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John Clay: Vicar's in Trouble a little horse in Derby field, but he doesn't know it

LOUISVILLE — This Kentucky Derby could be the story of how a horse who could win a very big race comes in a very small package.

So just how small is Vicar's in Trouble?

"I would just say small for what you're expecting to see for a Derby horse," said trainer Mike Maker on Wednesday.

"He's got a little tiny head," said jockey Rosie Napravnik. "Maybe that makes him look smaller."

After all, to this point, the little Louisiana-bred, owned by Nicholasville's Ken and Sarah Ramsey, has sure run big, winning the Lecomte Stakes and the Louisiana Derby.

In fact, Vicar's in Trouble entered Wednesday's Kentucky Derby draw No. 2 in the points standings behind California Chrome.

"He's got a great big stride," Napravnik said. "And he's extremely well put together. If you look at any of the photos of him, if you weren't standing near him, you'd think he was as big as anybody else."

Bred in Louisiana by Spendthrift Farm, the horse's size, or lack thereof, drove his original purchase price down to $8,000 as a yearling at the 2012 Equine Sales Louisiana September Sales. The Ramseys bought the son of Into Mischief for $80,000 at the Fasig Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old sales last May.

He's won three of five starts since. After breaking his maiden with a 13-length win at Fair Grounds last December, the horse began turning heads in January by winning the Lecomte by 6¾ lengths.

"The way he rated off a horse and settled and did it very classy and drew off that was when, wow, he's the real deal," Napravnik said. "Everybody had questions being a Louisiana-bred. What had he beaten in that maiden race? But he showed that day he was ready to take it to the next level and he really has."

As the 5-2 favorite, he ran a disappointing third behind Intense Holiday and Albano in the Risen Star on Feb. 22 before bouncing back nicely in the Louisiana Derby.

Vicar's in Trouble won that March 29 Grade II by 3½ lengths over Intense Holiday and Commanding Curve, leading every step of the way.

"He's a horse that's really done everything right from day one," Napravnik said. "He's moved forward in all of his races. He stretched out from sprinting to going long as well as any horse can. He's gone further and further in great order."

Maker has sent the horse to the track very early, too early for most observers, but claims Vicar is doing well.

"He was a horse that after his races he would have some weight loss and so forth," said Maker, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas. "After the Louisiana Derby and the ship up here, he really bounced back and put on weight and really looks well."

A Louisiana-bred has never won the Kentucky Derby, however. Vicar's in Trouble would be just the third Louisiana-bred to start in the race, the first since Zarb's Magic finished 13th in 1996.

Meanwhile, the Ramseys have another Derby entrant in the Todd Pletcher-trained We Miss Artie. Maker has two other Derby entries in General a Rod and Harry's Holiday.

"I wish I was managing 19 or 20," the trainer joked when asked about splitting time among entries.

So what sort of pace Saturday might benefit Vicar?

"I don't think (the pace) really matters for him," Maker said. "I'm just gonna let Rosie place himself. When we tried to take him back in the Risen Star he kind of resented it a little bit, so we're going to let him place himself. If it's front so be it, if it's 10th it's 10th, as long as he's happy."

There is a case to be made that a small horse has an advantage in a 20-horse field. Bigger horses tend to find traffic problems. Nimble, more explosive horses can accelerate out of trouble. And Vicar's in Trouble is explosive.

"Absolutely," Maker said Wednesday.

So enough about being small.

"He's a little horse but he doesn't know it," said the trainer. "He doesn't run like it."

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