LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Regardless of how impressive the race by the Kentucky Derby winner, there will be at least a few bettors, horsemen and handicappers who will argue that Java Gold could have done it better.
Trainer Mack Miller and owner Paul Mellon may end up feeling the same way. Even if they do, they will not regret their decision of six months ago to keep the Key To The Mint colt out of the first leg of racing's Triple Crown.
Miller believes the price a 3-year-old pays campaigning for a Kentucky Derby victory is just too high, especially in comparison to the cost of richer triumphs down the road.
Mellon, who has owned three Derby starters, concurs.
"I think the best racing in America is from August on," Miller said late in the Derby prep campaign. "That's why we didn't go. We wanted a fresh horse to go later in the season.
"It takes a special horse to go through the grind and continue later on. They're few and far between."
Java Gold eventually may prove to be that kind of horse. An April 17 foal, he still managed to win three races, including the Grade I Remsen Stakes, at 2. He also ran second in the Grade I Cowdin.
Shortly after the Remsen, Miller and Mellon sat down over drinks to discuss the colt's future.
"I said, 'Mr. Mellon, this is your horse. He'll go anywhere you want, but I really think he needs to grow,"' Miller recalled.
Java Gold won his first two starts this spring by a combined 7 lengths, though both were run in mud. The triumphs prompted some New Yorkers to bet him for the Derby on Las Vegas' winter books, but Miller and Mellon were not tempted to change their minds.
"He's a nice colt, and he had a good, nice winter in South Carolina, but he needed to grow," Miller said. "I hope he'll be in the Belmont, but we don't have to go to the Derby to go to that.
"The Preakness is in the back of my mind too," Miller added. "We'll run him in the Withers Stakes (May 6 at Belmont). The Preakness is 10 days later. We'll see, but the main goal is Belmont."
Mellon is not the only owner who decided against a Derby start for his top 3-year-old.
In case you missed it . . .
Owner James Mills, 79, talked trainer Woody Stephens out of running Gone West, the Gotham Stakes winner and Wood Memorial runner-up, in the Derby. Mills has been ailing and didn't feel up to facing the crowd and stress of Derby Day at Churchill Downs.
There were several other horses who quietly ended their Derby campaigns about the time the starters began shipping to Churchill Downs. Their names and the reasons:
Faster Than Sound, winner of the Bahamas Stakes, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right front ankle.
Harriman, winner of the Cherry Hill Mile, who prepped primarily to prepare for a start at his home track in the Preakness Stakes.
Simply Majestic, whose owner Ted Sabarese and trainer John Parisella forgot to nominate to the Triple Crown races.