The following piece appeared in The Racing Biz and was written by Nick Hahn.
For the first time in eight years, a Virginia-bred is back in the Kentucky Derby. He figures to be a longshot, but his trainer, Dale Romans, is fine with that, as he has made the most of a shot before.
Attachment Rate, bred by Mr. and Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, III at Wolver Hill Farm located just north of Middleburg, Virginia, is a Hard Spun colt out of the winning Afleet Alex mare Aristra. He sold for $100,000 as a weanling at the Keeneland mixed sale in November 2017 and then for $200,000 10 months later at the Keeneland September yearling sale.
The buyer then was Dale Romans as agent; he trains the horse for Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister.
Attachment Rate finished a head better than the 12th horse in a 12-horse race in his first start a little over a year ago at Churchill Downs. He’s been getting steadily better ever since.
After a layoff that extended through the end of 2019, he returned to racing at Gulfstream Park early in 2020 and broke his maiden on February 15 on the showery slop going a mile, winning by over six lengths.
He hasn’t won since but has been stakes-placed in three of five subsequent starts, including a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct in March. Last time out, he was second by just over three lengths to Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby. Art Collector was taken out of consideration for the Derby this morning because of a minor injury.
“He’s always been knocking on the door,” explained Romans on Off to the Races Radio August 29. “Here’s what happens sometimes with these horses. You get into a spot with them where they get hurt, too. He got a little injury and we put him on the shelf and gave him plenty of time to get better and then you’re playing catch-up. With the Derby being in September this year, I think the extra time did him some good, so he’s caught up with everybody in this crop, and I think he’s going to run well.”
Attachment Rate gathered enough points by finishing third in the Gotham (10 pts) at Aqueduct in March, fourth in the Matt Winn (5 pts) back at Churchill Downs in May and second in the Ellis Park Derby (20 pts) in early August. In July, Attachment Rate ran fifth in the 13-horse field of the Grade 2 Toyota Bluegrass stakes at Keeneland won by a familiar foe, Art Collector.
With the extended season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the rescheduled Derby allowed the Romans colt to churn up to 11th in the point standings. Jockey Joe Talamo will get the assignment for owners Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister.
“I think his last race at Ellis Park was his best race. It’s the race I’ve been looking for out of him to know we could go forward,” observed Romans. “The horse that beat him (Art Collector, again) [would have been] third choice, probably second choice. It is good to have a chance. As everyone knows, there is nothing wrong to have a Virginia-bred in the Kentucky Derby. It’s been done before.”
Reigh Count, Secretariat, Pleasant Colony and Sea Hero are Virginia-breds that have won the Kentucky Derby. The last Virginia-bred to start in the Kentucky Derby was Bodemeister, who finished second in 2012 to I’ll Have Another.
The steady, staying-around race history of Attachment Rate reminds you of another Kentucky Derby-winning longshot, Country House, who finished 17th in the point standing last year. Country House was declared the Kentucky Derby winner after Maximum Security, who crossed the line first, was disqualified and placed behind Long Range Toddy, one of several horses he impeded turning for home in the Run for the Roses. The owner of Country House, Jerry Shields, passed away over the winter prior to his homebred winning last year’s Kentucky Derby.
A similar situation surrounds the Iselins. C. Oliver Iselin, III who passed away in 2017, was a Harvard rowing team captain and All-American who served in CIA posts in the north and west of Africa in the 1950s and 1960s.
He learned to play polo in Morocco in the 1950s and continued to play the sport upon his return. His second wife, the former Mary Sprague (Swannie) Cunningham, passed in 2019 having never seeing Attachment Rate race.
The Iselins bred horses over multiple decades, but they never produced a Triple Crown starter. They bred American Dubai, whose 2016 Triple Crown aspirations were dashed by a pair of 13th-place finishes in prep races.
Now, at last, an Iselin-bred horse shows up in the Kentucky Derby with a trainer that frequently has starters that run over their odds. Is this a tough game or what?
Romans won the Preakness with Shackleford (12-1) and finished second three times, with Everfast (29-1), Cherry Wine (17-1) and First Dude (23-1), not exactly cash magnets at the window. Dullahan in 2012 and Paddy O’Prado ran third in the Kentucky Derby, both at 12-1.
In the 2015 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, it was Romans who trained Keen Ice, who, at 16-1, handed American Pharoah the only setback during his eight-race Triple Crown year.
Romans suggests stamina might be one advantage possessed by Attachment Rate.
“I’d like to see him in a good stalking position, even if he has to be a little wide, in the clear. If he could sit four or five lengths off the lead, and hopefully there’s some pressure up front and they’re kind of backing up, he’ll start rolling. He has the stamina,” Romans explained. “I’m kind of hoping that the favorite (Tiz the Law) is getting a little tired. He’s run some monster races, and I don’t know how many he can put together in a row. A couple of horses may not want to go a mile-and-a-quarter; I know we will.”
Attachment Rate will break from the 13-hole in the Kentucky Derby, which has attracted an 18-horse field. He’s 50-1 on the morning line, while favored Tiz the Law, 3-5 on the morning line, breaks from stall number 17.
Attachment worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 at Churchill Downs Sunday morning with exercise rider Faustino Herrarte aboard. That was his last work before the Run for the Roses. Now he lies in waiting.