LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Pyro has been going about his business, galloping on the racetrack, schooling in the paddock, unconcerned about who sees him in the barn being given a bath.
And in his barn at Keeneland, assistant trainer Scott Blasi, who has been with Pyro for the horse's entire professional career, said he isn't worried about the competitors in today's Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes.
"All we can do is train our horse," Blasi said. "I have no idea what anyone else is doing. Shaun [Bridgmohan, Pyro's jockey] knows what we want and he's always out for the best interest of Pyro. Always.
"We're very confident that Shaun will put him in position to win. But we can't ride the other horses."
Horse racing isn't like basketball or football, in which an opposing team in need of a win might easily plan a special defense or create a new game plan to stop an opposing team. But it is, sometimes, like auto racing, in which horsepower is also involved, and in which two cars, like two horses, can work together to outdistance their rivals.
Occasionally, a trainer will send two horses in a race with one designated as the "rabbit." When Maryland-based trainer Graham Motion did that in races featuring 2004 Breeders Cup Turf champion Better Talk Now several years ago, he did it to create a pace suitable to his horse's closing (come-from-behind) ability. He said at the time that it was a common practice in Europe, though rare to see in the United States.
Since then, there have been more rabbits, and one was seen last Saturday at the Wood Memorial when trainer Bill Mott sent Inner Light to the front to pressure the favorite, War Pass, into burning himself out. It was a calculated effort to open the door to the other half of his WinStar Farm entry, Court Vision.
It worked, sort of. War Pass was tired out, but the door also was opened to Tale of Ekati, who won the race. Afterward, Ekati's jockey, Edgar Prado, thanked Inner Light for doing the dirty work that made his win possible.
Thursday night here, at the Blue Grass Stakes preview dinner, Robert LaPenta, who owns two horses in today's race - Cool Coal Man and Stevil - reminded everyone of last week's Wood, in which War Pass, whom he also owns, was done in by the rabbit.
"We're all aware of the rabbit strategy," he said when asked about Stevil's chances in the Blue Grass. "Well, we're going to take the other position in the rabbit and tortoise story. We're going with the tortoise theme. We're going to position Stevil right in front of Pyro, run slow and not let him pass."
It was a joke that drew laughter, but certainly if anyone in the field could figure out a way to slow Pyro, winner of the Grade III Risen Star Stakes and the Grade II Louisiana Derby, they would certainly do it.
Pyro is maturing just the way trainer Steve Asmussen and Blasi had hoped.
In fact, Asmussen, who also trains Horse of the Year and Dubai World Cup Classic winner Curlin, is so sure of Pyro that he has decided his presence is not needed and will be at the Arkansas Derby today.
In Arkansas, the Grade II, $1 million race has attracted a full field of 14, with no substantial favorite. Asmussen has Z Fortune, King's Silver Son and Ablaze With Spirit there for a final attempt at winning a race that will give them the necessary earnings to make the Derby field.
Pyro, with $1.02 million in graded earnings, is already assured a spot in the Derby. What Asmussen wants in the Blue Grass is a strong work and a safe race.
"He's never run on Polytrack," said Blasi, whose horse is one of eight in the field who has never tried the surface. "So we don't know how he'll do. But we think it is the safest surface to get our horse to the Derby physically sound."