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Speeding in from the Hamptons: Samraat

Samraat, with Jose L. Ortiz aboard, captures the

Samraat, with Jose L. Ortiz aboard, captures the Gotham Stakes horse race at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York, Saturday, March 1, 2014. Credit: AP / Chelsea Durand

The Hamptons are known for magnificent golf courses, oceanfront mansions and the high life of the rich and famous. Horses have their place out there, too, but generally they're show jumpers in the Hampton Classic, not Kentucky Derby contenders. A 3-year-old colt named Samraat has broken that mold, and at Derby parties on Saturday, East Enders from Westhampton to Montauk will have a local hero to root for.

Samraat is a term for a nobleman in India, and he was foaled at Leonard and Louise Riggio's My Meadowview Farm in Water Mill. That's an unlikely locale for a top-class thoroughbred to enter the world, and the circumstances of his arrival were unusual, too. When Little Indian Girl went into labor, she got into an odd position in her stall, with her legs and hind end sticking out into the aisle. Tawnia McKenzie, Meadowview's broodmare manager, said Samraat fell into her arms.

"He's our Hamptons boy," McKenzie said. "I call him Cool Hand Luke. He has this air of 'I'm cool with everything, just don't tick me off.' "

Samraat has shown lots of grit in winning five of six starts, all in New York. His most recent race, a second-place finish 3 1/2 lengths behind Wicked Strong in Aqueduct's $1 million Wood Memorial, was his best, trainer Rick Violette said. "It was the first time he was surrounded and covered up, and he handled it," Violette said. "He came back three times. I was glad he got that experience before the Derby."

Minutes after the 1 1/8-mile Wood, Leonard Riggio, looking concerned, asked Violette if he thought Samraat had done too much in his final Derby prep. The trainer is hopeful Samraat has more left in the tank, because he'll have to max out in the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.

"He ran really hard, and there's nothing you can do about that," Violette said Tuesday. "There are always concerns, and you never know until you run them the next time. I think tough races can make the better horses run better. You have to challenge their systems to put it all on the table. Sometimes horses who get alone on the lead act like King Kong, and then when they get surrounded, they're like Shetland ponies."

Fatigue and traffic trouble cancel much of the field in a 20-horse Derby, a chaotic rodeo that demands so much that many horses are never the same. A slew of front-runners are entered this year, and on paper, the likely fast pace works against Samraat, who never has been farther back than fourth for 20-year-old jockey Jose Ortiz.

"He's very ratable," Violette said. "We've ridden him aggressively, but because he can go into neutral after getting position is what makes him so valuable. We're able to put him behind the speed, and if nobody else goes, we'll be on the lead."

It's the second Derby for the trainer and the owner. Violette was seventh in 2004 with New York-bred Read the Footnotes. Riggio's Noble Causeway, Samraat's sire, finished 14th in 2005. The only New York-bred Derby winner was the gelding Funny Cide in 2003, so Samraat will never face a bigger challenge. Violette is upbeat he'll battle as he always has, and was encouraged by Friday's stamina-building mile workout in 1:45.91 at Aqueduct.

"He's danced all the dances, and he's run well off this type of mile," Violette said. "He's fit, and all systems are great."

Ring Weekend out. Trainer Graham Motion scratched Ring Weekend (fever, infection) Sunday, opening a spot in the Derby field for long shot Commanding Curve.

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