LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — For several days this month, Dance With Fate’s Kentucky Derby destiny hung in the balance.
The black colt earned a place in the gate for Saturday’s 140th running at Churchill Downs by winning the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12. Despite vaulting to third place on the Derby points leaderboard with the victory, trainer Peter Eurton and Dance With Fate’s ownership mulled whether he could make the three-week turnaround between that race and the Triple Crown’s marquee event.
They decided the Florida-bred could.
Dance With Fate has shown enough energy and promise in workouts this week that Eurton and jockey Corey Nakatani believe he can overcome his early 20-1 odds and be a factor in the Derby. He drew the 12th post position Wednesday.
“I’m pretty happy,” Eurton said. “It’s a great draw outside of a lot of speed. I think it’s a good spot, just a great place to be.”
But it will be a test for Dance With Fate, who will make just his third start on dirt after building an impressive resume on turf and synthetic surfaces. He has three wins and three seconds in eight career starts, the latest of which suggested to Nakatani that he’s just scratched the surface of his ability.
“He’s earned his way here, that’s half of it,” said Nakatani, who will ride Dance With Fate for the second time. “The other part is, I like his running style. He’s showing me he’s got the credentials to win the race.
“Hopefully, his energy level stays the way it is. Traveling didn’t seem to bother him, and I’m pretty confident in his ability to go out there and give his best. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Bolstering Nakatani’s and Eurton faith is Dance With Fate’s knack for performing when the stakes are high. He preceded his Blue Grass triumph with a runner-up effort in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in California and posted consecutive seconds in Grade 1 races at Del Mar and Santa Anita last year.
Already impressive as a speed horse, Dance With Fate raised his profile even more in the Blue Grass by rallying from deep in the pack to fly past Pablo Del Monte and favored Bobby’s Kitten to win. Just like that, Dance With Fate became a Derby contender, at least points-wise.
But because that win, like Dance With Fate’s wins out West, were achieved on synthetic or turf, the question is whether he can run as well on dirt.
His Derby odds somewhat reflect that doubt, to say nothing of the hurdle Dance With Fate already faces in a 20-horse field led by streaking California Chrome. He was made the 5-2 early favorite and will start from the fifth post position.
On the one hand, the surface might not matter because two of Dance With Fate’s runner-up finishes came on dirt at Santa Anita. But that track also was the site of his eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he was squeezed at the start and never was a factor.
Eurton believes his horse will make the transition to dirt, partly because he has seemed livelier in workouts, including in the slop Wednesday. If anything, Dance With Fate appears eager to build on the momentum from his Blue Grass win.
“I believe there are horses for courses, that old saying goes,” Eurton said. “But he’s amazingly aggressive and nothing really bothers him. I didn’t think there’d be a big process of him getting used to it.
“I just hoped he liked it like other tracks we’ve shipped him to. I don’t think he’ll have a problem.”