AMERICAN LION – Trainer Eoin Harty sent WinStar Farm’s American Lion out Thursday for a routine morning of schooling in the gate and galloping a mile and a half.
A victory in the Illinois Derby (GIII) propelled speedy American Lion to the Kentucky Derby. It was the colt’s first try on dirt and convinced Harty that he could handle and possibly even thrive on that surface.
“I thought it was a really good run,” Harty said. “The weather conditions up there were less than ideal. It was constantly blowing like 30 miles an hour down the stretch. That was a concern. I wanted to put him on the lead anyway because it seemed like the race was devoid of speed. I was concerned that running into that 30 mile an hour wind was going to take something out of him, but he actually kicked away from the other horse at the eighth pole. That was best part of the whole race.”
Harty said the colt is showing him that he has continued to improve since that victory in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 3.
“His weight is better that it’s been,” Harty said. “His coat is better. His attitude is good. He’s out of a Storm Cat mare and he has a tendency to get a little worked up. I’ve been schooling him every day since I’ve been here and every day he goes over there he’s better and better. All the signs are good.”
Harty grinned as he noted two more reasons to be optimistic.
“I found a four-leaf clover a few days ago and I’ve drawn (post) number seven,” he said. “I was number seven in Dubai (with Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed in 2009). There are a lot of omens.”
By drawing No. 7, American Lion and jockey David Flores will have to react to fast horses on both sides. Super Saver is in No. 5, Line of David is No. 6, the Bob Baffert-trained Conveyance is No. 12 and Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Sidney’s Candy is on the far outside in No. 20. Harty said the trip will determine whether American Lion’s wins or loses.
“If he makes it around the first turn unscathed, he’s got a legitimate shot,” Harty said.
“With (John) Sadler’s horse drawing the 20-hole, he’s only got one option. He’s going to have to get out there and clear the field going into the first turn. Then you’ve got Baffert in there with Conveyance and there is Line of David. I don’t know what Sadler’s going to do with Line of David because that’s his horse and he’s got Sidney’s Candy on the outside. If we can be sitting in behind them, maybe three or four lengths in behind them, unscathed, going into the first turn I’ll be quite happy.”
AWESOME ACT – Vinery Stable and Mrs. Susan Roy’s Awesome Act galloped a mile under exercise rider Wayne Tanner and in company with Peace Town Thursday morning at Churchill Downs. Trainer Jeremy Noseda was on hand for the morning exercise and was pleased with the son of Awesome Again’s appearance.
“Definitely, without question, the horse looks to have moved forward physically since he was in New York and I am happy with his condition,” said the British horseman, who hadn’t seen his Gotham Stakes (GIII) winner since his disappointing third-place finish in the Wood Memorial (GI) until Tuesday afternoon.
Noseda had been unable to witness Awesome Act’s key five-furlong workout last week because of the flight stoppage in England caused by ash clouds generated from an Icelandic volcano. The 46-year-old trainer is hopeful that Awesome Act will have a better trip than he received in the Wood Memorial in his final Derby prep.
“There were three factors in the Wood: losing the shoe out of the gate; how rank he was during the race; and there was always going to be that factor that he could bounce. I think he bounced,” said Noseda, suggesting that his colt wasn’t in peak form for his second start this year after running such a brilliant race in the Gotham Stakes. “You take those three factors to one side and we approach the Derby in a different frame of mind.”
Noseda is counting on a much quicker early pace in the Derby than he got in the Wood to help his colt settle more kindly than he did last time at Aqueduct.
“He’s got a great cruising speed and he’s got a big kick in him at the end of a race. My big query at this point is how effective he’ll be at a mile and a quarter. Saturday will tell us that. But there are plenty of horses in the race that have the same question to answer,” he said. “You’ll need luck in the running. Is that not part of what makes the Kentucky Derby such a unique race and such a test for a horse?”
Noseda, who shipped Wilko from England to win the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park, expressed his deep appreciation to trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant Scott Blasi for their assistance and guidance in the training of Awesome Act in his absence.
BACKTALK – The morning after officially making it into the Derby field, GoldMark Farm’s Backtalk appeared during the Oaks and Derby training session for the first time Thursday.
“That was awesome,” GoldMark Farm general manager of racing Todd Quast said. “We have the ultimate respect for this race and until we were officially in we never participated in that so it was nice to see him out there with the other Derby horses.”
Backtalk, a son of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones out of the turf stakes-winning mare Apasionata Sonata, stood in the gate Thursday morning prior to embarking on one mile of jogging and one mile of galloping under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez.
“He was very relaxed,” Quast said. “He’s taking it all in stride. He went very well. We took him to the gate and he stood in the gate. We’re very happy and all systems are ‘go.’”
CONVEYANCE/LOOKIN AT LUCKY – Zabeel Racing International’s colt Conveyance trained by Bob Baffert returned to the racetrack Thursday morning to jog a mile and a half under Peter Hutton. The Sunland Derby (GIII) runner-up had a bullet five-furlong breeze Tuesday in :59.80.
Conveyance, a speedy son of Indian Charlie who finished third as the Kentucky Derby favorite in 1998, drew post No. 12 in the Kentucky Derby.
Baffert’s other Derby prospect, the 3-1 morning-line favorite Lookin At Lucky, galloped a mile and a half Thursday under exercise rider Dana Barnes.
Lookin At Lucky drew the rail, a post position that has not yielded a Derby winner since Ferdinand in 1986. Baffert faced many questions about how the draw might impact his colt’s chances of winning over what is likely to be a wet track on Saturday. Rain is in the forecast for Friday night and Saturday.
“Sometimes with the weather like that, the inside might be a little bit better,” Baffert said. “It (the rail) sort of changes things a little bit, but not a whole lot,” Baffert said. “The main thing is that the horse is a good horse. There have been a few winners out of the one, but not lately. Since we had the draw and were able to pick, everybody stayed away from there. The one and the 20 were the last choices.
“Once you get in there, if you shuffled back one time, then you’ll get shuffled back a second, a third, a fourth as the race goes on. We’re going to find out how good this horse is. If he’s that good, he’ll win it.”
Baffert joked about the colt not having any luck, but said the post position is a factor that he and jockey Garrett Gomez must face.
“We’re not in love with it, but we have to deal with it,” Baffert said. “There is a long run to the quarter pole. It’s not like we have a speed horse. He comes from off of it. He just needs to break well. He’ll be in the gate for a long time because the load 1-11 and 2-12 here.
“But you know what? You still need a really good horse. That’s what he is. That’s more important than the post.”
Gomez said he has no choice but to deal with the post position he was dealt.
“We’ll work out a trip and we’ll figure out where the speed is going to come from,” the rider said. “We know it’s all coming down on top of us and we want to get underneath that wire the first time as smoothly as possible.”
Starting from the rail, Gomez said he must work out the proper trip.
“You’ve got to be very aggressive,” he said. “You’ve got to hit the gaps that are available at the time and take what’s given and be aggressive.”
But Gomez, who finished second on Pioneerof the Nile to longshot Mine That Bird last year, said he will not focus on any of the others in the field.
“There are 20 of them out there,” he said. “I learned last year that anybody can win. Hopefully this year we’ll be able to get it done. We feel like the horse is training well for the race. Now it’s all according to the trip.”
DEAN’S KITTEN/STATELY VICTOR – Trainer Mike Maker reluctantly left the tranquility of the Trackside Training Center behind on Wednesday and has since found himself at the middle of a daily swarm of attention outside Barn 45.
The trainer has two high-profile owners in the Derby who seem to attract a crowd wherever they go. Ken and Sarah Ramsey, owners and breeders of Dean’s Kitten, have been the leading owner at Churchill Downs a record 16 times and Ken Ramsey is seemingly omnipresent in the barn area during big weeks, greeting fans and passing out pins with his familiar silks (white, red “R”, white band on red).
Meanwhile, Jack Conway, co-owner of Stately Victor (with his father Tom Conway), is Kentucky’s attorney general and a candidate for U.S. Senate who has been in high demand with the media.
“See this?” Maker said outside his barn Wednesday, gesturing to the clusters of reporters and well-wishers gathered. “That’s why I didn’t come earlier. You could take all the people at Trackside and it wouldn’t be as many as are standing around here right now.”
Thursday both of Maker’s Derby entrants schooled in the starting gate before galloping 1 ¼ miles. Exercise rider Marvin Jimenez was aboard Stately Victor and Derby jockey Robby Albarado was on Dean’s Kitten for the first time after securing the mount Wednesday following the defection of Endorsement.
“He felt good,” Albarado said. “It was just a gallop so there’s not a lot to say. I was excited to pick up the mount. My man Lenny (Pike, agent) here didn’t waste any time.”
Ramsey has liked what he’s been seeing from his homebred son of Kitten’s Joy: “I have a clocker up in the stands who’s got a more experienced eye with horses than I have. He called me as soon as they got through galloping and said he was perfect, liked his demeanor, didn’t show any nervousness. Cool, calm and collected. Robby said he felt good under him and liked the way he galloped out. We’re very pleased with what we saw this morning.”
As for Stately Victor’s exercise, Tom Conway, a Louisville attorney, was impressed.
“He’s getting over the surface really well,” Tom Conway said. “I think he’s going to run a good race.”
Wednesday morning Jack Conway relayed the story of the origin of Stately Victor’s name.
Jack Conway: “This horse is named for my best friend Victor Perrone (pronounced Per-roan-ee), who I first met at the age of 6 at Holy Spirit grade school. He was my best friend in the world and he was like another son to my dad. He came from a family of 10 kids and to escape the good-natured torture of his older brothers, he would always come over to our house. When his parents moved out of town he practically lived at our house when he’d come back to visit. He and my father were very close, too. We lost him in a car wreck in 1992 at the age of 23 while he was in law school. I’ve tried to honor his memory with my racing scholarship funds and keeping his name alive.
“So my father came to me last summer and said, ‘I have this horse I really like and I want you to buy into him and I want to name him Stately Victor after your friend Victor Perrone.’ Once he put the emotional touch on me it wasn’t hard to get me to buy into the horse.”
Several members of the Perrone family have been to the races this week and will be in attendance Saturday for the Derby.
DEVIL MAY CARE/DISCREETLY MINE/MISSION IMPAZIBLE/SUPER SAVER – Trainer Todd Pletcher sent one of his Derby charges out early, but employed the “Derby/Oaks horses only” break for his other three on a lovely spring morning at Churchill Downs.
The four-time Eclipse Award winning conditioner actually led WinStar Farms’ Super Saver trackside at 7 a.m., walking him on a shank from Barn 34 to the corner of the one-mile chute before cutting him loose for a gallop of a mile and five-sixteenths under exerciser rider Kevin Willey. The Maria’s Mon colt, second in the Arkansas Derby (GI) in his most recent start, accomplished his exercise in good order and rated a “thumbs up” from the veteran Willey upon return.
At 8:30, the three other stable runners – Twin Creek Racing Stables’ Mission Impazible, E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Discreetly Mine and Glencrest Farm’s Devil May Care – turned in gallops of varying lengths as they inched ever closer to Saturday’s performance in the $2,185,200 Kentucky Derby.
Mission Impazible had exercise rider Willey up for a journey of about a mile and three eighths. Discreetly Mine did his business under exercise rider Obed Perez, covering a mile and five-sixteenths, and the filly Devil May Care went about a mile and a quarter for Horacio De Paz.
Later in the morning, back at his barn, the trainer discussed his charges with a media crew.”
All four are doing well,” he said. “I’m happy with the way they’re coming up to the race.”
Asked about a weather forecast that calls for rain, which in turn could lead to an “off” track on Saturday, Pletcher saw possible advantages for his runners in such a scenario.
“All of our horses handled a wet track well in their breezes Saturday,” he said. “If there’s some likelihood of ‘slop’ or something similar, it may be an edge for us. We know we can get over it and I’m not sure all the others can say that. For instance, you’ve got the California horses that don’t see wet tracks. It’s hard to know how they might react to such a situation.”
As far as the pace of the race and his horses’ likely locations in the 10-furlong test, he offered the following: “I don’t see my horses being part of the leaders. That should be Line of David and Conveyance. I see Discreetly Mine in the second tier and Super Saver there, too. The filly (Devil May Care) and Mission Impazible figure to be either in the second or third tier. I expect the half-mile split to be somewhere in the :46 range, depending how much Line of David and Conveyance want it (the lead).”
The trainer also was asked how he’d compare Devil May Care with his 3-year-old champion filly Rags to Riches, who in 2007 won the Kentucky Oaks (GI) and the Belmont Stakes (GI).
“The one thing about those two that’s clear in my mind is that I was confident that Rags to Riches would handle the distance of the Belmont (12 furlongs) and I’m also confident that Devil May Care can handle the distance of the Derby,” he said.
Pletcher’s quartet will go postward Saturday with the following riders and starting points: Super Saver, Calvin Borel, post 4; Devil May Care, John Velazquez, post 11; Mission Impazible, Rajiv Maragh, post 14, and Discreetly Mine, Javier Castellano, post 15.
DUBLIN – Robert Baker and William Mack’s Dublin, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, galloped a mile and five-eighths Thursday morning.
Dublin, winner of the Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga last summer drew post 17 in the field of 20 for Kentucky Derby 136. He is being ridden by veteran jockey Terry Thompson, who is making his first start in the Derby.
Lukas has won the Kentucky Derby four times and is tied for first with “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons with the most victories in Triple Crown races at 13. The 74-year-old Hall of Fame trainer said the first Derby victory is more of a personal triumph because it makes your resume and you can never be sure that there will be a second trip to the winner’s circle.
“After that, on the next three, my heart went immediately to the people I was connected with, Bob and Beverly Lewis, my dear friend Bill Young,” Lukas said. “Some of the exchanges we had right after that moment will live in my memory forever. I was so thrilled, especially with Bill Young, being who he was in the Commonwealth, when he came across the grass that was the most emotional I’ve ever been in anything. And I’ve had some things other than racing in sports that have been pretty good, too.
“Sharing that with your clientele, taking them to that spot to where they want to be is special.”
HOMEBOYKRIS – Louis Lazzinnaro and partners’ Homeboykris walked the shedrow Thursday morning after breezing four furlongs in :48.40 the day before.
“He’s fine,” trainer Rick Dutrow said.
Homeboykris, who hasn’t run since finishing second in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 27, isn’t attracting the attention and crowds at Dutrow’s barn on the Churchill Downs backstretch that then-undefeated Big Brown did before the 2008 Kentucky Derby.
Big Brown, Dutrow’s first and only Derby starter, went on to win the Derby and Preakness Stakes before being eased in the Belmont Stakes.
“We had attention, but I didn’t feel any pressure. After the Belmont, that’s when I felt pressure. I felt pressure then because I had to get him ready to run some more. That was the first time I had to go through something like that. After a horse pulls up, you had to figure something’s wrong,” Dutrow said. “When there’s nothing wrong with your horses and you’re heading into a big race, I don’t think people should be feeling pressure. The horses are good, so why let something bother you when it’s really not there. But after the Belmont, you have to figure something’s wrong. That’s when the pressure sets in. You have to make the right decisions, because everyone’s watching.”
ICE BOX/JACKSON BEND – Jacks or Better Farm and Robert LaPenta’s Jackson Bend schooled in the starting gate and galloped a mile and a half under Carlos Correa before the renovation break Thursday morning at Churchill Downs. LaPenta’s Ice Box and exercise rider Dennis Chavez also visited the starting gate and galloped a mile and a half in preparation for Saturday’s Derby.
Trainer Nick Zito has saddled Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994) for Derby victories, but has been reminded the past 16 years how lucky he had been to end up in the Churchill Downs’ winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May.
“It’s very, very tough, because everything has to go just perfect, every single thing. You’ve got to have great weeks; you can’t have anything wrong; the workout’s got to be perfect, the horse has got to be perfect; the trip’s got to be perfect; everything’s got to be perfect,” Zito said. “And you’ve got to have the horse. He has to have done something.”
The Hall of Fame trainer, who is hoping for a fast track for Derby 136, acknowledged that weather reports for Saturday that might result in an “off” track should be welcomed by the connections of the speed horses in the field.
“Speed will carry in the slop, always does,” said Zito while referencing Go for Gin’s front-running score. “You saw what happened in Go for Gin’s year. There was a lot of speed, but Holy Bull didn’t break, and that was it.”
Ice Box, a deep closer, will be ridden by Jose Lezcano, while Jackson Bend, a mid-pack runner, will be guided by Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
LINE OF DAVID/SIDNEY’S CANDY – Trainer John Sadler was over the worst of it Thursday morning at his barn on the Churchill Downs backstretch. The day before he’d seen his Kentucky Derby second choice (5-1) Sidney’s Candy be assigned the far outside No. 20 post in Saturday’s Run for the Roses and it had taken him aback.
“Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to say,” the California-based trainer said. “I felt like the kid who gets a lump of coal from Santa in his Christmas stocking. It took me a while to digest it. But in the end, what are you going to do? It’s racing – deal with it. You get what you get and you do the best you can with it. That’s all you can do.”
The conditioner did have one additional thought in the aftermath of Wednesday post position draw, however.
“I’m thinking about having a pin made up that I can wear saying: ‘Yes, I know Big Brown won out of the 20 hole.’ About 20 people have come up to me and told me that one.”
Big Brown, of course, won the 2008 Derby from post 20. Previously, only one other horse had accomplished that – Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.
Sadler, a most practical man who has risen to the top of the training ranks in his native state by employing his practicality in most everything he does, has basically put the Derby draw behind him.
“I don’t stress about things I can’t control,” he said. “I’ll get together with my rider (Joe Talamo) and we’ll come up with a strategy for the race on Saturday. I think we’re going to be fine.”
Sadler had Sidney’s Candy on the Churchill oval as soon as it opened at 5:45 a.m. for a strong gallop of approximately a mile and five-eighths. He had found the post-renovation “Derby/Oaks horses only” training period, which he had employed the previous day for both Sidney’s Candy and his other Derby entrant, Line of David, to be “just a little hairy,” and instead had his son of Candy Ride out first thing on Thursday.
“It got a little crowded out there yesterday,” Sadler said. “There was a big rush when they first opened it up. And I like this track better first thing in the morning before it gets too chewed up. It works better for this horse, too. He stays a little calmer in the dark.”
Sadler used a walkie talkie to communicate with exercise rider Lupillo Alferez, making sure the gallop flowed the way he wished.
“I’ll use this radio contact on what I think are important occasions,” he said. “I wanted to be sure he got a good, strong gallop into this horse today. He (Alferez) might have gotten a little conservative with him on me the other morning and I wanted to be sure we got everything we could today. I’ll use the radio for works, too, or for other things where I want to be sure we get it right.”
Sadler also had Line of David out for some exercise, galloping a mile and a half under Alferez during the “Derby/Oaks horses only” timeframe at 8:30. The Lion Heart colt also schooled in the gate. Rafael Bejarano will ride on Derby Day.
Sadler indicated that both his Derby horses, as well as his Kentucky Oaks filly Crisp, would paddock school with the horses for Thursday’s first race.
Rejoining the trainer was his right-hand man from California, Larry Benavidez, his chief assistant and a man Sadler credits for much of his success. Benavidez had shipped in originally with the nine-horse string the stable has brought to Kentucky and stayed for six days, flip-flopping with his boss when he came into Kentucky from California for his Derby stay at the end of last week.
“It’s the right thing to have Larry here for big events like the Oaks and Derby,”
Sadler stated. “He’s a big part of my success and I want to share special things like this with him.”
MAKE MUSIC FOR ME – Ellen and Peter Johnson’s Make Music for Me schooled in the starting gate before galloping a mile and a half under exercise rider Andy Durnin Thursday morning.
Trainer Alexis Barba will admit that saddling a horse for the Run for the Roses will be like a dream, but she hasn’t spent a lot of time dreaming about it.
“Did I dream about it? No. I think you just go through the motions of working every day and when one pops up, you go, ‘Oh, wow, this is pretty neat,’ ” said Barba, who trains a nine-horse stable in Southern California.
Make Music for Me drew into the Derby field because of the defection of Endorsement, who was withdrawn from the 20-horse field because of an injury suffered during a workout on Wednesday. So, Barba will have the opportunity to become the first female trainer to saddle a Derby winner, instead of Shannon Ritter.
“Am I looking at that? I just hope we get a good trip. It’s a hard feeling to express. Of course, you want to win it, but do you get to do it? You’ve got to be the lucky one to get there, because it’s all about luck after this,” Barba said. “There are a lot of great horses in there, great trainers. It’s the trip, definitely the trip.”
NOBLE’S PROMISE – On the morning after drawing post position No. 3 for the “Run for the Roses,” Noble’s Promise had trainer Ken McPeek feeling as confident as he’s been all week. The Arkansas Derby’s beaten favorite galloped 1 ½ miles and continues to give his trainer all the right signs.
“He’s killing the feed tub like he’s mad at it,” McPeek said. “I have a rule of thumb that horses who eat fast, run fast.
“Noble’s Promise really had a good morning out there today. He galloped strongly and I couldn’t feel better about where we’re drawn and where he’s at physically.”
Willie Martinez makes his first Derby riding appearance in 11 years on Saturday when he partners with Noble’s Promise.
PADDY O’PRADO – Donegal Racing’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) runner-up Paddy O’Prado galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday morning as trainer Dale Romans said he hopes the colt performs Saturday as well as he has trained over the past few weeks.
“He galloped good, is doing good and we’re ready to go,” Romans said in a brief summary. When asked, “Isn’t that the exact thing you told us yesterday and the day before?” he quipped with a smile, “No, yesterday I told you he stood in the gate, too.”
Romans is ready to let his horse do the talking after drawing post position No. 10 in Saturday’s Derby 136. Jockey Kent Desormeaux will look to become only the fourth rider to visit the Derby winner’s circle four or more times, joining five-time winner Eddie Arcaro as well as four-time winners Bill Hartack and Bill Shoemaker.