An Old Fashioned Derby Horse

Mike Jensen and I sneaked away from the office Monday afternoon to watch Old Fashioned, the local Kentucky Derby hopeful, take his next step toward Churchill Downs in the $250,000 Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

We had put in a long day and felt we deserved it. Plus, it could be marked down as research and mileage to the Turf Club in Brandywine is no small thing.

The dark grey colt, owned by Rick Porter's Wilmington-based Fox Hill Farms and trained at Delaware Park by Larry Jones, is trying to take the same Arkansas path to the Derby that was previously trod by Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin and Eight Belles.

The Porter/Jones partnership has come close to glory before, sometimes tantalizingly, sometimes tragically. Hard Spun was second in the Derby and second in the Breeders Cup Classic in 2007. Eight Belles was runner-up in last year's Derby, but broke down just past the finish and was lost.

Old Fashioned is a handsome horse, but far from a monster. He is more of a lean whippet, with speed to burn and a nice pedigree (Unbridled's Song-Collect Call) for the distances that lie ahead.

On Monday, he hooked up in an early speed duel with Silver City, another colt sired by Unbridled's Song who is trained by Oaklawn-based Bret Calhoun. The early fractions were blazing: 22.2 for the quarter and 45.4 for the half-mile. (By comparison, the next-best race on the card was a sprinter's race -- albeit fillies and mares -- and they bettered those fractions.)

Detractors can pick apart the race and say the two colts backed up a bit in the final half-mile and weren't chased by much. True and true. But Old Fashioned, with Ramon Dominguez up, went past Silver City on the second turn and opened up what became a finishing gap of 3 1/4 lengths. The final time for the mile was 1:37.2 and that's a pretty good tuneup.

Old Fashioned is now 4-0 and will stay at Oaklawn in preparation for the March 14 Rebel Stakes. If all goes well there, he will take on the Arkansas Derby and then move to Kentucky. The colt remains one of the top choices among early Derby candidates and maybe Porter and Jones will get luckier this time.

Jensen and I weren't that lucky, but at least we didn't have to go back to the office. And we got mileage.