By Trent Ledbetter (@23ledbetter on Twitter)
When the Derby picture started to come into fruition Combatant was on the outside looking in. However, with fellow Arkansas Derby runner Quip defecting, Combatant found himself a spot in the starting gate with 32 Derby Points. When it comes to the connections of Combatant the first Saturday in May hasn’t been too kind. Steve Asmussen comes into the derby with a 0-18 record, however he trained last year’s runner up in Looking at Lee as well as another second place finisher in Nehro.
The prestigious Winchell Thoroughbreds, owners of champion Gun Runner, have many races on their résumé, but have drawn a blank in the Derby. Combatant is also owned by Willis D Horton, owner of Will Take Charge who was a champion three-year-old but failed to capture the Derby.
Ricardo Santana Jr will have the mount on Combatant and he too will be seeking his first Kentucky Derby , after an unsuccessful try earlier on Creator, and last year a 12th place finish with Untrapped. Asmussen and Winchell have had many successes together throughout the years, but the derby has been elusive. They will look to carry the success of 2017 into 2018 by starting with a Kentucky Derby win.
Combatant is one of four horses in the Derby sired by the late Scat Daddy joining Justify, Mendelssohn, and Flameaway. Scat Daddy was a Grade 1 winning Juvenile, who would win the Florida Derby and the Fountain of Youth before being running 18th in the Derby and being retired to stud due to injury.
Scat Daddy has produced impressive runners on many different continents including Lady Aurelia, Caravaggio, Daddys Lil Darling. Scat Daddy is out of Johannesburg, who was also a winner on multiple continents and was a very versatile horse. Combatant’s dam is Border Dispute. Border Dispute is also the dam of Grade 3 winner Long Lashes and Grade 2 placed Mythical Border.
Border Dispute was sired by the late Boundary, a champion sprinter. Boundary was also the sire of Kentucky Derby Winner Big Brown.
When looking at the pedigree of Combatant it seemed he would be best on the turf, which is where he started his career. After a fourth place on the Churchill turf, Asmussen attempted dirt on his next start and he immediately took form. Combatant seems to handle distance and it fits into his late closing style. When it comes to pedigree there should be no worries about Combatant, he’s shown he can take to the dirt, he has the distance bloodlines, and his pedigree is chocked full of graded stakes quality horses.
7-1-3-1 Combatant will look to be the first horse to win the Derby with no stakes wins prior to his start since Giacomo. Although he has no wins other than his maiden this horse cannot be taken lightly. He has never finished farther back than fourth and has faced tough competition throughout. He broke his maiden in his second start at Churchill Downs (his first start was a 4th place on the turf). He then would go on to three straight seconds with those coming to Greyvitos, Mourinho, and My Boy Jack, all three very respected and talented horses. He was bumped early in the Rebel and would go on to finish third behind Magnum Moon and Solomini showcasing a closing style and recovering nicely from a rough beginning. He would then go on to finish fourth behind the same two along with Quip in the Arkansas Derby. He has amassed $388,550 in earnings through his career and he’s a horse that is consistent every race.
What It’ll Take to Win
Combatant has the late closing style and will look to make a large swooping move as they come around the final turn and down the stretch. He’s very similar to Looking at Lee and I’d expect Steve Asmussen would love a similar result. But for Combatant to win this race I think a lot has to happen. First off he has to position well. In a twenty horse race I don’t know if he has the ability to close from too far back. He needs to save ground and energy, but he can’t be buried and stuck behind a wall of horses. If he can sit mid pack and not get stuck on the rail, he’d be in an ideal spot through halfway.
Another factor that would help Combatant would be a blistering pace that he is far away from. If he can get a horse like Promises Fulfilled to set bullet fractions while hopefully drawing other horses to chase, the race sets up even better for Combatant. IF this dream scenario were to play out Combatant would still have to close better than the other deep closers in the race and I’m not sure he can.
However, that was a small scenario in which I believe Combatant might have a chance to win. I wouldn’t however write him off on your exotic plays. His deep closing style should allow him to have some left in the tank when the front runners tire out. Look for him to sneak into the superfecta and maybe the tri as he makes his run late. I don’t think he wins the roses, but he definitely can ruin some tickets on the first Saturday in May.
photos by Holly M. Smith (@kyholmarie on Twitter)