Centennial Looks To Change Luck In Florida Derby
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Centennial Farms has had its share of bad luck in Gulfstream Park’s premier races for 3-year-olds over the years, but its principles will send Arch Traveler to post in Sunday’s Florida Derby (G1) with nothing but high hopes.
Established in 1982, the Boston-based ownership group was built for the long haul and is not so easily discouraged by a few unfortunate twists of fate – which is not to understate the strong sense of disappointment caused by a pair of disqualifications from first money.
Centennial owned a minority interest in the Will Farish’s Lil’s Lad, who was disqualified from first in the 1998 Florida Derby for drifting out into Cape Town, who was awarded the victory. The Centennial-campaigned Corinthian finished first in the 2008 Fountain of Youth (G2) and was subsequently placed third for an erratic stretch run.
Of course, the abundant success that Centennial has enjoyed during the past 28 years has helped to ease any disappointments that may come its way.
Established by Donald Little, Centennial closely followed Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable into the innovative business of forming ownership groups, which spread the wealth among several partners while limiting expenses. Centennial purchases approximately 10 horses at auctions each year while forming 2 or 3 partnerships each year.
A lot of people have visited winner’s circle all over the country under the Centennial banner with such stars as Colonial Affair, the 1993 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner and 1994 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) victor, 1992 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Rubiano, 1988 Acorn (G1) winner Aptostar, and Corinthian, the 2007 Met Mile (G1) winner, among so many major stakes winners.
The Centennial team, now led by Don Little J., includes Dr. Stephen Carr and Paula Parsons, who head the buying team. Carr, a veterinarian, also serves as the racing manager. Parsons breaks the horses at Centennial’s Middleburg, Va. farm. Parson also freelances and broke trainer Nick Zito’s two Kentucky Derby winners, Strike the Gold (1991) and Go For Gin (1994).
Centennial has employed several prominent trainers, including Hall of Famers Allen Jerkens and Scotty Schulhofer, and now most of its horses are entrusted to Jimmy Jerkens, who saddled Corinthian for victories in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G2) and Met Mile.
“After Scotty retired we were looking for someone like Jimmy, who would be the Number one trainer in hopefully a long-term relationship. We’re always looking for longevity and consistency,” Little said. “I’ve known him since I was 14 years old through our association playing polo. His dad was our very first trainer. Dad and I used to go to Long Island to play polo in tournaments against them. We struck up a long friendship through polo that migrated into racing.”
Centennial currently has seven horses, including Arch Traveler, in Jerkens’ public stable. Arch Traveler, who was purchased for $260,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September sale, is owned by a group of 16 partners.
Arch Traveler, a two-time winner at the Gulfstream meeting, will be making the jump from entry-level allowance race to Grade 1 company in the Florida Derby – an unusual move by an old-school trainer like Jerkens. Yet, the astute horseman understands that the thoroughbred game has changed.
“When you break it down, it’s not as big a difference as it used to be. Horses come to hand quicker. The breed’s different. They don’t seem to need the amount of seasoning that they used to. They do, but not to the same degree,” Jerkens said. “I had a horse that won the Travers last year and when he left here, he hadn’t been past three-quarters of a mile.”
Jerkens, who saddled late-developing Afleet Express for victory in the Travers (G1), was particularly encouraged by Arch Traveler’s successful jump from a seven-furlong maiden race to a 1-1/8-mile allowance race last time
“It’s a lot, especially when you’re going up in class too. He’d just broken his maiden going seven furlongs then going up against winners going a mile and an eighth,” Jerkens said. “If you have a horse that goes up in distance and class and wins, you’re pretty sure you’ve got a nice horse.”