AMERICAN LION – WinStar Farm’s American Lion galloped a mile and a half in the sunshine Sunday morning under exercise rider Paul Turner.
Trainer Eoin Harty said that American Lion is on track to breeze five furlongs Monday morning under jockey David Flores, who has the mount in the Kentucky Derby. The weather could push the work back a day.
American Lion earned his berth in the Kentucky Derby with an emphatic victory in the Illinois Derby (GIII) on the dirt at Hawthorne Park. The Tiznow colt raced twice at Santa Anita this year with mixed results, before Harty moved him to the dirt. American Lion was third in the Robert Lewis (GII) on Feb. 13 and fourth in San Felipe (GII) on March 13.
“Thankfully, it’s worked out well in the end,” Harty said. “Early on in his 3-year-old year, I thought his first race wasn’t too bad. He was third that day and wasn’t beaten very far. The second race he was very, very rank. I put blinkers on him; that was a mistake. And running on a synthetic track he was just too keen, too early and that doesn’t work on a synthetic track. But he put it all together in Chicago and hopefully he’ll move forward again.”
AWESOME ACT – Susan Roy and Vinery Stables’ Gotham Stakes (GIII) winner Awesome Act galloped 1 ½ miles Sunday morning under Wayne Tanner, the exercise rider and assistant to trainer Jeremy Noseda.
“We’ve been here 11 weeks. In the training regimen of America, he just fits right in,” Tanner said.
Tanner said that Noseda will arrive in Louisville from England on Wednesday.
“They’re flying again,” said Tanner, referring to the European airlines that were recently grounded because of clouds of ash generated by a volcanic eruption in Iceland. “He’d swim here if he had to.”
After wintering at Noseda’s Shalfleet yard in Newmarket, England, Awesome Act made his 2010 debut with an impressive victory in Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes.
Seemingly poised to make another winning stretch run in the Wood Memorial (GI), the son of Awesome Again flattened out and was headed for second money behind runaway winner Eskendereya.
“People are saying he ran bad in the Wood; he did not run bad,” Tanner said. “He stumbled; he lost a shoe at the start; they went a half in :50, which is way too slow for him; he needs a strong gallop; and he still managed to finish third. He didn’t flop.”
Awesome Act is scheduled to gallop again on Monday morning, before breezing on Tuesday.
BACKTALK – Gold Mark Farm’s Backtalk, who had vanned from his home base at Churchill Downs to Keeneland Race Course, worked over the synthetic Polytrack surface at the Lexington track at about 7:15 a.m. (all times EDT) and everything went just as trainer Tom Amoss and the Gold Mark Farm team had planned.
The son of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones worked five furlongs in company with the quality allowance horse Sangre Frio on his inside, finishing a length in front of the stablemate in 1:01.60. Miguel Mena, who has the mount in the Derby should Backtalk draw into the field, was aboard for the work and Victor Lebron rode the workmate.
Keeneland clockers caught splits of :12.20, :25, :37.80 and :50.40 with a six-furlong gallop-out time 1:14.40.
The final time was the fifth-fastest of 12 at the distance and two-fifths of a second faster than Sangre Frio’s 1:02.
“It was exactly what we wanted,” said Todd Quast, Gold Mark Farm general manager of racing. “It was a nice, even work. He finished strong, full of run. It was a beautiful work. I’m glad we were over there on that surface today.
“He started about two lengths behind Sangre Frio and tracked him beautifully. We asked (Mena) to wait for him until about the three-sixteenths pole, which he did. He went up right beside the other horse and then finished up strong.
“We’ve had some works leading up to this where he worked a little fast or a little slow but this one was perfect. When he came back he wasn’t blowing hard and his heart rate recovery was about 10 minutes, which is outstanding.
The quality and execution of the work came as a relief to Backtalk’s connections, who believe a faster-than-planned breeze prior to the Illinois Derby (six furlongs in 1:09.60) compromised his chances in that race at Hawthorne Park.
“His work prior to the Illinois Derby was almost like a race, from a conditioning standpoint,” Quast said. “I said before the race that if he comes back from that work and wins then we have a superhorse. We found out at the quarter-pole (when Backtalk faded from contention). He was tired and the other horses had already opened up and he wasn’t going to catch them.
“You’ve got to draw a line through that one in comparison to everything else because of the circumstances. But having said that, that surely dumped his tank totally and now we’ve been able to fill it back up for Saturday. Since then he’s been fantastic and he’s been filling up. He’s maturing, filled out [and]doesn’t have a pimple on him.”
Amoss was similarly pleased: “I thought it went very well. We designed it to go a certain way and this time it did go exactly that way so we’re happy with it.”
CONVEYANCE/LOOKIN AT LUCKY – Trainer Bob Baffert sent his two Kentucky Derby 136 prospects out to gallop a mile and a half Sunday morning with the other Derby and Oaks horses after the renovation break at 8:30 a.m.
Lookin At Lucky, owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, has won six of his eight career starts. He finished third in the Santa Anita Derby (GI), his last outing, after a troubled trip. Conveyance, owned by Zabeel Racing International Corp., won the first four starts of his career and finished second in his most recent race, the Sunland Derby (GIII).
Baffert said that both of his colts will work again in the next day or two depending on the weather. Lookin at Lucky is scheduled to work Monday morning and Baffert said that Conveyance, a gray son of Indian Charlie, might breeze on Tuesday.
Asked to assess Lookin at Lucky, who could become of the betting favorite with the withdrawal of Eskendereya on Sunday, Baffert smiled and shook his head.
“So far, so good,” he said. “Every day is a different day here. Until I get that saddle on him and I hear ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ I can’t relax.”
While the departure of the highly regarded Eskendereya eliminates a top contender that his colts would have to deal with in the Derby, Baffert said he felt bad for the Eskendereya’s owner, Ahmed Zayat.
“It’s horrible news,” Baffert said. “I train for Zayat. He’s a client of mine. That’s horrible because the guy has such a passion for racing. When you get a chance of a lifetime with a horse like that it’s got to be devastating.”
DEAN’S KITTEN/STATELY VICTOR – Trainer Mike Maker reported that his two Derby contenders stabled at the Trackside Training Center in Louisville jogged 1 ½ miles Sunday morningduring the 6 o’clock hour with exercise rider Marvin Jiminez up.
Maker remains undecided on a rider for Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Dean’s Kitten. He said he won’t make a decision until the Derby field is closer to being settled and he has a better idea which jockeys are available.
DEVIL MAY CARE/DISCREETLY MINE/ESKENDEREYA /INTERACTIF/ MISSION IMPAZIBLE/RULE/SUPER SAVER – “Toughest call I’ve ever had to make to an owner.”
Sitting in front of a room full of media representatives Sunday on the Churchill Downs’ backstretch, trainer Todd Pletcher summed up the gut-wrenching end to one of the unhappiest mornings of his professional career. The four-time Eclipse Award winner announced that his Kentucky Derby favorite Eskendereya was injured and would not run in the 136th edition of the American classic on Saturday.
“He has a filling in his left front leg – from his ankle to his knee – and he will not be running,” the trainer said. “I spoke to Mr. Zayat (owner Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables) this morning and told him the bad news.
“The horse isn’t lame; I wouldn’t call it that. He’s slightly off. His last couple of gallops have not been up to par. We’re hopeful that this is not career threatening. We’ll do further diagnostics and see.
“He’s not uncomfortable. We jogged him early this morning and he just appeared to be slightly off. We knew then that we couldn’t go forward.”
Pletcher said that the chestnut son of Giant’s Causeway had shown some unevenness in his gait the past few days, “But I wanted to believe it was the (“off”) track that might have been causing it. We noticed the problem yesterday and we worked on it and hoped for a miracle overnight. But it didn’t happen.”
Asked to draw a human parallel to the injury, the trainer said it would be like a man with a sprained ankle, with extended swelling and puffiness running up the leg. He indicated that the colt was being treated with anti-inflammatories, ice and poultice. He wasn’t sure yet if he would stay at his Churchill Downs barn and be treated or perhaps be moved to one of the nearby clinics.
“Considering the news I had to deliver,” Pletcher said, “he (Zayat) took it well. He’s a very passionate man, especially about his horses, and I know he was extremely disappointed. But he said right away it’s the horse that counts and we’d have to do the right thing.”
Churchill Downs morning line maker Mike Battaglia had indicated earlier that he would likely Eskendereya the favorite for this Run for the Roses at either 2-1 or 5-2, one of the shortest prices he would have posted for a 20-horse Derby field – and could go slightly lower to 9-5 depending on post position draw. In light of the withdrawal of the colt, Battaglia now indicates his likely favorite will be Lookin At Lucky at 3-1.
Pletcher has run 24 horses in the Derby since 2000 without a winner. This year, though, he thought he had the real deal for the 10-furlong race that is generally considered the world’s most famous.
“The thing that is so disappointing,” Pletcher said, “is that I know a mile and one quarter – even a mile and one-half – was well within his range. Without a doubt, he’s the best horse we’ve ever brought to this stage (on the cusp on running in the race).”
Pletcher indicated that he had wanted to contact Zayat about the situation Saturday, but that it was his owner’s religious Sabbath and he could not be reached. “I had to let him know before I could talk to you,” he noted to the assembled media. “My first priority is always to my owners. I couldn’t do anything with this until he knew.”
Speculation about possible leg problems with the horse first surfaced when he ran in front wraps in the Wood Memorial in New York on April 3, a race he won by almost 10 lengths. Pletcher subsequently stated that he had only put the bandages on his horse because another of his runners earlier on the New York card had burned his heels, or “run down,” racing on the Aqueduct racetrack. Asked about the wraps again Sunday, Pletcher stated: “I’ll let his Wood performance speak for itself.”
Eskendereya was coming up to the Kentucky Derby with four wins in six starts and $725,700 in earnings. He was scheduled to be ridden by John Velazquez, who had been aboard in his past three starts, all wins, including his Wood tally and a romping score previously in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Pletcher, who has six other potential starters in the Derby, was asked about his own state of mind and his ability to come back under such bad news.
“It is extremely disappointing, of course,” he said. “But you’ve got to pick up and go on. I’m fortunate that I’ve got other good horses and other opportunities at this race. And I’ve got to do my best with them.”
One of Eskendereya’s stablemates – the filly Devil May Care – now becomes an even more serious candidate to run in the Derby instead of Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, where she would be among the favorites. Rider Velazquez would be aboard her if she did run against the boys Saturday, and Pletcher noted that the circumstances surrounding the favorite’s withdrawal “swings the pendulum toward her running (in the Derby).”
Devil May Care had worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 on Saturday, but – instead of merely walking the day after a work as many trainers choose to do with their charges – was again at the track early Sunday morning, jogging a mile under exercise rider Horacio De Paz.
Two other Pletcher 3-year-olds who are Derby candidates – Mission Impazible and Discreetly Mine – both jogged a mile early Sunday besides. The former, who was handled again by Kevin Willey, had drilled five panels in 1:00.20 on Saturday. The latter, who had Obed Perez up Sunday for his exercise, had covered five furlongs in his Saturday work in the same 1:00.20.
Additionally, three other Pletcher colts went to the track during the “Derby training period,” the 15-minute time frame following the mid-morning renovation break where only Derby or Oaks candidates are allowed on the big oval. That trio consisted of Rule, who jogged a mile under Patti Barry; Super Saver, who jogged a mile and visited the starting gate under De Paz, and Interactif, who galloped a mile and a quarter and stood in the gate under Willey.
Rule had worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 on Saturday, while Super Saver had drilled four furlongs in :48.80. Interactif, who had been on the fence for a Derby start, will be sent through a workout Monday morning and then be given even more consideration for the race.
DUBLIN – Four-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer and former basketball coach D. Wayne Lukas called an audible before dawn Sunday and sent Robert Baker and William Mack’s Dublin out for a five-furlong breeze in 1:02 .80.
Louisville has been belted by heavy rain in recent days and Lukas was looking for the best track surface he could find to give Dublin his final timed work before the Derby. The son of Afleet Alex turned in splits of :12.40, :24.20, :37.40 and :50.40. He galloped out the six furlongs in 1:17.80. Dublin worked in company with stablemate Luv Guv as a target.
Jockey Terry Thompson, who will ride Dublin in the Kentucky Derby, was aboard for the work under the new permanent lighting system at Churchill Downs.
“It was a good maintenance work,” Thompson said. “The track was sealed and pretty hard. He easily could have gone :59, but we didn’t want to do that.”
During a fast work last week Dublin caught and passed his workmate a bit too quickly. On Sunday, he caught his workmate with a quarter of a mile to run and finished eight lengths ahead.
“That’s what we wanted to do the last time, but we got him at the quarter pole this time; that was the plan,” Thompson said. “That probably explains why his fractions were a little slow early on.”
Lukas did not wait until the Derby and Oaks take to the track at 8:30 a.m. right after the renovation break, to breeze the colt. With rain in the forecast for later in the morning, he opted for the early work.
“I agonized a little bit about it last night, thinking was it better to go right away if we had rain overnight, which we did, or was it better to take a chance on the breeze and sunshine cleaning it up,” Lukas said. “It did not clean up as well as I thought it would. I was out there for my Oaks filly (Tidal Pool).
“I think I made the right decision. I was the first one on the track when it opened and I had walked it at 4:30 and it was even and smooth. That’s all that counts. It wasn’t exactly perfect, but the track was smooth; that’s all you count.
“It’s a little bit dead, but we weren’t asking for much anyhow. Like anybody working at about this time – and I think all of my colleagues would agree -- you don’t want a lot. He came home in :24 flat, though, so that’s OK.”
Dublin bolted during a gallop Saturday morning when saw runners competing in the Louisville Marathon moving through the infield. He was a little goofy Sunday, moving to his right again, but quickly settled down for Thompson.
“He was looking for the runners from yesterday He remembered that,” Thompson said. “Once he saw that there was nobody there everything was fine.”
ENDORSEMENT – WinStar Farm’s Endorsement was given the morning off by trainer Shannon Ritter as the Sunland Park Derby (GIII) winner limited his activity to walking the shedrow at Barn 19.
“We missed our work day, plus I like to give my horses one day off a week,” Ritter said. “I am not big on working on a muddy surface.”
Overnight rains had left the sealed track muddy when it opened for training at 5:45 a.m. and the surface was upgraded to “good” after the 8 o’clock renovation break.
Ritter was not concerned about the missed work.
“I am confident in his fitness and I want a fresh horse coming in to the race,” Ritter said. “He galloped out a mile last week at Keeneland in 1:42 (after working five-eighths in 1:01.40).”
With more rain in the Louisville forecast for Sunday, Ritter was keeping her options open for Monday.
“He will go out early tomorrow, probably around 6 o’clock after the first wave has gone out,” Ritter said. “I want to see how the track is. I might just jog him if he is too keen when we go out.
“Later in the week, he may go an easy half-mile. It won’t be a big work.”
Robby Albarado is slated to have the Kentucky Derby mount.
HOMEBOYKRIS – Trainer Rick Dutrow sent Homeboykris to a Churchill Downs track rated as “good” Sunday to gallop 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Joe Deegan.
Dutrow has been searching for a jockey for the gelded son of Roman Ruler and has apparently settled for Southern California-based Joel Rosario.
“Rosario’s at the top of the list,” said Dutrow, who saddled Big Brown for victories in the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Homeboykris is owned by an ownership group headed by restaurateur Louis Lazzinnaro and includes Joseph Bulger, Jack Mandato, Joseph Bulger, Nick Sallusto and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
“I guarantee it, with Homeboykris being 99-1, there hasn’t been a group to have so much fun as we’re having with this,” Dutrow said. “And ‘Homeboy’ is very, very happy.”
Homeboykris, who captured the Champagne Stakes (GI) last year after being privately purchased and sent to Dutrow, has been unraced since finishing second in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 27. His trainer has built a reputation for successfully bringing back horses from long layoffs in winning form.
“There’s plenty of trainers who can get it done. I think mostly it’s up to the horse. Most trainers know how to get a horse ready,” he said. “So it’s up to the horse if they can fire a bullet off a layoff. Some of them can and some of them can’t.”
ICE BOX/JACKSON BEND – Florida Derby (GI) winner Ice Box galloped two miles under Dennis Chavez following the renovation break Sunday, while stablemate Jackson Bend received the same “easy” exercise under Carlos Correa earlier in the morning.
Robert LaPenta’s Ice Box had walked Saturday morning after turning in a sharp four-furlong workout in 46.40 seconds on Friday.
“Sometimes you have to dart for a hole, and that’s why I thought I’d sharpen him up a little bit. I’m hoping Moses does this,” said Zito, separating his hands in front of him to show how running room can suddenly open up between two horses. “You just hope he can be quick enough to get in there.”
Ice Box closed from last at Gulfstream Park to win the Florida Derby in his finale Derby prep, in which he scored by a nose.
“I’d like to see him come back with the same performance,” Zito said. “I think he’d be right there.”
Zito was still playing the waiting game Sunday morning to find out if Jackson Bend will draw into the 20-horse field that is decided on graded-stakes earnings.
“I hope ‘Jackson’ gets in; he deserves to get in,” Zito said. “If (Eskendereya) is out and he’s the favorite. The last two races he was second to the favorite. Why shouldn’t he be in the Derby? Mike Smith’s going to ride him. You can’t ask for anything better.”
LINE OF DAVID/SIDNEY’S CANDY – Trainer John Sadler was showing off something special at 9 a.m. Sunday outside Barn 42. Before him was a sparkling chestnut whose coat gleamed in the sweet Kentucky sunshine.
“Look at him – he’s a hundred dollar bill!” the trainer exulted.
A hundred indeed, with a million-dollar look. It was Sidney’s Candy, the Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner, who the trainer had just laid hands on and watched take a short jog on the roadway outside his Churchill Downs headquarters where he awaits his run this Saturday in the 136th Kentucky Derby. The colt had worked a nifty six furlongs in 1:11.60 on Saturday morning and Sadler had him walk the shedrow Sunday before bringing him out to proudly show him off to onlookers.
Sadler reported that all was good with the son of Candy Ride, who is likely to be either the first or second favorite in the 10-furlong Derby.
“He ate up and is doing fine,” the trainer noted. “No issues. He’ll go back to the track and jog tomorrow.”
California rider Joe Talamo, who flew in for the Saturday work and then caught a plane back west, will return to handle Sidney’s Candy next Saturday.
Sadler also had his other Derby candidate, the Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Line of David, on the racetrack Sunday morning, taking advantage of the 15-minute “Derby training time” following the renovation break to gallop 1 ¾ miles under exercise rider Lupillo Alferez. The colt by Lion Heart “will probably work six furlongs (Monday) and we’ll definitely go during the ‘Derby training time,’ ” Sadler said.
Line of David will be ridden on Saturday by Rafael Bejarano.
Additionally, Sadler reported that Hurricane Ike, the winner of The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) on a sloppy track Saturday, came out of the race in good order. The son of Graeme Hall scored by nearly three lengths in the mile feature with veteran Calvin Borel registering his fifth victory on the opening day card. It’s likely Hurricane Ike, who is owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash, whose silks also fly on Line of David, will return to Sadler’s California headquarters before being pointed to his next opportunity.
A correction to the Saturday Barn Notes: Sidney’s Candy’s half-mile split in his six-furlong work on Saturday was :46.80, not :46.
MAKE MUSIC FOR ME – Ellen and Peter Johnson’s Make Music for Me breezed five furlongs in 1:02.40 under exercise rider Andy Durnin after the renovation break.
“Andy said he was pretty good. He said there were a couple bobbles out there. But all in all, he said he wasn’t all-out and just let him cruise around there,” said trainer Alexis Barba, whose colt has never raced on a dirt track.
The son of Bernstein’s dirt debut may be postponed for another time should he not draw into the Derby field that is limited to the top 20 graded-stakes earnings. Barba’s alternate plan is to run Make Music for Me in the American Turf over the Churchill Downs grass course on Friday.
“We’re lucky. We know he likes the turf,” said Barba, whose colt broke his maiden in the Pasadena Stakes over the Santa Anita turf course two starts back. “Of course, it’s everybody’s great desire to be in the Derby, but …I don’t think we know. We’re so close. We’re only a couple horses away. We’ll be ready.”
NOBLE’S PROMISE – Chasing Dreams Racing 2008’s Noble’s Promise galloped a mile and a half after the morning renovation break under Walter Blum Jr.
With the track upgraded to “good” after the break, trainer Ken McPeek was asked if he considered calling an audible and working Noble’s Promise this morning instead of waiting to Monday, which is the colt’s scheduled work day.
“No,” McPeek said with a laugh. “He’ll work on the slop and he’ll like it.”
Noble’s Promise came out of a fifth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (GI) in his most recent start with a slight lung infection that did not make his Kentucky Derby participation a slam dunk.
“Tomorrow’s a big day for him,” McPeek said. “He’ll work and then we’ll scope him. So far, everything is great.”
Willie Martinez is scheduled to ride Noble’s Promise in Kentucky Derby 136.
PADDY O’PRADO – Donegal Racing’s Paddy O’Prado walked the shedrow at trainer Dale Romans barn for the second straight day after Friday’s five-furlong work in :58.40.
“Everything’s good. He’ll go back to the track in the morning,” Romans said.
Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux has the Derby mount.