With his win in
the Wood Memorial, a focused Nobiz Like Shobiz took center stage among Kentucky
EARLY IN 2006
trainer Barclay Tagg went to a farm in central Florida to take stock of the
racehorses that would soon be under his care. One of them was Nobiz Like
Shobiz, a colt so impressive that Tagg immediately pulled out his cellphone and
called Nobiz's owner, Elizabeth Valando, at her winter home in Palm Beach.
"Mrs. Valando," Tagg said to the widow of former Broadway music
publishing tycoon Tommy Valando, "if this isn't a Triple Crown horse, I
don't know what one looks like." Never before had Tagg so swiftly called an
owner to praise a horse's potential, and never had he touted a 2-year-old so
More than a year
has passed, and Tagg, who won the first two legs of the 2003 Triple Crown with
the popular gelding Funny Cide, was right about Nobiz Like Shobiz. Following a
win in the Wood Memorial at frigid Aqueduct last Saturday, Nobiz is one of the
favorites for the Kentucky Derby on May 5. Yet heading into the final prep
races—this Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Kentucky's Keeneland Race Course,
and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs—no horse has separated
himself from the pack.
Scat Daddy, one
of prolific trainer Todd Pletcher's small army of potential Kentucky Derby
starters, has won five of his eight lifetime starts, including the Florida
Derby on March 31. On the same day as the Wood, Pletcher's fast-improving
Cowtown Cat won the Illinois Derby, and Tiago, a half-brother to long-shot 2005
Derby champ Giacomo, was the upset winner of the Santa Anita Derby.
So the Kentucky
Derby picture remains muddled, which makes Tagg's deft handling of Nobiz Like
Shobiz particularly significant. After winning two of his three starts as a
2-year-old, Nobiz beat Scat Daddy in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on
Feb. 3 but then ran erratically and finished third in the Fountain of Youth on
March 3. In that race Nobiz ducked in on the straightaway, apparently spooked
by crowd noise in the homestretch.
To combat what he
called the colt's "immaturity," Tagg put blinkers on Nobiz and cotton
in his ears. Nobiz responded by dismissing Pletcher's highly regarded Any Given
Saturday and holding off the fast-closing Sightseeing to win the Wood by half a
length in a relatively pedestrian 1:49.46.
Cide's run Tagg was often terse with the media, squirming under the spotlight
as he tried to manage a high-strung horse and 10 fun-loving owners. "I got
a reputation for being a grump," he says. With a calmer horse and nine
fewer owners, he is better prepared this time.
Fountain of Youth, a writer reminded Tagg that football teams often prepare for
hostile crowds by pumping loud noise through speakers during practices.
"Maybe I can get people to honk their car horns on the turn when [Nobiz]
works in the morning," said Tagg, laughing. However, he is clearly serious
about making a deeper footprint in horse racing history. "When you win one
Derby, people can say it was a fluke," he said a week before the Wood.
"They don't say it when you win two."
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More horse racing news and analysis from Tim Layden.