It’s been over forty years since an Illinois-bred has won the Kentucky Derby. And most horses with Chicago connections or Illinois breeding haven’t fared well under the Twin Spires since the days of Lucky Debonair and Dust Commander.
This year, an Illinois-bred, FEAR THE KITTEN, (Kitten’s Joy - Dynarhythm, by Dynaformer) is on the also eligible list for the Kentucky Derby on May 4th, with post position 21. He’ll need one horse from the main body of twenty to defect to get in the gate on The First Saturday in May.
And if FEAR THE KITTEN (front horse in photo above) gets in the gate, he could be a sneaky long odds play that’s worth including in wagers and easily worth rooting for. Why, even though his last two starts appear dismal on the surface? Find out as “Picks and Ponderings” introduces you to the trainer of FEAR THE KITTEN, Michael Maker. (Interview conducted by telephone.)
How did FEAR THE KITTEN come into your barn?
Owner Frank Irvin claimed him for $40,000 at Keeneland on October 24, 2012 in his first career start, a maiden claiming race. [FEAR THE KITTEN won that day at first asking.]
Tell me about the owner, Frank Irvin. What’s it like to work for him?
He’s very good, and he’s an ex-military man. Like me, he’s originally from Michigan.
Let’s go back to his two year old campaign. What made Irvin decide to claim FEAR THE KITTEN?
He’s a fan of Kitten’s Joy, and a fan of their offspring.
After the claim, he went to Churchill to continue his two year old campaign. He won an off-the-turf allowance at a single turn mile over the Churchill dirt in his first start off the claim. (Click here to see his victory.) A few weeks later, he was fifth in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill going 1 1/16 miles on dirt. Such performances put FEAR THE KITTEN on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
The three-year-old campaign started with a third in the G3 Lecomte and a second in the G3 Southwest. Talk about those races that earned FEAR THE KITTEN the points he needs to get on the also eligible list at Churchill. Why a southern campaign for FEAR THE KITTEN and were these races the first choices?
Originally we wanted to take the New Orleans progression. We would stay at the Fair Grounds and start in the G3 Lecomte, then the G2 Risen Star, then finally the G2 Louisiana Derby. We called an audible after the G3 Lecomte and went to the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn in Arkanasas.
FEAR THE KITTEN closes to be second in the G3 Southwest Stakes.
Next came a pair of fifth places finishes in synthetic races, the G3 Spiral and the G1 Blue Grass. Why did you go with synthetic preps instead of dirt preps?
Because of the pedigree. He’s by Kitten Joy, and they [offspring of Kitten’s Joy] have done very well on the polytrack and the turf.
You’ve trained more than a few Derby starters through the years--Hansen, Twinspired, Stately Victor, and so on. How does FEAR THE KITTEN compare to those?
Pretty similar to them. He’s best on turf or polytrack. And he’s got few distance limitations.
You’ve selected Alan Garcia to ride on Derby Day. What other pre-race preparations will you do with FEAR THE KITTEN?
FEAR THE KITTEN is slated to be schooled in the starting gate at Churchill on Thursday May 2.
FEAR THE KITTEN will need help to get in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. But, as the adage goes, “you have to be in it to win it”. With polytrack so different from dirt, one can discard the middling fifth place finishes in the G3 Spiral and G1 Blue Grass. FEAR THE KITTEN also has three top three finishes in four dirt starts. The odds will be high, but he’s a longshot contender worth considering. And as an Illinois-bred, he can carry the flag for Chicago as well. Good luck to FEAR THE KITTEN in the Kentucky Derby.
To learn more about Michael Maker’s stable and accomplishments, click here to learn more.
- First photo of FEAR THE KITTEN and Churchill allowance video courtesy Bloodhorse.
- Photo of Michael Maker courtesy trainer's website.
- Southwest Stakes video courtesy of Youtube.
- Spiral Stakes prerace photo courtesy Jamie Newell.