If Mighty Appealing had a lawyer, he'd be filing a malpractice suit against trainer Dean Gaudet this morning.
It was understandable when Gaudet misread the condition of her colt, confidently entered him in the Hutcheson Stakes, and saw him trounced. It was unprofessional when she ignored the evidence of that defeat, rationalizing and blaming her jockey, and sent him into the Fountain of Youth Stakes to suffer another crushing defeat.
But for Gaudet to ignore both those races and enter Mighty Appealing this morning in Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, is an embarrassment and a disgrace. She's going to ruin this nice colt.
Mighty Appealing may never have been a superstar, but as a 2-year-old he was fast, consistent and had the stamina to win at a mile or more. Gaudet properly decided to give him his chance to run in the 3-year-old classics, but it has been obvious since Mighty Appealing arrived in Florida that something is wrong with him.
He has trained poorly and raced poorly. In fact, his performance in the Fountain of Youth was bad beyond belief. Jockey Vincent Bracciale Jr. delivered a perfect ride, getting his mount to the rail to stalk the faint-hearted speedsters who were setting the pace. He saved ground, and swung outside the leaders while his main rivals, Proud Truth and Stephan's Odyssey, were parked seven and eight horses wide on the turn.
Even if Mighty Appealing had won, good handicappers would have knocked him on the grounds that he benefited from such a perfect trip. But with this optimal fortune, he still could only finish eighth, 14 lengths behind the same rivals he is being asked to face again Saturday.
If Mighty Appealing were a horse with no talent whatsoever, Gaudet's venture into the Florida Derby would be an innocuous exercise in futility. But when a good horse trains and races the way Mighty Appealing has this winter, something is probably hurting him. But since a horse can't talk, the only way he can tell his trainer that something is wrong is through his actions. Mighty Appealing has been trying to give Gaudet a message all winter, but she keeps ignoring him.
When a horse is off form, the trainer has to give him a chance to recuperate or he won't have a horse left. Roger Laurin found himself in such a position as Chief's Crown, the champion 2-year-old of 1984, has trained poorly this winter. But Laurin had the sense to alter all his plans, to buy as much time as he could until he had to shove Chief's Crown into competition. That's what Woody Stephens did when Devil's Bag started to falter last spring.
Persevering with a horse who is off form will only aggravate his problems. But Gaudet has stuck doggedly to her original schedule for Mighty Appealing, rationalizing her way through it. "In the Fountain of Youth," she said, "he came back a dead-tired horse. He really needed that race and he came out of it good in every other way. We want to go on to a mile and an eighth with him and that's the Florida Derby."
If only the horse shared her enthusiasm.