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DIARY OF A DERBY HORSE
Elliott Burch
April 17, 1972
No man living has rivaled the author's record of training three Horses of the Year. And few handle such fine racing stock. From his colts, Burch chose one above all for the classic 3-year-old races—Key to the Mint. Here is his training journal
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April 17, 1972

Diary Of A Derby Horse

No man living has rivaled the author's record of training three Horses of the Year. And few handle such fine racing stock. From his colts, Burch chose one above all for the classic 3-year-old races—Key to the Mint. Here is his training journal

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Key to the Mint is a mahogany bay half brother to the 1970 Horse of the Year, Fort Marcy, which of itself might make one think he could have Kentucky Derby prospects. But there were other, and better, indications late in his 2-year-old season. He won three of his final four races, finishing with a victory in the Remsen Stakes, a race that has been won by such fine horses as Jim French, Damascus and Northern Dancer. It also has been won by some duds, but let's be optimistic.

Because he was larger than many colts his age. Key to the Mint was raced sparingly last year at two, just 10 starts. The hope was that as a 3-year-old he would develop his best form, in fact, just in time for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

After the Remsen in late November, KTTM was unwound gradually. If a racehorse is stopped abruptly in his training, he loses condition, his muscles ache and he may become unruly and nervous. So KTTM received shorter and shorter gallops. Through December he was given long daily walks. During this period he was vaccinated for VEE, as most states require this nowadays. For a while horsemen were alarmed by reports of the vaccine's effects—it was said to cause brain damage—but actually the consequences appear mild. KTTM's temperature rose slightly, to 101� from the normal 100�. The stable veterinarian prescribed rest—he said to do nothing but walk the colt for at least two weeks.

My horses—18 of them, all belonging to Paul Mellon—were flown to Miami on Dec. 17 and vanned to Hialeah. Racehorses travel first class. They had the plane to themselves, and the shipping bill ran close to $7,500. Since I did not plan to run KTTM until the opening day of the Hialeah meeting, March 3, he did little in the remaining weeks of December. It takes approximately two months to get a horse back into racing shape.

KTTM is my best Derby prospect, certainly, but there are other colts in the barn that could make it to the big race, too. They will appear in this diary from time to time as workmates of KTTM. So to introduce the cast of characters. Head of the River is a chestnut half brother to Run the Gantlet, the 1971 Turf Horse of the Year. He started only four times last season and like KTTM ended the year well. In his final race he was third to the 2-year-old champion, Riva Ridge. Straight To Paris is another lightly raced colt; he started just twice in 1971, winning his first race and placing third the next time. Finally, the last and least (he is the smallest) of the lot is Idle Answer, a son of Tom Rolfe and grandson of Bold Ruler. There is nothing puny about that breeding.

During January the colts worked slowly twice a week. On other days they were galloped leisurely a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half. Training thoroughbreds is far from an exact science. It is often a matter of trial and error. But a trainer who has had classic horses in his barn before can base the training of his current crop on experience. I've been lucky, winning three Belmont Stakes with Sword Dancer, Quadrangle and Arts and Letters. I've been shut out so far in the Kentucky Derby—two seconds. This is the year to change that!

Feb. 2—The campaign begins in earnest. KTTM had his first workout of the season in company (with Head of the River). My exercise riders, Norman Kerr and Mike Kay, are both superb judges of pace. They know how fast their horses are going, which many famed jockeys do not, and can give reliable opinions about a colt's performance. This morning KTTM, with Kerr up, seemed keen to compete. The time was satisfactory, three-eighths of a mile in 38 seconds. As a gauge for those unfamiliar with racing times, a horse running one furlong in 12 seconds is going at a fairly rapid rate; he should continue, two furlongs in .24, three in .36, and so on. Both horses were sound after the work and ate their feed. KTTM loves his groceries. His daily diet is rather prosaic. He gets as much clover hay as he wants, which is usually half a bale, about 10 quarts of oats in three feedings (3:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 4 p.m.) and a vitamin supplement.

Feb. 3—No excitement today, but KTTM was more eager galloping because of his breeze yesterday. He was very playful walking off the track, and I told John Veitch, my assistant, to have the colt's groom, Sylvester Cook, walk out to the track and lead him home from now on.

Feb. 4—My first stop mornings is at KTTM's stall. He seemed bright and his legs are cold and clean. Before he goes to the track each morning, at least three of us check him over. His groom has cared for nearly every one of my classic horses beginning with Sword Dancer in 1959. I try to pick the best prospects for Sylvester at the beginning of a season because he is so meticulous and, all right, I'm superstitious. I figure he and I have something going for us. This morning Kristie Duckett, my exercise girl, galloped KTTM as Norman was busy elsewhere. The horse responds well to Kristie—she was his first rider as a 2-year-old—but I was a little leery lest he be too much of a handful for her.

Feb. 5—Routine. Ran into Lucien Laurin, the trainer of Riva Ridge. He seemed concerned that his horse wasn't carrying enough flesh. Personally, I don't believe Riva Ridge will ever carry much flesh, which would not bother me if he were in my barn. Skinny horses seem to last much longer than gross ones. What am I saying! KTTM probably is 150 pounds heavier than Riva Ridge.

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