If A. P. Indian bounced as often as people said he would, he'd be on the barn roof by now.
Green Lantern Stable's 6-year-old gelding, fourth choice in this Saturday's Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, has won all six starts this year - going from winning Monmouth Park's Decathlon in May to five more stakes wins and the edge of a championship by November. He drew post five in a field of nine entered Monday, after putting the finishing touches on his training with a 5-furlong breeze in 1:00 2/5 at Maryland's Fair Hill Training Center over the weekend.
Trainer Arnaud Delacour called the move typical for A. P. Indian, a homebred son of Indian Charlie who has accounted for graded stakes wins in the Belmont Sprint July 9, the Alfred Vanderbilt July 30, the Forego Aug. 27 and the Phoenix Oct. 7 in his last four races. The schedule tested handicappers, who expected a regression somewhere along the line, but Delacour thinks A. P. Indian is a bit of an outlier when it comes to data.
"Here is the thing that I never understood about the numbers," he said. "You cannot treat a horse, an older horse that's tougher and stuff, the same way you treat a 2-year-old or a 3-year-old. I think I had a harder time last year, when I was running him at five weeks, to keep him in racing momentum, than four weeks or three weeks this year.
"The way I see it, he's hard to keep fit. I could go straight from the Forego to the Breeders' Cup but I would have to breeze 6 furlongs and blah, blah, blah and that's why I think it's better to run him. That's my point of view, it doesn't mean it's right."
So far, Delacour has been right with A. P. Indian, who made one start with Tony Dutrow in 2012 and four with Rusty Arnold in 2013 and 2014. The powerful bay won three of six last year, and is perfect in 2016.
Saturday morning at 9, right after the harrowing break, A. P. Indian walked to the track alongside Hector Guiterrez - not for any reason other than the groom wanted to see is big horse breeze. Exercise rider Moises Nava rode to the track with long stirrups, and A. P. Indian dutifully stood in against the outside rail near the gap at the top of the stretch. Delacour, watching from the clockers' stand at the finish line, gave his rider some last-minute instructions.
"OK, Moises, don't wait too long."
By design or luck, the dirt track was basically empty. A. P. Indian and two others occupied the 1-mile oval as bigger sets from other barns trekked across the horsepaths. Nava yanked up the stirrups, and the millionaire moved off. A. P. Indian normally trains early, before the sun, but daylight savings time does not cooperate in late October.
"I tried 6:15, but it is just too dark and I wouldn't see anything," Delacour said with a laugh as his horse galloped past. Nava let A. P. Indian build speed gradually and the fastest horse in Fair Hill (at 6 furlongs anyway) dove into the work. As Delacour called the splits into the radio for Nava, A. P. Indian kept thumping out strides. He reached the wire in 1:00 2/5 - a bullet from 14 works at 5 furlongs on the day and similar to a spate of others all year. At this point in a long campaign, it's not about speed or even fitness - it's about keeping an edge, maintaining condition.
"That's good, that's his type of breeze," Delacour said. "He always does the same and he runs the same way. His start is good, then he gets aggressive in the turn and when he gets to the stretch he's like, 'That's it I'm done.' "
Both Grade 1 wins at Saratoga were over in the final sixteenth and he finished with his ears pricked. In the Vanderbilt, where no horse has gone faster than 1:08 for 6 furlongs, he finished in 1:08.25 while gearing down slightly at the finish. The 7-furlong Forego (about a half-second off the track record of 1:20.40) was even more confident for the Kentucky-bred and jockey Joe Bravo.
A. P. Indian had to work much harder in the Keeneland's Phoenix, which only came into play because of a sloppy track at Belmont a week earlier for the Vosburgh. Breaking from the rail in a field of seven, A. P. Indian was forced to wait in fourth on the turn before coming around horses in the stretch and prevailing by a nose in a long drive while setting a track record of 1:08.43. Delacour loved the race, after the photo was posted anyway.
"The race at Keeneland was pretty impressive to me," said the trainer. "When he usually makes his move, he couldn't. He had to steady and he's never done that. All the races he's won, he's done it from the three-eighths to the eighth pole so I thought that was a pretty good race. He had to dig in."
Just as Delacour finished saying that, A. P. Indian blew out two great breaths while walking back to the barn - sounding content and only briefly winded.
"When he's really fit, that horse, that's what he does," Delacour said. "He's going to do a breeze like that which is a consequential breeze, pull up, take a breath - whew - and then that's it. That's when he's really fit. You're going to see him cool out, he wants to stop, wants to look at the other horses and stuff. A lot of horses, you give them a good breeze like that it takes them awhile to come down from it. This guy comes right back to himself. That's a good sign. The day he is different would tell me he's not really enjoying it and we have to back off."
That will have to wait, though Delacour knows the Sprint will be his horse's toughest test. California speedsters Masochistic, Lord Nelson and Drefong await and were installed as the race's top three choices at 2-1, 5-2 and 7-2 respectively. Masochistic won the Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar in August and is perfect in two starts this year. Lord Nelson is 4-for-4 this year with three wins over the Santa Anita track including a victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Oct. 8. Three-year-old Drefong hasn't lost in three starts this year, including a score in Saratoga's King's Bishop Aug. 27, the same day A. P. Indian won the Forego.
A win probably means a sprint championship for any of the four, and would also mean the first Breeders' Cup victory for Delacour and his wife Leigh (they were fourth with Ageless in the 2014 Turf Sprint). A former assistant to Christophe Clement, Arnaud got his first official win in 2013 and needs eight for 200 lifetime. Leigh, who worked for Graham Motion before starting a stable with her husband, won 208 races as a trainer from 2007-13.
"I don't like to think about it," Arnaud said of a possible win. "I just hope for a good trip and the horse to come back safe. I want him to run well. It's very self-rewarding just to have a runner with some kind of a chance in a race like that. If he wins, that means a lot because I guess the Eclipse is on the table for him and some of the others in the race. The other horses are quick, but there is one thing I don't think I've seen. I don't see any of them really have to fight like he had to the last time at Keeneland. He is tough."
NOTES: The Sprint is the sixth race Saturday with a post time of 1:21 p.m. Eastern . . . A. P. Indian, Miss Temple City and Dancing Rags (the three Fair Hill-based Breeders' Cup contenders) leave at 10:30 Tuesday morning for Newark, N.J., where they will catch a flight for California.
A Little Background
When he came to Saratoga for the Alfred Vanderbilt in July, not many people knew much about A. P. Indian. We went to meet him for a preview in The Saratoga Special.
A. P. Indian takes a turn of the Saratoga receiving barn Friday morning and tries to eat hay - his, his neighbor's, the horse at the end of the barn's. The stocky bay gelding could pass for a Quarter Horse or the future mount of an outrider.
Then - snapping to attention - he makes you take another look. His ears are up, rider Kat Zwiesler is aboard, groom Hector Guiterrez is on the shank and the 6-year-old Indian Charlie gelding is headed to the track. All Thoroughbred. All racehorse.
The Green Lantern Stable homebred makes his Grade 1 debut in today's Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, off three consecutive wins for trainer Arnaud Delacour. The $350,000 race, the ninth of 11 on Saturday's card with an approximate post of 5:40 p.m., drew a field of eight. A. P. Indian would be 4-5 in the eating contest, and is 5-1 in the race.
"He eats, he sleeps, he does whatever you want to do," said Zwiesler, Delacour's assistant who made the trip from Fair Hill Training Center Thursday. "He's so genuine and I think that helps him. Don't get me wrong, he can still get strong - really strong - on the track. And he can wheel, especially when he sees a camera."
Friday, he and Zwiesler jogged a lap-and-a-half of the main track with a pony, toured the paddock, met Guiterrez at the quarter-pole gap and walked back to the receiving barn. No doubt, the Kentucky-bred went back to thinking about eating - though Zwiesler kept him from ripping leaves from the trees. Back at the barn, he scratched his head on Zwiesler's back for a while, had a bath, ate some grass, tried to eat some more grass and made Guiterrez smile.
"He's like a pony," said the groom, who affectionately used the nickname Panzon (Spanish for potbelly). "He's good about everything. I don't have to tie him to the wall or anything. He's a classy horse, a good horse."
He might also be one of the best sprinters in the country.
Delacour took over the gelding's training last year, got him to win a two-other-than at Tampa Bay Downs in February and then back-to-back Mid-Atlantic stakes in the spring. He lost his last two starts of the year, however, sixths in the Tale Of The Cat Stakes here and the Grade 3 Phoenix (to eventual champion Runhappy) at Keeneland in October.
He started later this year and repeated his 2015 wins in the Decathlon at Monmouth (by disqualification) and the Donald LeVine Memorial at Parx. Stepped up to Grade 3 company, he defeated Marking by a head in the Belmont Sprint Championship July 9 to earn a trip to an even tougher spot at Saratoga.
"He's coming back in three weeks, but he is a sprinter and always carries a lot of condition," said Delacour, who seeks his first Saratoga win and first Grade 1 win. "There's nothing easy about a Grade 1 at Saratoga, but he is very legit. Of course, so are most of the horses in the race."
Normally setting or pressing the pace, A. P. Indian sat in behind the leaders going 7 furlongs at Belmont, a trait which could prove valuable in the Vanderbilt.
"He showed another dimension in his last race and we were pleased to see that," said Delacour. "I think (jockey) Joe Bravo really connects to the horse. He understood him right away when he rode him at Parx. That always helps and the horse has responded well to him."
A. P. Indian broke his maiden as a 2-year-old in 2012, but didn't run again for almost a year. He won a 1-mile allowance at Churchill Downs in 2013 and then finished second in three consecutive allowance starts at a mile or more before missing most of another year and emerging with Delacour early in 2015.
After watching a few works, the trainer thought about a cutback in distance.
"I remember thinking, 'Wow, that's sprinter speed,' " he said about an early workout. "He can carry his speed a little bit, but to get to the next level - stakes level - it would be very tough to go two turns with him."