Shivananda Parbhoo has not exactly followed a conventional path to the Kentucky Derby. He bought his colt, Trinniberg, almost by accident. He employs his 72-year-old father as his trainer. He decided to run Trinniberg at Churchill Downs on Saturday even though the speedster has never raced as far as a mile and appears unprepared for the Derby’s demanding 1¼-mile distance.
But this much is almost certain: Trinniberg is going to have a significant impact on the 138th Derby. It just may not be the type of impact that the owner imagines.
The 47-year-old Parbhoo grew up in Trinidad, and got interested in the sport as a child; his father, Bisnath, was an ardent racing fan who worked part-time assisting a horse trainer.
The family moved to the United States in 1990. (As a result of a clerical error in the immigration process, Bisnath’s last name was misspelled “Parboo”— the spelling that will appear in the Churchill program Saturday.) They got into the trucking business in the New York area, and the father wanted to get into thoroughbred training.
Training a stable of family-owned horses, he proceeded to lose 90 races in a row. “He was going ‘old school,’ doing what he did in Trinidad,” his son said. The father eschewed legal medications such as Lasix that are an essential part of every U.S. trainer’s arsenal.
But when the family moved to Florida in 2010, Bisnath changed his ways and started winning at nearly a 25 percent rate against the weaker competition at Calder Race Course. He did a textbook job of managing the high-class sprinter Giant Ryan to six straight victories last year.
The addition of Trinniberg to the stable was purely serendipitous. As Parbhoo tells the story, he was in Ocala, Fla. — the heart of the state’s horse country — when somebody told him that an auction of 2-year-old thoroughbreds was underway at the Ocala Breeders Sales Co. Parbhoo went there strictly as a spectator — he didn’t even have a sales catalogue — but a colt in the auction ring caught his eye. “I didn’t even know who his mother or father were,” he recalled, “but I liked the way he looked. I started bidding on him and got him for $21,000.”
Three months later, the colt led all the way to win a five-furlong dash at Calder, and Parbhoo declared: “This is my Kentucky Derby horse.”
Trinniberg showed almost uncontrollable speed as a 2-year-old — he once ran a quarter mile in a breathtaking 20.96 seconds — but he faded in most of his races. This spring, however, he won seven-furlong stakes at Gulfstream Park in impressive fashion, signaling that he was ready to take the next step in his development, and there was a perfect spot to do it: the one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill. Parbhoo announced that Trinniberg would run in that race, then quickly changed his mind. “I think he’s a better horse than the Derby Trial,” he said.
Parbhoo envisions Trinniberg using his superior quickness to take the early lead in the Derby, while the jockeys on his rivals refrain from getting into a suicidal duel with him. “They’re going to give him the lead and hope he’s going to stop,” Parbhoo predicted. “I don’t know long he can go,” he conceded, “but I have to give the horse a chance.”
Racing fans regularly root for low-profile owners and trainers who take a chance on beating the big boys in the Kentucky Derby. They should relish the story of a trainer making his first mark in the game after the age of 70. But fans who understand the basics of the game will deplore the Parbhoos for abdicating their responsibilities to their horse.
Any athlete, human or equine, needs proper conditioning to undertake a tough physical challenge for the first time. There are 137 years of evidence to prove that a 3-year-old needs to get the conditioning for the Derby by racing farther than a mile multiple times. In Saturday’s 20-horse lineup, 19 of the prospective runners made their last start at 11 / 8 miles. And then there’s Trinniberg.
Even if he were cut out to be a Derby horse, he couldn’t succeed with this lack of preparation. But Trinniberg has never looked like a potential Derby horse (except to his owner.) He acts like a pure sprinter and is bred like a pure sprinter. (His father, Teuflesberg, was a sprinter-miler who tired and finished 17th in the 2007 Derby.)
An undertrained human athlete who imprudently enters a marathon at least has the option to quit when he runs out of gas. He doesn’t have somebody whipping him to keep going past the point of exhaustion. Parbhoo’s decision to run Trinniberg in the Derby could compromise the future of a colt with the potential to be a star sprinter.
But handicappers cannot ignore Trinniberg as they might ignore other long shots in the field. A single sprinter can change the dynamics of the Derby by going so fast that everyone close to him becomes a victim of the fast pace — even though rival jockeys are trying to restrain their mounts. This has been a frequent Derby scenario. In 1986, the brilliant sprinter Groovy flew the first half-mile in 45.2 seconds. Not only did he finish last, but every horse within 14 lengths of him at the half-mile mark wound up being trounced.
A super-fast pace by Trinniberg could affect rivals such as Hansen, Bodemeister and Take Charge Indy, who have all scored front-running victories in Grade I stakes and who will be near the lead in the Derby. Parbhoo’s quixotic Derby venture could prove to be as bad for these contenders as it is for his own horse.
For Andrew Beyer’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/beyer.