Trainer Doug O'Neill is excited about the Kentucky Derby prospects of Goldencents, who earned a berth in the $2 million race when capturing the Santa Anita Derby last Saturday.
"He came out of the Santa Anita Derby great," O'Neill said Thursday morning at Santa Anita. "He's doing super but it's one day at a time. He was back on the track for the first time today, jogging, and at this point, we would work him nine days out (at Santa Anita, where the colt is based) and fly him (to Kentucky) seven days out. That's the tentative game plan."
Wesley Ward is nothing if not audacious. In 2009, he ventured across the Atlantic with a handful of horses and saddled two stakes winners at Royal Ascot, thus becoming the first U.S.-based trainer to capture a stakes race at England’s most prestigious “carnival.” That surely made an impression on the bluebloods of European racing.
With the First Saturday in May just more than three weeks away, the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com” is winding down and Saturday’s Toyota Blue Grass (Grade I) at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby (GI) at Oaklawn Park will conclude the Second Leg of the Championship Series.
As part of the Second Leg of the Championship Series, points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby on a 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth scale.
Several key riding assignments have been confirmed for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
John Velazquez will stick with Wood Memorial winner and likely Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano, agent Angel Cordero Jr. reported on Wednesday. Velazquez has guided the Todd Pletcher-trained Verrazano to victories in all four career starts but faced a difficult decision due to the fact that he was also the regular rider for Florida Derby winner Orb, another leading Kentucky Derby contender.
The Wood Memorial played out in similar fashion to the Florida Derby a week earlier, with snail-like early fractions that resulted in a low BRIS Speed rating for the winner. Verrazano wasn't flashy but remained unbeaten, narrowly defeating the fast-charging Normandy Invasion, whose runner-up finish resurrected his Kentucky Derby hopes.
Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti's Rose to Gold easily captured her final prep for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks when wiring Wednesday's Grade 3, $400,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park over a sloppy, sealed track. With jockey Calvin Borel aboard, the Friends Lake miss ran to her odds as the 3-5 favorite and paid $3.40, $2.40 and $2.10 for the 4 1/2-length score.
Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert has dominated Oaklawn Park's series of graded preps for the Kentucky Derby, winning the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby a combined eight times since 2010. He will again be a major factor in Saturday's renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, saddling War Academy and Den's Legacy for the 1 1/8-mile fixture that highlights a blockbuster closing day program at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, course.
Uncaptured and Rydilluc will likely vie for favoritism in an oversubscribed field of 15 entered for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
The nine-furlong Polytrack contest and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park about one hour later are the final races in the second leg of the Championship Series on the new Road to the Kentucky Derby point system. The top four finishers from each race will be awarded points toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
“Dawn at the Downs,” the popular Louisville tradition that gives visitors an opportunity to enjoy breakfast in Millionaires Row while watching Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders during morning workouts, returns to Churchill Downs on Tuesday, April 30 through Thursday, May 2.
Dreaming of Julia, 21 ¾-length winner of the Gulfstream Oaks (Grade II), and undefeated Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) winner Unlimited Budget arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday at 6:50 p.m. EDT and will continue their preparations for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) beneath the Twin Spires.
Trainer Chad Brown was at Keeneland Monday morning and confirmed that Balance the Books would be entered Wednesday for Saturday's Grade 1 Blue Grass and said Noble Tune, who had been considered for the race, instead would make his next start at Churchill Downs. Both colts worked at Keeneland Sunday, Balance the Books covering four furlongs in :48 1/5 and Noble Tune breezing five furlongs in 1:01 1/5.
"I don't feel like (Noble Tune has) handled the Polytrack as well as I would have hoped, but Balance the Books is now a probable to run in there," Brown said.
Flashback, second as the even-money favorite in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, will miss the Kentucky Derby due to a chip in his right knee, trainer Bob Baffert reported Sunday night.
The gray son of Tapit will have surgery to remove the chip and is expected to make a full recovery. Baffert revealed that Flashback should return to training in 60 days in preparation for a return to the races later this year.
The only graded winner entered in Wednesday's Grade 3, $400,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park is Rose to Gold and she certainly will be the one to catch as she gets a final tune-up before the $1 million Kentucky Oaks next month. The chestnut filly is entered with six others in the 1 1/16-mile contest, which will award points on a 100-40-20-10 scale toward qualification of the Oaks.
With the dust still settling on an overcast Sunday morning after Doug O'Neill gave Kevin Krigger a leg up on mutuelly maligned Goldencents who went on to win Saturday's Santa Anita Derby at 6-1, turning back the Bob Baffert-trained even-money favorite Flashback by 1 1/4 lengths, a sense of reason and calm prevailed.
In less than an hour Saturday, two three-year-old fillies owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bill Mott won graded stakes and secured enough points to compete in the Kentucky Oaks on May 3 at Churchill Downs. The first was Close Hatches, who won the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct. The second was homebred Emollient, who captured Keeneland's Grade 1 Ashland by nine lengths.
Mylute, runner-up to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby, continued his preparations for the Kentucky Derby with a half-mile breeze in :50 1/5 over the fast Churchill Downs track on Sunday morning.
"We moved the work up because the weather looks like it could be bad the next few days," trainer Tom Amoss explained.
Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass candidate Noble Tune worked five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 in company with Big Blue Kitten on Sunday over the Polytrack at Keeneland.
Julien Leparoux was aboard Noble Tune while Norberto Arroyo Jr. piloted Big Blue Kitten, who is nominated to the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile on Friday and the $150,000 Ben Ali on April 21.
Clockers caught the pair in fractions of :13, :25 4/5, :37 2/5 and :49 1/5 with a gallop-out time of 1:14 1/5.
Undefeated Verrazano was a happy and hungry horse the morning after his gritty victory in Saturday's Wood Memorial, and is scheduled to depart next Sunday for Churchill Downs as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
"The horse came back in great order," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who now has won three of the past four runnings of the Wood, with Eskendereya (2010) and Gemologist (2012). "Everything is good."
Juddmonte Farms' homebred Emollient finished a disappointing fifth in last Saturday's Gulfstream Park Oaks, beaten 30 lengths by the winner, but trainer Bill Mott never lost faith in his Empire Maker filly.
Instead, the Hall of Fame trainer wheeled her right back off the seven-day rest for the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland at Keeneland on Saturday, and Emollient rewarded that faith with a dominating nine-length wire job in the 1 1/16-mile contest.
After dueling and weakening to fourth in the March 9 San Felipe, Goldencents was overlooked entering Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. But that proved to be a mistake as the three-year-old colt displayed the willingness to relax during the early stages, made his move to the lead entering the stretch drive and comfortably held the favored Flashback safe to the wire.