150th Kentucky Derby
May 4th, 2024
May 3, 2023

How does a trainer shave one-third of a second off.

Article By: Hal Lundgren

How does a trainer shave one-third of a second off his Quarter Horse's last  350-yard dash?


That's the challenge before the May 19, $209,000 Sam Houston Derby. Ten finalists qualified in heats on April 29. The fastest runners were about one-third of a second apart.  


Trainer Frank Mendez believes seasoning from that race could help his No. 2 qualifier, Lil Perry Wagon, win the final. 


"He raced only once last year at two," Mendez said. "The April 29 race was only his second career start. He needed the experience. He was green.


"He got excited when he went on the track for the post-parade. It was a little crazy. My son (jockey Francisco Mendez) jumped off the horse and didn't get back on until Lil Perry Wagon calmed down. 


"That little horse had his moment. After that, he was fine. He went into the starting gate, got off well, and ran a good race."



Perhaps having two races behind him will equip him with enough poise to win on May 19


Apolittical Dynamite, the third fastest qualifier, ran a "clean" race, according to trainer Alvin Francis. There were no bumps from other runners. 


"For him to run a better race, I'll need to keep training him and also keep him happy," Francis said. Happiness would result from keeping Apolittical Dynamite well-fed and hydrated.


A few days before the final, Francis said he would take his horse into the starting gate and let him stand there. 


"We won't practice starts," he said. "We'll just let him get familiar with the gate again. 


"He's ready to race," Francis said, dismissing any reason to put the 3-year-old through hard training. "There's no need to have him on the track to breeze through workouts when he's already fit for the final.


"On race day, we'll have done all we can. It will be up to the horse and the jockey."

Jess Good Wine qualified fastest in 17.323 seconds. That time was .306 of a second faster than Lil Perry Wagon. 


They were followed by Apollitical Dynamite, Delight Interest, Daddy Caliente, Tdz Jambalaya Wave, Tic To The Dance, Passage of a Woman, Sygnyfycant Impact, and Eagle Powers. 


The slowest qualifier, Eagle Powers, clocked in at less than half a second slower than Jess Good Wine. 


In the final, family ties will be on display. Mr. Jess Perry is either the sire or grandsire of four qualifiers, including the top two.