that supercedes an opinion: a cold, hard fact.
It’s time to take a ride on the learning trail with Magic.
Note: all stats are as of December 13, 2017
The Springboard Mile first debuted in 2009. While none of the names on the board were Hall of Famers, it’s worth noting that Kitty’s Turn repeated that same finish in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, giving him 4 total points on the Derby trail. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but this was the inaugural race – you couldn’t expect world-beaters to show up. Turf Melody failed to win again in 7 subsequent starts, but Man Chester Man spent a long career in the claiming ranks at various tracks on the west coast, retiring in December 2016 as a sound 9-year-old.
The second edition of the Springboard Mile was the first – and so far, only – to feature a future Breeders’ Cup winner, but oddly enough, it wasn’t any of the top finishers. Caleb’s Posse ran seventh that day, but he grew up to win the Smarty Jones, the Grade 2 Amsterdam, and the Grade 1 King’s Bishop before taking home the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, all as a 3-year-old. His 4-year-old campaign saw him finish second in all three starts: the Grade 3 Tom Fool, the Grade 1 Carter, and the Grade 1 Met Mile. He retired after the Met Mile with earnings of over $1.4 million and a record of 19-8-5-2 (42% win, 79% in the money), including 12-4-4-1 in graded stakes action. The rest of the field that day… well, let’s just say they didn’t show the same post-Springboard results. Grant Jack toiled away in the claiming and allowance ranks for four years, Brickyard Fast only raced once more – the Grade 3 Southwest – before disappearing, and Aces N Kings never stepped foot on the Triple Crown Trail. Still, Caleb’s Posse makes the 2010 edition one of the race’s best.
Aside from his eye-catching number of career starts (64), Ted’s Folly also has the distinction of being the oldest Springboard Mile winner still in training – the 8-year-old gelding most recently finished second in a Delta Downs claiming race on December 2. Reckless Jerry showed great promise, finishing second in the Smarty Jones and third in the Grade 3 Southwest, but injuries kept him from staying in training long enough to make much of an impact. Pee H Dee began his 3-year-old campaign with an allowance win at Oaklawn but couldn’t finish better than fourth in either the Southwest or the Grade 2 Rebel. A pair of seconds in 2013 claiming races were his only other in-the-money finishes.
The 2012 field may be the race’s best. Texas Bling finished second in the Smarty Jones but couldn’t do better than fourth in the final three Derby prep races at Oaklawn. Still, his connections kept him in training until mid-2016; during that span, he earned a reputation for being a hard-knocker in the southern handicap division. Worldventurer had a peculiar career. After competing as a 3- and 4-year old in Texas and on the west coast, his connections decided to try turning him into a hurdler as a 5-year-old. As you can guess, that didn’t go well – in four starts, he finished fifth in one and received a DNF in the other three.
Perhaps the best horse to ever compete in the Springboard Mile was Will Take Charge, who began his 3-year-old season by turning the tables on Texas Bling in the Smarty Jones. He also won the Grade 2 Rebel and eventually competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown, becoming the only horse in the history of the Springboard Mile to do so. While he never finished better than seventh (in the Preakness), he rebounded to finish second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy before winning the Grade 1 Travers and the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby. He then became the only Springboard Mile competitor to race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he finished second by a nose, before ending the year winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap. As a 4-year-old, he won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and placed in four other graded stakes races before retiring with a record of 21-7-6-1 and earnings of $3.94 million.
The 2013 edition featured the most successful group of horses in terms of visits to the winner’s circle – the 16 combined post-Springboard wins by the top three finishers is the most from any field. Louies Flower failed to hit the board in four graded stakes appearances before making his mark by winning claiming races up and down the east coast. The New York-bred Noble Cornerstone had a good 2014 on the NYRA allowance circuit but won only once more in the following two seasons. Smack Smack didn’t compete on the Triple Crown Trail, but he did eventually win the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap and spent the majority of his career racing in the south and the midwest.
The 2014 edition, like the other even-numbered years before it, meant another good group. Bayerd finished second in the Smarty Jones ahead of a Racing Dudes favorite, Mr. Z, then found similar success in several other smaller stakes in 2015, 2016, and early 2017 before ending his career finishing fourth in a claiming race at Saratoga this past summer. Shotgun Kowboy suffered an injury after the Springboard Mile and missed the Triple Crown Trail but came back to win the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby. As an older horse, he’s earned a reputation as a hard-knocker on the southern circuit and is entered in a stakes race at Remington this Sunday, which coincidentally is the race immediately before the Springboard Mile. High Noon Rider didn’t finish the Grade 2 Holy Bull in his lone Triple Crown Trail start, then switched to the turf for the majority of his career. He won a small stakes race at Saratoga in 2015, but lately, he’s been running for tags at various tracks in Kentucky. He’s entered in a small stakes race at Fair Grounds this Saturday.
The 2015 edition was the only field to have two different Triple Crown Trail race winners emerge. Discreetness followed up his victory with a W in the Smarty Jones but couldn’t match that same success in the three subsequent Oaklawn prep races. His only other career in-the-money finishes came against optional claimers. Suddenbreakingnews won the Grade 3 Southwest, ran fifth in the Grade 2 Rebel, and finished second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, then competed in both the Kentucky Derby (finishing fifth) and the Belmont Stakes (ninth). However, in five allowance-level starts in 2017, he couldn’t finish better than fourth. Esposito boasts the highest in-the-money percentage of all historical Springboard Mile top-three finishers – including each of his last five races, in which he’s finished either second or third.
The 2016 runners had a lot of promise, but none of them have panned out. There’s still time – they won’t turn 4 until next month – but at this point, I wouldn’t hold your breath. Cool Arrow looked to have potential, entering the race with two wins and a second before wiring the field by 3 1/2 lengths. However, he struggled to repeat that effort, hitting the board only once more – a win in a 7-furlong, $85,000 stakes race at Charles Town. His final start was over the turf in a $100,000 stakes race at Pimlico on Preakness Day. Totality hasn’t finished better than fifth since the Springboard, while U S Officer has been in for a tag of $20,000 or fewer in his past four starts.
The three of you who are still reading by this point might be wondering: what will 2017’s edition have in store for us? Will we see a future Kentucky Derby Trail contender emerge, or will the field of juveniles fail to grow into more than just a group of nice southern colts? Only time will tell.
One thing I can say for certain: this race’s short history has proved that it belongs on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Oh, and one thing that I can almost say for certain: if any of the 2017 in-the-money finishers do ship to Oaklawn and run in the Smarty Jones, bet ’em across the board. History says you’ve got a good chance to cash.
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