Ask any horseman in this country, and the answer will almost always be the same.
Winning the Kentucky Derby is the most important goal of all, the holy grail if you will, in the sport of horse racing.
Trainer Todd Fincher appeared well on his way to taking a major swing at that goal last month, when Runaway Ghost posted a spirited triumph in the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby for owner/breeder Joe Peacock under jockey Tracy Hebert.
But not all dreams come true, and Runaway Ghost has been taken off the Derby trail by Fincher, who announced last weekend that the son of Ghostzapper would miss the Run for the Roses with a shin injury.
Fincher told reporters the colt came out of his timed workout on Saturday at Sunland Park "sore," and the trainer is "98% sure" the cause is a hairline fracture in one of his shins.
"It looks like he's got a little fracture in his shin," Fincher said. "He started to show some soreness as we were cooling him out after his work this morning."
Runaway Ghost earned a spot in the May 5 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs with a powerful performance in the March 25th Sunland Derby, drawing off to win by 2 3/4-lengths. The injury is expected to sideline Runaway Ghost for the time being, but will not require surgery and should allow the colt to return to the races perhaps this summer.
With the dreams of being draped in roses safely tucked away for another year, Fincher can now concentrate his attention on the New Mexico racing calendar, which turns a new page this weekend with the opening of the spring-summer season at SunRay Park and Casino.
Fincher wrapped up the Sunland season this week with record earnings for his barn. Of his 31 winners this season, Fincher's barn amassed earnings topping $1.4 million, with the majority of that coming from Runaway Ghost, but also coming in no small fashion from stakes winners like Sippin, Tilla Cat, Hennessy Express and most recently Hustle Up, who won the $162,000 Copper Top Futurity this past weekend.
In addition, Fincher was most recently recognized as the 2018 recipient of the Bob Haynsworth Sportsmanship Award on Sunday. The award is presented annually to someone who has made a significant contribution to the sport of racing.
In all, Fincher's barn won eight stakes races at the most recent season at Sunland Park, which should have the operation on all systems go when the newest season of live racing opens this weekend at SunRay Park and Casino.
"We had a really good season at Sunland. We aim for quality, starting off with a large quantity but I don't like to keep a large number of horses," Fincher said in a recent interview. "We end up with a good number. I take the pride in keeping those horses healthy enough for them to continue on."
Fincher will be part of a tremendous backstretch of some of the region's leading conditioners when racing opens on Saturday at SunRay. But as is the case with many horsemen in the industry, it's not just about the name inside the program, but the people involved in the operation, namely Todd's father Leroy.
"My father helps me out quite a bit when the barns split up in the spring and summer," explained the younger Fincher. "He goes to SunRay and oversees my horses there and at (The Downs at) Albuquerque as well. What all started out to be a family running horses here and there between New Mexico and Colorado has really come to fruition."
Sippin will make her local debut on Monday in the $40,000 Russell and Helen Foutz Distaff Handicap, the featured event of a strong 10-race program which will wrap up the first weekend of the 33-day season which concludes on June 18.
A nine-time winner from 15 career starts, Sippin comes into the Foutz riding a 2-race win streak. Most recently, she won a state-bred allowance race at Sunland on March 25. Prior to that, the 4-year-old filly owned and bred by R.D. Hubbard posted a dominating, 3-length win in the $85,000 Peppers Pride Handicap on Feb. 18.
The daughter of Swissle Stick has earned more than $432,000 in her career and will be ridden on Monday by Alfredo Juarez, Jr., who narrowly prevailed over Hebert in the race for top thoroughbred jockey at SunRay last year.
Sippin drew the rail in the 6 1-2 furlong Foutz Distaff Handicap, and will likely be sent off as the favorite in the race, which drew a field of nine New Mexico-bred fillies and mares.
Perhaps the main competition for Sippin could come from Woodacouldadid, looking to snap an 8-race losing streak that dates back to last July.
Woodacouldadid is the defending champion in the Foutz Distaff, having won the race as the 9-10 favorite. Trained by J.R. Gonzalez for owner/breeder Terrine Ransier. That was the last time the 7-year-old Minster Eric mare ventured into the winners' circle, but she is a three-time winner here at SunRay and could rebound over a course she has come to like.