Racing News

Alpha schools in the gate at Belmont Park

  • Alpha (NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)

Grade 3 Withers winner and Grade 1 Wood Memorial runner-up Alpha continues to school at the gate at Belmont Park in preparation for the May 5 Kentucky Derby.

Ever since Alpha was fractious in the starting gate prior his 11th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and his team have made a concerted effort to improve the colt's behavior at the gate.

"He stood in the gate this morning," assistant trainer Artie Magnuson said. "He was really, really good. We need to keep going. In the afternoon he gets cranked up. Last time (in the Wood Memorial), we didn't have a man in with him. It was (NYRA starter Roy Williamson's) idea at the gate. He said, 'Why don't we try to leave a guy out, but we'll watch. If Ramon (Dominguez) wants someone, we'll grab him.' Sometimes a colt will get distracted. They've done a great job with him."

Magnuson said Alpha likely will breeze at Belmont on Saturday and will fly to Kentucky on Monday. After arriving at Churchill Downs, the Godolphin Racing representative will receive additional gate schooling.

"We'll stand him in the gate at Churchill, and do it their way," Magnuson said. "He's not that terrible, so we'll probably stand him and they'll get to know him, and whatever way they want to do is fine with us."

Like the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Kentucky Derby will be conducted at Churchill Downs in front of a large crowd. Drawing from his experience from ponying Majestic Shore to post for the 1984 Kentucky Derby, Magnuson described the electric atmosphere on Kentucky Derby Day.

"That's a crazy day," said Magnuson. "It is so loud. It's unbelievable. You feel like you're so small. It's crazy."

Magnuson's sensory overload was understandable, considering it was the first time he had ever ponied a horse to post.

"They asked, 'Do you want to pony one?'" Magnuson recalled. "I said, 'I don't know how to do it.' And they said, 'We need 20 people! Just follow No. 15. Just follow him.' It was (the eventual winner) Swale. I just followed him. It was wild."