It was a quiet morning filled with routine gallops and no drama two days before the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby.
However, a storm is brewing with rain forecast to begin falling around 4 o’clock this afternoon and continuing into Saturday morning with thunderstorms likely all through the 13-race Kentucky Oaks Day card that begins at 10:30 a.m. (all times Eastern).
On Friday morning, the track will open for training for all horses from 5:15-7:15. There will be a renovation break from 7:15-7:45 followed by training for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses from 7:45-8.
The schedule will be the same for Saturday with Derby horses only from 7:45-8.
BARBER ROAD – William Simon’s Barber Road, who is seeking his first victory of the year Saturday after four consecutive stakes placings at Oaklawn, went out to gallop at 6:45 a.m. with regular rider Elexander Aguilar aboard and trainer John Ortiz watching closely from his stable pony.
“He’s doing fantastic,” Ortiz said, “Elexander said he was really on the muscle. We’ll give him a walk day tomorrow. He’s fresh and happy.”
It was been a whirlwind week for Ortiz. Following Barber Road’s final work last Saturday, he flew to Arkansas where he won his third stakes at Oaklawn with Whelen Springs in the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes. He’s hoping for similar success Friday when he once again flies to Arkansas to saddle The Mary Rose in the Natural State Breeders’ Stakes before returning in time for the Kentucky Derby.
“I love this,” said Ortiz, who also won Wednesday’s St. Matthews Overnight Stakes with Top Gunner at Churchill.
CHARGE IT, MO DONEGAL, PIONEER OF MEDINA – In a change from his prior Derby preparation scenario, trainer Todd Pletcher switched his trio of Roses-bound colts from their previous 7:30-7:45 special Derby/Oaks training period to an early go-out at 5:30 Thursday morning.
Charge It (with Hector Ramos up), Mo Donegal (Amelia Green) and Pioneer of Medina (Carlos Perez) came out of Barn 35 and down through the 5 ½-furlong gap in the dark, along with two of the barn’s Oaks fillies in Nest and Shahama. All five of the 3-year-olds galloped strongly out in the middle of the track, covering a bit more than a mile and a quarter in their exercises. Pletcher looked on from trackside.
“I just felt it was a little too chaotic to me here yesterday at 7:30,” the trainer said, referring to a crowded backside backstretch scene that has become part of the Derby/Oaks tradition. “I thought the alarm clocks would keep things quieter (for the horses), so that’s why we went this way. I’m happy with the way it worked out.”
The backside scene was almost church quiet at 5:30 compared to the buzz that arose a couple of hours later. There were more horses on the track then, but no so many as to cause problems.
At 6 a.m. Pletcher brought out his other Oaks filly (Goddess of Fire) for her gallop and then he was all done with the heavy lifting for the track’s two showcase events on tap over the next two days.
“They’ve all been to the paddock and also the gate,” he said. “We’re all good in that regard. Tomorrow my fillies will just walk the shed and the colts will gallop.”
CLASSIC CAUSEWAY – Kentucky West Racing and Clarke Cooper’s Classic Causeway galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday at 7:30 a.m.
Classic Causeway is expected to gallop Friday at 7:45 a.m.
CROWN PRIDE (JPN) – Teruya Yoshida’s Crown Pride (JPN) walked under tack in the Quarantine Barn a day after working a half-mile in :46.60 under Christophe Lemaire.
CYBERKNIFE, TAWNY PORT, ZOZOS – It was a busy morning for trainer Brad Cox as he entertained all three owners of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, who were on hand to watch their horses each gallop 1 ½ miles during the special 7:30 a.m. training period with their regular exercise riders aboard.
Owner Al Gold (Gold Square) was at the barn for the first time this week to watch his Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Cyberknife, named for the lifesaving device that helped treat his prostate cancer, train under rider Katie Tolbert.
Barry and Joni Butzow, who named Zozos after their favorite restaurant in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, watched their colt gallop under Kelvin Perez.
And, John Fort (Peachtree Stable), who Cox credits for making the call to run Tawny Port in Lexington Stakes (GIII) that secured him the Derby berth, watched his colt named for a Portuguese wine gallop under Edvin Vargas.
“They are doing well, moving great,” Cox said. “I’m happy with where we are. They all had great works. They stood in the gate last week and stood in the gate this week. We’re in a good spot.”
EPICENTER – On Thursday morning at 5:45 Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter repeated the same morning exercise as Wednesday, galloping around the track with exercise rider Roberto Howell in the saddle.
Trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed that the Louisiana Derby (GII) winner would return to the track on Friday morning for more of the same.
ETHEREAL ROAD – Aaron Sones and Julie Gilbert’s Ethereal Road galloped 1 ½ miles during the special 7:30 a.m. training time Thursday.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who already has four Kentucky Derby victories among his previous 49 starters, believes that Ethereal Road has the ability to make a sustained run that could have him in the mix at the end of the Kentucky Derby.
“There are two things that will happen if you are in position I’ve learned after all these years,” Lukas said. “If you can make a sustained long run, you have a chance to hit the board or even win the thing. The other thing is the stretch. There are longer stretches in the country, but this stretch (at Churchill) seems to work against them. Maybe it’s the energy. The crowd seems to take a little something out of these horses. The 20-horse field definitely takes a lot out of them. This stretch right here, it’s a gut check for these horses. But, this is why I have some confidence we could get a piece of it. He has the right style.”
HAPPY JACK – The California-based colt Happy Jack, who’ll break from post two Saturday in the Kentucky Derby with Rafael Bejarano aboard, was on the Churchill Downs strip Thursday morning for a strong gallop of a mile and a half with veteran exercise rider Tony Romero in the tack. The son of Oxbow was bowing his neck and pulling on the reins in a show of “wanna do it” that had his people tickled.
Romero gave the exercise a big thumbs up. “He went great,” the rider said. “He was having fun out there.”
Watching his exercise from the backside was Bejarano and assistant trainer Leandro Mora.
“I’m starting to dream,” Mora said with a big smile. “I’m starting to dream.”
MESSIER, TAIBA – The two Derby colts who have called Barn 37 home this week under the watchful eye of trainer Tim Yakteen got their continued preparation for the 148th edition of the American classic this Saturday out of the way early Thursday morning.
Taiba, the Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner who is two-for-two in his very brief career, only walked the shedrow following his Wednesday training that included a blowout (:38.40) down the lane with a deputized Joel Rosario on board.
“He’s fine,” the trainer said. “He’ll go back to the track tomorrow.”
His stablemate Messier, who can claim three firsts and three seconds in six starts so far, did his business at the racetrack early, heading out at 5:30 for a strong gallop of a mile and a half under exercise rider Beto Gomez.
“He felt great,” Gomez said as he came off the track and headed back toward the barn.
The big son of Empire Maker, bred in Canada by the famed Sam-Son Farm and named for the exceptional Canadian hockey player Mark Messier, had been taking his turns on the track during the 7:30-7:45 Derby/Oaks training session previously.
“We went out earlier today because it’s quieter,” Yakteen said. “It’s calmer and better for the horse at this time. It all went smoothly and we’re happy.”
Yakteen has secured the saddle services of two longtime members of racing’s Hall of Fame: Mike Smith will be aboard Taiba as they come out of the 12 hole, and John Velazquez will be up when Messier comes out of post six in the mile and one-quarter classic at 6:57 p.m. at Churchill Downs Saturday.
RATTLE N ROLL, SMILE HAPPY, TIZ THE BOMB – With Kentucky Derby 148 fast approaching, trainer Kenny McPeek had Magdalena Racing’s Tiz the Bomb and Lucky Seven Stable’s Smile Happy on the track Thursday, for maintenance mile-and-a-half gallops. Edwardo Ruvalcaba was on Tiz the Bomb, while Danny Ramsey was aboard Smile Happy.
“Basic stuff, nothing changed,” McPeek said of Thursday’s activity.
McPeek had his first Derby starter in 1995, with Tejano Run. And to say McPeek burst onto the Derby scene after about 10 years as a trainer is an understatement. His colt finished second to 24-1 victor Thunder Gulch.
“The only difference between what I’m doing now and what I was doing then is that we had a much smaller outfit,” McPeek said. “That was the horse that put me on the map, and really got things going.”
McPeek said his Derby starters will go out on the track again Friday morning. Tiz the Bomb comes into the Derby off a win in the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park, while Smile Happy had two strong seconds — in the Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland to Zandon, and in the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds to Epicenter.
Smile Happy starts from post five in the Derby with Corey Lanerie, while Tiz the Bomb, with Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard, drew the No. 9 post.
Rattle N Roll, who would need two defections come scratch time Friday morning to make the starting gate with James Graham aboard, aggressively galloped a mile and a half with Graham up.
RICH STRIKE – RED TR-Racing’s Rich Strike galloped a mile and a half under Gabriel Lagunes and is scheduled to school in the paddock with horses in this afternoon’s third race.
Rich Strike is the first also eligible for the Derby and should there be a scratch before 9 o’clock Friday morning, Rich Strike and jockey Sonny Leon would be in the starting gate.
Trainer Eric Reed has a Plan B should Rich Strike not make the field.
“If he doesn’t get in, I’d probably work him here Saturday morning for the Peter Pan next week,” Reed said referring to the $200,000 Grade III race at Belmont Park going 1 1/8 miles. “That would give us four weeks until the Belmont.”
SIMPLIFICATION – With owner Tami Bobo looking on, Fountain of Youth (GII) winner Simplification galloped a mile and half under exercise rider Ismal Ramirez for trainer Antonio Sano.
This will be the second Derby Bobo has attended, but it is a different ballgame this time around.
“I was here in 2012 with my daughter for Take Charge Indy, who was the first horse I bought as a pinhooker,” Bobo said. “We had seats overlooking the paddock, but we didn’t know anybody. We didn’t even come back to the barn area.”
Bobo, a resident of Ocala, Florida, has been a regular this week at Barn 42 where Simplication has taken up residence, the same barn Secretariat was in the year Bobo was born.
Even though rain is in the forecast, Bobo is going to take part in another Derby tradition few get to experience and that is the walkover to the paddock from the backstretch.
“Absolutely I’m doing the walk,” Bobo said. “I will have my 5-year-old granddaughter with me and we’ve got our boots.”
SUMMER IS TOMORROW – Michael Hilary Burke and Negar Burke’s Summer Is Tomorrow visited the starting gate and then galloped a mile and a half under Heinz Runge.
“He was good in the gate this morning; better than he was yesterday,” trainer Bhupat Seemar said. “He will school again in the paddock this afternoon.”
The UAE Derby (GII) runner-up schooled in the paddock Wednesday afternoon.
“I am very happy with him and he is taking in things really well,” Seemar said. “In the paddock yesterday, somebody told me it was the first time he had seen a horse school without a lip chain. He relaxes more when he can look around.”
WHITE ABARRIO – C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable’s White Abarrio was out for a routine gallop around the Churchill oval Thursday morning, and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said all went as planned.
“He’s doing well,” Joseph said after the Grade I Florida Derby and Grade III Holy Bull winner went out with exercise rider Vincente Gudiel. “He had a good gallop this morning. He’s showing good energy, and is moving well.”
In the 2020 Derby, Joseph made his first training appearance with NY Traffic, finishing a respectable eighth at 12-1. But since that Derby — which was move to September at the height of the pandemic — Joseph said little has changed in the way he prepares a horse for a big race.
“Basically, you want to adopt the philosophy that it’s just another race — but of course most definitely it’s not just another race,” Joseph said. “You don’t want to overthink it too much, and you want to stay with the system that’s working for you.”
White Abarrio’s only career loss occurred at Churchill Downs, in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club last November. He finished third, behind Smile Happy and Classic Causeway — two colts that he’ll face again in the Derby.
“From a numbers standpoint, that day he ran his best number, up to that point,” Joseph said. “It’s the only time he got beat, but if you watch the race, you’ll see that he didn’t get the best trip.”
White Abarrio drew the No. 15 post and will have Tyler Gaffalione as his jockey for the Derby.
“We’re happy where we’re at,” Joseph said. “It’s seems like he’s showing the right settings. If he brings his ‘A’ game, we’re right there with them.”
ZANDON – With two days of training remaining until the Kentucky Derby, Jeff Drown’s Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner Zandon galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday morning with Kriss Bonn aboard.
“We’re ready,” trainer Chad Brown said confidently.
Brown has started six horses in the Kentucky Derby and his best finish came in 2018 with eventual Preakness (GI) winner Good Magic.
THE KENTUCKY DERBY FIELD – Here’s the field from the rail out for the Grade I, $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI): Mo Donegal (Irad Ortiz Jr.); Happy Jack (Rafael Bejarano); Epicenter (Joel Rosario); Summer Is Tomorrow (Mickael Barzalona); Smile Happy (Corey Lanerie); Messier (John Velazquez); Crown Pride (JPN) (Christophe Lemaire); Charge It (Luis Saez); Tiz the Bomb (Brian Hernandez Jr.); Zandon (Flavien Prat); Pioneer of Medina (Joe Bravo); Taiba (Mike Smith); Simplification (Jose Ortiz); Barber Road (Rey Gutierrez); White Abarrio (Tyler Gaffalione); Cyberknife (Florent Geroux); Classic Causeway (Julien Leparoux); Tawny Port (Ricardo Santana Jr.); Zozos (Manny Franco); Ethereal Road (Luis Contreras). Also Eligibles: Rich Strike (Sonny Leon); Rattle N Roll (James Graham).
LONGINES KENTUCKY OAKS UPDATE
BEGUINE – Charles Matses’ Beguine, who will learn her Oaks fate this afternoon at 4 o’clock scratch time for the Oaks, galloped a mile and a half under Raul Vizcarrando shortly after the track opened for training at 5:15.
As the lone also eligible for the Oaks, Beguine needs one defection to earn a spot in the starting gate under Ricardo Santana Jr.
“If we don’t get in, I may take her over to Trackside this afternoon,” said trainer Danny Peitz, who has five horses stabled at the training facility adjacent to Derby City Gaming. “I’ll probably wait for the weather to get better and breeze over there Saturday.”
Runner-up in the Fantasy (GIII), Beguine’s Plan B is the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (GII) to be run at a mile and an eighth at Pimlico on May 20.
CANDY RAID – Don’t Tell My Wife Stables and trainer Keith Desormeux’s Candy Raid kept to Desormeaux’s plan of walking today. Exercise rider Alex Cano verified that on the morning of the Oaks, Candy Raid would jog or gallop.
Discussing strategy for the late-running Bourbonette winner’s tactics in the Oaks, Desormeaux said, “I never tell my riders what to do. They need to be able to read the break and feel where the horse wants to be.”
COCKTAIL MOMENTS – Trainer Kenny McPeek had Dixiana Farms’ Cocktail Moments on the track during the designated time for Oaks and Derby horses following a harrow break. She went a mile and a half with exercise rider Albert Kelly, alongside McPeek’s Derby colts, Smile Happy and Tiz the Bomb.
“She’s doing fine,” McPeek said about the Kentucky-bred filly who was a $190,000 purchase at the Keeneland September yearling sale. McPeek has Corey Lanerie as her rider in the Longines Kentucky Oaks, in which she drew the No. 11 post.
DESERT DAWN – The Santa Anita Oaks (GII) winner went trackside at 7:30 a.m. to take advantage of the special 15-minute Oaks/Derby training session that only allows runners in those two races on the big Churchill Downs’ strip at that time. She had regular exercise rider Roman Cecher in the tack and they headed out on a mile and a half gallop.
“It was quieter out there generally speaking today,” Cecher said. “And she went very well.”
Desert Dawn may, or may not, go to the track Friday morning ahead of the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks scheduled for 5:51 that afternoon. Rain is forecast to fall all day Friday in the Louisville area and it will have an obvious effect on the racetrack.
“We’ll have to play it by ear tomorrow morning,” said the filly’s trainer, Phil D’Amato. “It will depend on the weather. If it’s not too bad, I’ll jog her once around. If it is bad, I’ll just walk her.”
ECHO ZULU – Returning to her regular time slot after schooling in the gate on Wednesday, L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Echo Zulu galloped about a mile under exercise rider Wilson Fabian.
GODDESS OF FIRE, NEST, SHAHAMA - Todd Pletcher altered his previous MO with his Oaks fillies Thursday when he moved their gallops up from their 7:30 a.m. standard starts to earlier sessions at 5:30 and 6.
He sent out Nest and Shahama from Barn 37 with his first set of trainees at 5:30, then brought Goddess of Fire to the track with his second set at 6. Nest had Nora McCormack at the controls, while Humberto Zamora sat in Shahama's saddle. Later, Goddess of Fire went trackside with Zamora aboard.
The trainer noted that he found the special 7:30 to 7:45 Derby/Oaks training period Wednesday to be a little too wild and wooly with the backstretch area alongside the track filled with eager fans. He found the move to the earlier and quieter times more beneficial to his charges and pronounced himself happy with the switch.
Pletcher was asked about his undefeated filly Shahama, who'll be making her U. S. debut and first start in 11 weeks in Friday's Oaks.
"We've had her for a bit over a month now and she's trained well," he said. "We've worked her with some of our good horses and she's held her own. We had her and Goddess of Fire (stakes-placed on four occasions) go together and they worked on even terms. You don't know about the form in Dubai (all four of her starts took place at Meydan racetrack in the United Arab Emirates), but she's done well here. She's a bit of an X factor, but so far she's good with us."
Shahama will break out of Post 13 in the 14 -horse Oaks lineup Friday and have Flavien Prat as her pilot. She's listed at 15-1 in the morning line.
HIDDEN CONNECTION – In her final day of training prior to the Longines Kentucky Oaks, Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds’ Hidden Connection had her typical early-morning 1 ½-mile gallop with trainer Bret Calhoun anxiously watching form the five-eighths clocker stand.
“We’ve done all we can do,” Calhoun said.
KATHLEEN O. – Winngate Stables’ undefeated Kathleen O. completed her preparation for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks by galloping a mile and a half under regular morning partner David Jego.
Second choice on the morning line in the 14-horse Oaks, Kathleen O. will not go to the track Friday morning according to her Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
McGaughey is seeking his second Oaks victory having won with Dispute who was the second choice in 1993.
NOSTALGIC – Godolphin’s Nostalgic galloped 1 3/8 miles at 7:30 a.m. under Penny Gardiner.
SECRET OATH – Fans of Briland Farm’s multiple stakes winner Secret Oath have had to get up early all week to see her train and nothing changed Thursday. She and exercise rider Danielle Rosier were, as usual, among the first horses on the track when it opened at 5:15 a.m.
Secret Oath galloped a mile and a half and then finished her morning activity jogging briefly in the mile chute before returning to Barn 44 with trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
TURNERLOOSE – Ike and Dawn Thrash’s Turnerloose galloped 1 ½ miles at 6:45 a.m. with regular morning partner Edvin Vargas aboard.
“She’s good,” trainer Brad Cox said. “I think the mud could help us. I’m not too disappointed in the weather forecast. We’ll see how it goes, but overall she’s doing very good.”
VENTI VALENTINE – NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds’ Gazelle (GIII) runner-up Venti Valentine took to the track Thursday with exercise rider Luis Peña, galloping a mile and a quarter during the time reserved for Oaks and Derby horses, trainer Jorge Abreu said.
“She was very relaxed today,” Abreu said. “I was very happy with the way she went. Now we’re just sitting to go.”
The New York-bred daughter of Firing Line, out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Glory Gold, came wide into the backstretch during her gallop, but it was the way Abreu wanted it.
“I wanted to keep her outside, because if we put her inside (close to the rail) she gets too keen,” Abreu said. “That’s why we’ve kept her to the outside of the track.”
During Wednesday’s racing, Abreu took Venti Valentine to the paddock for schooling.
“She schooled really well yesterday,” he said. “The important thing about being here is the horse. She couldn’t be doing any better. She’s happy, and doing everything the right way. She’s very energetic, which is what you want to see in a horse.”
Dominican Republic native Abreu was an assistant to noted New York trainer Chad Brown for nine years, before taking out his trainer’s license in 2016. Prior to Brown, he also worked for Nick Zito and John Terranova. Venti Valentine is stabled at the far end of Brown’s setup in Barn 25 at Churchill.
“We’re still pretty good friends,” Abreu said of Brown. “I’m sure if I had any questions, he’d be there to help me out.”
YUUGIRI – Sekie and Tsunebumi Yoshihara’s Fantasy Stakes (GIII) winner Yuugiri went to the track at 7:30 a.m. with trainer Rodolphe Brisset aboard. This was the final day of training for the Shackleford filly, who will walk Friday morning before the race that afternoon.
“She’s going great,” Brisset said. “We galloped and visited the paddock. It’s the same routine we’ve had all week. She’s done very well handling everything.”
Yuugiri is the third generation bred by her Japan-based owners and their first U.S. graded stakes winner. Her name means evening mist in Japanese, which could be fitting with the wet conditions expected Friday.
THE LONGINES KENTUCKY OAKS FIELD – Here’s the field from the rail out for the Grade I, $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI): Secret Oath (Luis Saez); Nostalgic (Jose Ortiz); Hidden Connection (Rey Gutierrez); Nest (Irad Ortiz Jr.); Goddess of Fire (John Velazquez); Yuugiri (Florent Geroux); Echo Zulu (Joel Rosario); Venti Valentine (Tyler Gaffalione); Desert Dawn (Umberto Rispoli); Kathleen O. (Javier Castellano); Cocktail Moments (Corey Lanerie); Candy Raid (Rafael Bejarano); Shahama (Flavien Prat); Turnerloose (Manny Franco). Also Eligible: Beguine (Ricardo Santana Jr.)