The last time we heard the name Ethereal Road mentioned was on May 6, the day before the 148th Kentucky Derby. We heard it mentioned in passing when trainer D. Wayne Lukas scratched the colt five minutes before the entry deadline.
This became the Scratch Heard ‘Round the World 30 hours and change later, when the horse replacing Ethereal Road — Rich Strike — shocked the world by winning the Derby at 80/1.
Now, Lukas, a trainer known for his audacity with his charges, is taking a more measured path with Ethereal Road. Instead of taking the expected path of sending Ethereal Road to the Preakness, Lukas entered him in the Sir Barton Stakes. That 1 1/16-mile race on the Preakness undercard is restricted to 3-year-olds who have never won an open stakes.
But true to form, there’s a method to Lukas’ measured path. He’s using the Sir Barton to possibly get Ethereal Road his Triple Crown race shot in the Belmont Stakes.
Ethereal Road has We the People as example
“We’ll run him in the Sir Barton, maybe build his confidence, try to get a win,” Lukas told the Maryland Jockey Club. “If he does really well in there, then we’ll jump into the Belmont Stakes. I think the Belmont would be a good fit.”
This is the same path Rodolphe Brisset used with We the People in last weekend’s Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park. After We the People finished a disappointing seventh in the April 2 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, Brisset regrouped and sent the promising colt to the Peter Pan.
His patience and sagaciousness was rewarded when We the People dusted the Peter Pan field by 10 1/4 lengths. Brisset said that confidence-boosting victory lined We the People up for the June 11 Belmont.
Lukas wondering if he chose the wrong race
As for Ethereal Road, he comes into the Sir Barton off a strong five-furlong work last Wednesday at Churchill Downs. His 1:00 trek was the fastest of 22 at that distance that day, lending Lukas to temporarily second-guess himself about keeping him out of the Preakness.
“Boy, he’s having a great week,” Lukas said. “I wonder if I really screwed up there. But he’s going to the Sir Barton.”
Interestingly enough, it was an April 25 five-furlong work in 1:02.20 that helped Lukas decide Ethereal Road wasn’t Derby ready. That was the worst of eight running that distance that day. Later, Lukas scratched the colt, saying he didn’t look ready for a 20-horse Derby.
Ethereal Road took a winding road
This may have been a result of Lukas putting Ethereal Road on a tough road just to get him Derby eligible. Ethereal Road finished second to 75/1 Un Ojo in the Feb. 26 Grade 2 Rebel S. Nothing untoward there.
But after the colt finished seventh in the April 9 Grade 1 Blue Grass, Lukas brought him back the following week for the Derby trail’s final stop, the Grade 3 Lexington. Ethereal Road finished fourth, then backed into the Derby via a couple of defections.
Make no mistake, the Sir Barton isn’t a slam dunk, and 3/1 Ethereal Road isn’t even the morning-line favorite. That would be 5/2 B Dawk, named after former Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame defensive back Brian Dawkins.
NFL Hall of Famer namesake awaits
It took five tries for B Dawk to break his maiden, but when he did, it came in the same fashion as his namesake once returned kicks. B Dawk destroyed a Keeneland maiden special weight field by 11 1/4 lengths. Now, he’s trying two turns for the first time.
“He ran super well with blinkers off,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “We’re optimistic that two turns will do him well. He continues to train and work well.”