Trainer Bret Calhoun vowed he would never dive into the Triple Crown pool until he had a horse worthy of the plunge. So what is it about Mr. Big News that brought Calhoun back into the pool after a subpar 2019 Kentucky Derby from By My Standards?
What is it about a horse with two career victories – and one coming out of the ether at 46/1 in the Oaklawn Park slop – that made Calhoun think Mr. Big News wasn’t fake news on the Churchill Downs track? And why is Mr. Big News now a rather modest (for him) 14/1 coming into Saturday’s 145th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico?
“Well, it was how he was doing at the time,” Calhoun said during a Monday National Thoroughbred Racing Association conference call. “The horse was training phenomenally well coming into the Derby. The mile and a quarter was a big part of it too. We really felt like he would relish that distance, and we also knew that there’s a lot of horses who wouldn’t really care for it.”
Going off in the Derby at 46/1, Mr. Big News did care for the 10 furlongs, even if the bettors didn’t care for him. He found a nice pace amid the pack, then reeled off a nice closing burst. That burst took him past five tiring horses, sweeping him into third, behind winner Authentic and runner-up Tiz the Law.
Take This Trifecta And Run
Make no mistake. Mr. Big News wasn’t going to catch either of those two. But the bettors who had Mr. Big News bottoming their trifectas cared for him plenty, as they were cashing 50-cent trifecta tickets worth $655.90.
That wasn’t the only eye-popping figure coming out of Mr. Big News’ Derby finish. His 101 Beyer Speed Figure and 105 Equibase Speed Figure were career bests, cracking triple digits for the first time in his eight-race career. This gave Calhoun renewed optimism coming into the Preakness with a horse that wasn’t on too many radars a month ago.
The Preakness marks Mr. Big News’ sixth race of 2020 — a year in which he produced his two victories. Those would be the aforementioned Oaklawn Stakes in April that paid $95.60 on a $2 win ticket, and which got him into the Preakness. The second was a maiden special weight at Fair Grounds in January. A distance-eating progeny out of Giant’s Causeway by a Galileo mare, Mr. Big News is another late-maturing horse who wouldn’t have come close to making the gate – much less hitting the board – in a May Derby.
How a Trainer Makes His Mark — and His Money
“I think we’ve purposely spread races, knowing what his makeup is and what we thought he was thriving on, and that was a little bit of spacing. Letting him continue to grow and mature,” Calhoun said. “He’s been a late bloomer. I think that’s helped him a lot, the spacing, and so that’s always been part of our process to get him to this point. Now, we think he’s continuing to make progress, he’s continuing to mature, but he’s a much more mature horse today than he was six, eight weeks ago.”
Calhoun said he noticed Mr. Big News getting stronger with every pre-Derby workout. He said he sees the same process, the same mannerisms, coming into the Preakness.
“I feel like he’s very, very fit, very ready, just keeping fresh and happy. But you could see those same kind of gallops coming into the Preakness,” he said.
Mr. Big News Needs More Good News
Again, Calhoun is realistic about what awaits on Saturday. Authentic is alive and quite well, and Art Collector joined the fray after a hoof injury knocked him out of the Derby. Swiss Skydiver is one of the fastest fillies on the planet, and fellow closer Max Player has a much better post position than he had for the Derby. For Mr. Big News to run to his odds again, plenty has to go right. Again.
“We’ve got to be better, honestly,” Calhoun said. “We’ve got to improve, and Authentic has to either regress a little bit or have some kind of trip that’s unfavorable to him, and favorable for me. He was very impressive [on] Derby Day. He earned it. He set hot fractions and finished up well. So there’s a margin there that we’re going to have to find a little more horse.”
That Calhoun was talking about Mr. Big News in the Preakness meant he already has found more horse. More than he expected, even in this weird year.
“Coming into this year, there really wasn’t any pressure to get there with this horse. We just let him take us along for the ride … and everything kind of came together,” he said.