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Dark Templar could be rags-to-riches Derby contender

By Staff | Mar 23, 2018

Lightly raced Dark Templar just could be in this year’s Kentucky Derby field. He would be mostly unknown and mostly overlooked by the fawning public, and to those searching for a rags-to-riches story for underdog thoroughbreds and trainers.

Raced only three times before Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, Dark Templar does have a semi-spectacular family tree, but isn’t trained by the bluest of bloods, who annually get the cream of the stakes crop to send out to the richest races.

Dark Templar won his first start last fall, winning in a field of 10 by being well-placed near a modest pace and then wearing down the pacesetter to move away to a 1 1/2-length win. After the usual winter layoff, he returned to finish second in late January, and then third. All his races have been at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

The picture-perfect chestnut is owned by Newtown Anner Stud Ltd. and Maurice Regan, and trained by little-known Brendan Walsh, who was born in Ireland and, at age 15, left home to become a jockey. Walsh hasn’t grown any, but has moved on to training after receiving his on-track education at four stops in Europe.

In Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, the winner gets 100 points toward a possible start in the May 5 Kentucky Derby. Second place is worth 50 points, third is awarded 20 points and a fourth-place finish earns 10 points toward a possible Kentucky Derby position.

The purse is $1 million in the Grade II mile-and-an-eighth test.

In general, there are few Louisiana Derby or Fair Grounds thoroughbreds who capture lightning in a bottle in the Kentucky Derby. Derby champions generally come from prep races in Florida, California or New York, but they’ve also come from Sunland Park in New Mexico or Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

Newtown Anner Stud has never shaken racing’s aristocracy and won a Triple Crown stakes race. But they paid $475,000 at the Keeneland (Kentucky) September yearling sale in 2016 for Dark Templar. Mostly based on his stellar confirmation and glittering family tree, Newtown Anner Stud decided to hurl all their caps into the ring. They liked his sire, Tapit (as does nearly everybody connected with racing), and his grandsires, Pulpit and Storm Cat. Farther down on the sturdy branches of his family tree were great grandsires A.P. Indy, Unbridled, Storm Bird and Mr. Prospector.

Even though he has a power-packed backside, Dark Templar isn’t particularly long or tall. As with most three-year-olds, he’s still growing and maturing. He’s Hollywood handsome, if there is such a thing for thoroughbreds. A long, thick chestnut-colored tail adds to his head-turning looks. So does a long, white blaze down his forehead that even covers his nose.

With only three races coming before the Louisiana Derby, Dark Templar is obviously still learning and needs all the schooling he can get if he’s going to Louisville for the acclaimed Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Walsh is an inconspicuous man whose humility isn’t an oft-seen sight among trainers, owners and jockeys at the country’s most influential race tracks. He’s quiet, stays in the background, doesn’t chase down interviewers or photographers and doesn’t plop himself down in front of television cameras with his $1K suit and tony sunglasses.

The unlikely combination of Dark Templar and trainer Brendan Walsh make for a feel-good story come to life. Now, if only they get a start in the Louisiana Derby and do well enough to get on the Kentucky Derby trail – and to stay there.