Kentucky Derby contender profile: Dean Martini

June 30th, 2020

It is rare for a horse to lose its first seven starts and then progress to win a graded stakes race, but Dean Martini has defied norms to emerge as a contender for the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones and Bret Jones, Dean Martini sold for $72,000 as a weanling and for $220,000 as a yearling, respectable but not eye-catching prices, owed perhaps in part to the gelding’s modest pedigree.

A son of two-time Grade 2 winner Cairo Prince, out of the stakes-winning Friends Lake mare Soundwave, Dean Martini has the pedigree of a capable racehorse. But a little bit of talent goes a long way, and Dean Martini is outrunning all early expectations.

Dean Martini required a large handful of starts to figure out what the racing game is all about. He lost his first four starts in California under the care of Peter Miller, then transitioned to the barn of Brad Cox and lost three more races at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park. He wasn’t running badly — he finished in the top three on half a dozen occasions — but the winner’s circle proved elusive.

The turnaround began May 17, when Dean Martini dropped into claiming company for the first time and dominated a $50,000 maiden event at Churchill Downs, where he drew off to win the 1 1/16-mile race by 6 3/4 lengths. Claimed by Tom Amoss, Dean Martini showed further improvement when he finished second in a 1 1/8-mile allowance June 12 at Churchill Downs, where he was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by stakes winner Man in the Can.

That race set the stage for a run in the 1 1/8-mile Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown, a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race worth 20 qualification points to the winner. Under a bold ride from up-and-coming jockey Ricardo Mejias, Dean Martini made a mid-race move to seize a clear lead, then dug deep down the stretch to hold on and prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:51.60.

Dean Martini was leg-weary late and finished the final 3 furlongs in :39.72, but the track was tiring and his slow finish was understandable. Regardless, Dean Martini’s beaten rivals included stakes winners South Bend, Storm the Court, Rowdy Yates, and Lebda, so it’s hard to knock the quality of competition he defeated.

The question now is whether Dean Martini will continue down the Road to the Kentucky Derby. His relatively sudden rise to stardom has come with a side effect. He isn’t nominated to the Triple Crown, so competing in the Derby will require a hefty supplemental nomination fee.

Given the way Dean Martini is progressing, it might just be worth the gamble.