“You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you…” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
This message was relayed to troops by General Eisenhower prior to the invasion of Normandy, but ironically suits the horse Normandy Invasion’s approach to the Kentucky Derby (GI). In many ways, the rush of twenty horses down the dirt oval at Churchill Downs is similar to a battle as jockeys jostle for position aboard their mounts. For months, horse racing enthusiasts anticipate the Run for the Roses and once the great event arrives, the racing world’s eyes are fixed upon it. Thousands of loyal fans hope and pray that their favorite horse will wear the garland of roses in the winner’s enclosure once the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports is over.
Normandy Invasion is merely a maiden winner, but his game performances in graded stakes events have earned him a role as a “wise guy” horse leading up to the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Fifth in his debut last September at Belmont, the Chad Brown trainee dominated his second start, a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct.
The bay colt made his graded stakes debut in the Remsen Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct in late November. Breaking slowly from the outside post in the nine-furlong race, Normandy Invasion settled several lengths behind the pacesetters as the ten-horse field rounded the clubhouse turn. Down the backstretch, Normandy Invasion began to pick up the pace, gaining ground on the rivals ahead of him. Racing past his opponents as if they were standing still, the son of Tapit ate up ground around the final curve, making an impressive rally along the rail before swinging wide in search of a path around the leaders as the field turned for home.
With massive strides, Normandy Invasion strove to take the lead, joining graded stakes winner Overanalyze in a late stretch battle. But in a head-bobbing finish, Normandy Invasion crossed the wire inches behind Overanalyze to finish second. Though the colt did not visit the winner’s circle, his rally had been incredibly impressive, made even more remarkable considering he closed into rather moderate factions.
Making his sophomore debut in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at the Fair Grounds, Normandy Invasion was sent off as the favorite in the mile and one-sixteenth contest. But the race was over for the colt from the beginning. Slow away from the gate, Normandy Invasion was squeezed by rivals, resulting in a bobble that left him lengths behind the majority of his opponents as the field raced past the stands for the first time.
Rank around the first bend, Normandy Invasion ran wide as the three-year-olds entered the backstretch. The Fox Hill Farm-owned colt gradually gained ground on the group of horses ahead of him and as the army of horses rounded the final curve, Normandy Invasion picked up the pace, making a stunning rally nearly identical to the one he’d made in the Remsen.
But the colt was forced to go very wide around the far turn and while running greenly down the stretch, Normandy Invasion lost imperative ground. In the final stages of the race, however, he kicked into gear, covering much ground with his long, effortless strides. But it was too late. Normandy Invasion crossed the wire in fifth, beaten less than two lengths.
After the Risen Star, Normandy Invasion blossomed under young trainer Chad Brown’s care while preparing for the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). Chad Brown, former assistant to Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, has proven to be one of the best in the business since going out on his own, winning two Breeders’ Cup races, as well as a multitude of grade ones with horses like Awesome Feather, Dayatthespa, Maram, Samitar, Stacelita, and Zagora. The Daily Racing Form quoted Brown as saying of Normandy Invasion after his final breeze for the Wood “He’s turning into a real professional horse.”
The Wood would be a critical race for Normandy Invasion. In order to qualify for the Derby under the new points system, the colt would need to finish in-the-money – preferably first or second – to secure a spot in the Derby starting gate.
Drawn near the inside for the first time in his career, Normandy Invasion broke cleanly and was guided to the rail by Javier Castellano, racing mid-pack as the horses rounded the initial turn. Six lengths separated him from the leader as the field galloped into the backstretch, but midway through the straightaway opposite the grandstand, Normandy Invasion accelerated between horses, drawing closer to the pacesetter, Chrisandthecapper, and the heavy favorite, Verrazano. However, he remained a handful of lengths behind those rivals.
As adversaries around him began to accelerate and pass him, Normandy Invasion remained steady as Verrazano took the lead around the final bend. Castellano set to work aboard Normandy Invasion, but he faced the obstacle of a wall of horses before him. Swinging wide to find room, the bay slowly but surely grew closer to the two favorites, Verrazano and Vyjack, and in typical Normandy Invasion style, kicked into high gear in the final stages of the race, closing to reduce Verrazano’s winning margin to ¾ of a length.
Normandy Invasion’s running style has suggested that the colt would relish more distance and Brown has indicated that he believes the same. But a glance at the colt’s pedigree generates thoughts of miler. That is, until, one delves further into his ancestry, finding stamina influences that could aid Normandy Invasion in his quest for the roses.
|Normandy Invasion's pedigree|
Distance tends to be suspect for offspring of Tapit, but it must be pointed out that Tapit has produced winners at the ten-furlong Derby distance. Tapit’s son, Testa Matta, won the Japan Dirt Derby (GI) at 2,000 meters (approximately 10 furlongs), while Tapit’s daughter, Careless Jewel, was an 11-length victress of the 2009 Alabama Stakes (GI), a prestigious ten-furlong race at Saratoga. Tapit’s sire, Pulpit, produced many distance horses, including the Russian group one winner Baletmeister, who won at 2,000 and 2,400 meters on several occasions; Ice Box, runner-up in 2010 Kentucky Derby; Pachattack, who won at ten furlongs and twelve furlongs multiple times; and Church Service, a graded stakes winner that placed in many routes, even up to thirteen furlongs.
It is worth noting that Tapit is a grandson of A.P. Indy, a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. A.P. Indy not only won the ten-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), but also the twelve-furlong Belmont Stakes (GI). One of the most prominent sires in recent years, A.P. Indy - a son of Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew - has produced the likes of the brilliant distance horses Bernardini, Mineshaft, and Rags to Riches – all classic winners at ten or twelve furlongs.
Tapit’s broodmare sire is Unbridled, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 1990 Champion Three-Year-Old colt is also the broodmare sire of Preakness Stakes (GI) winner Shackleford and his half-sister, Lady Joanne, a grade one winner at ten furlongs. Tapit’s granddam, the Reine de Course mare Ruby Slippers, was a daughter of English Triple Crown winner Nijinksy II, a major stamina influence in the ancestry of the Thoroughbred.
Normandy Invasion’s dam, Boston Lady, made five starts, never finishing better than seventh. Her other two foals that have won have only succeeded as sprinters, the longest winning distance between them being six furlongs. Boston Lady’s sire, 1996 Champion Two-Year-Old Male Boston Harbor, never won beyond a mile and one-sixteenth but did produce Healthy Addiction, a grade one winner at nine furlongs.
Though Normandy Invasion’s immediate female family instills worry regarding his ability to excel at classic distances, further study provides greater assurance that the colt can stretch out. The sire of his granddam is Raise a Native – who, though he has proven to be a strong speed influence in Thoroughbred pedigrees, sired Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince, Triple Crown “runner-up” Alydar, and Exclusive Native, the sire of Triple Crown hero Affirmed and Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk.
The sire of Normandy Invasion’s third dam, Royal Serenade, is also a notable presence in this colt’s heritage. Though a champion sprinter in England, Royal Serenade won the ten-furlong Hollywood Gold Cup after being imported to the United States. The sire of this colt’s fourth dam is Fairy Manhurst, runner-up in the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup – all contested at ten furlongs at the least. Notably, Fairy Manhurst, a son of the great Man O’ War, was the last stakes-winning offspring of the all-time great.
Interestingly, Normandy Invasion is line-bred to Seattle Slew, as both his parents descend from the Seattle Slew sire line. Close line-breeding to the 1977 Triple Crown champion has also appeared in the pedigree of Atlantic Ocean, a record-priced filly that won up to a mile and one-sixteenth. However, the method of Seattle Slew inbreeding is not particularly popular in the Thoroughbred breeding industry.
Although Normandy Invasion’s bloodlines are not abounding with indications that the colt will enjoy more distance, his running style does imply this. His tendency to not kick into his highest gear until the final yards of a race imply that he will savor added distance. He has already proven that he does not need a blistering pace to close into, though one would likely assist him. Fortunately for him, the presence of horses like Goldencents, and perhaps Oxbow and Verrazano, could set up brisk fractions for him in the Derby.