Master Derby: A Fair Grounds Favorite

Master Derby: A Fair Grounds Favorite
Photo: Blood-Horse Library

Master Derby (blaze) swings for home in the 1975 Preakness Stakes

As New Orleans readies itself for the Feb. 28 Mardi Gras festivities, it’s not surprising that Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, in the midst of its winter season has scheduled six stakes (four graded) for its Feb. 25 card.

Highlighting the day’s events is the 45th Risen Star Stakes (G2), a prep for the April 1 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2).

Originally the Risen Star Stakes was the Louisiana Derby Trial Handicap, until its namesake won that event in 1988, finished third in the Kentucky Derby (G1) before securing the last two legs of the Triple Crown, and earned an Eclipse Award as the 1988 champion 3-year-old male. Little wonder that by 1989 the name of the race was changed.

In 1975 the Louisiana Derby Trial was also won by a 3-year-old who went on to compete in the Triple Crown, finishing fourth in the Derby, taking the Preakness Stakes (G1), and placing third in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

Trained by Smiley Adams, Golden Chance Farm’s Master Derby, a glorious chestnut with a bold blaze, was quite at home at Fair Grounds, winning seven of nine starts (four of them stakes) over a two-year period. His two losses (both at six furlongs) were at the hands of fellow 3-year-old Colonel Power (Diplomat Way), who has a race named in his honor that is also part of the Feb. 25 card.

Robert Lehmann raced Master Derby’s sire Dust Commander to win the 1970 Kentucky Derby, and bred Master Derby from the Royal Coinage mare Madam Jerry in Kentucky. Lehmann died in 1974, and his widow, Verna, continued the Golden Chance colors.

Ten 3-year-olds lined up in the Louisiana Derby Trial starting gate, including Master Derby’s nemesis, Colonel Power, who was favored off his Lecomte Stakes triumph. As expected, Colonel Power set sail for another gate-to-wire sortie and established a five-length advantage at the six-furlong mark of the 1 1/16-mile race.

Master Derby, guided by regular rider Darrell McHargue, was content to bide his time and energy. By the turn into the Fair Grounds stretch, Master Derby had converted a seven-length disadvantage into a 2 1/2-length victory over the floundering Colonel Power. Bold Chapeau finished third.

The pair met again in the Louisiana Derby with a similar scenario playing out over nine furlongs. On this occasion, Master Derby prevailed by a length over Colonel Power and headed to Kentucky where a victory in the Blue Grass Stakes put him among the favorites for the Derby, in which he finished fourth behind Foolish Pleasure. Master Derby turned the tables in the Preakness, scoring over runner-up Foolish Pleasure.

As a 4-year-old, Master Derby again wintered at Fair Grounds where, after getting back into stride with a six-furlong victory in January, he contested the Feb. 7 Whirlaway Handicap, now known as the Mineshaft Handicap (G3) and also part of the Risen Star card. The mile and 40 yards of the Whirlaway proved a tour-de-force for Master Derby, as he won at will by eight lengths over runner-up Strictly Business, owned by William S. Farish III, who bred and raced Mineshaft to Horse of the Year honors in 2003.

Master Derby retired to Gainesway Farm near Lexington, where he sired 31 stakes winners. He died in 1999 at age 27.