AMERICAN LION – WinStar Farm’s Illinois Derby (GIII) winner American Lion had a routine gallop Friday morning. Trainer Eoin Harty said the Tiznow colt will walk early Saturday morning.
The weather forecast calls for heavy rain to fall overnight and rain during the day on Saturday, making it quite likely the Derby program will be run over a wet track. Since American Lion is based in California, where synthetic surfaces are mandatory and the conditions are always fast, he has very little experience on dirt, especially wet dirt. Harty said he does not know how American Lion will handle an off track.
“He trained and he worked on a muddy track,” Harty said. “I don’t think it’s going to be any comparison with what the track is going to be like if they get the rain that everybody is calling for. But, we’re here, we’re going to run and we’ll find out.”
American Lion has flourished on dirt, though, and Harty feels he is a contender.
“If everything goes right, he should be in the thick of it at the finish,” Harty said.
Harty was an assistant to Bob Baffert when Baffert won the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. He said Baffert’s Lookin At Lucky, ridden by Garrett Gomez, has a difficult – but not impossible – assignment as the Derby’s morning line favorite starts from the rail.
“It’s a tough spot to win from,” Harty said. “If the horse is as good as his form is, he should be able to weave his way through. He’s got Gomez on him; there’s nobody better than that. I think he’ll have something to say about the outcome. His work on the track the other day was very good.”
American Lion drew post seven and will be ridden by David Flores, the California-based jockey, who will be making his 10th Derby appearance.
AWESOME ACT – Vinery Stables and Mrs. Susan Roy’s Awesome Act galloped a mile and a quarter under exercise rider Wayne Tanner on Friday morning.
Julien Leparoux has the mount aboard Awesome Act, thanks to Patrick Biancone, the trainer responsible for giving the French jockey his start and his biggest booster.
While looking for a jockey to ride his colt in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) in March, trainer Jeremy Noseda recalled a conversation he had about Leparoux with Biancone at a Florida sale several years ago.
“He told me he was a huge talent. That was the first time I had heard him mentioned. Then I saw him riding out here, I told Patrick, ‘Hmmmm, you’re right, Patrick,’ ” said Noseda, whose stable is based in Newmarket, England.
Aware that John Velazquez would be riding for Todd Pletcher and that Garrett Gomez would be committed to Looking At Lucky, Noseda called Leparoux’s agent, Steve Bass, about the mount for the Gotham.
“I got the impression that he wasn’t taking me seriously. Maybe I’m wrong, but I rang up Patrick and said, ‘Patrick, would you have a word with Julien.’ The day after that, Steve Bass called up and said, ‘We’ll be in New York,’ ” Noseda said with a chuckle.
It turned out to be a winning combination with Awesome Act capturing his first start on a dirt track in the Gotham. Although Awesome Act had his problems during a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial (GI) on April 3, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey opted to stick with his Gotham winner in the Derby. Noseda expressed his belief that Leparoux is the perfect fit for Awesome Act.
“This horse tends to be a little too impetuous in the early part of his races. He looked like to me that he was a jockey with patience and good hands,” Noseda said. “Even though he never rode in Europe, he appears to have a little bit of a European mentality toward horses, getting them to relax, get them traveling, then presenting them into the race at the business end.”
BACKTALK – Gold Mark Farm’s Backtalk galloped 1 ¼ miles under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez, according to GoldMark Farm general manager of racing Todd Quast.
“He was very good this morning and we’re ready to go for tomorrow,” Quast said.
Backtalk is by Smarty Jones, who glided over the slop en route to a 2 ¾-length win in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.
Backtalk’s dam, Apasionata Sonata, raced strictly on fast dirt and firm turf, but dam sire Affirmed won the 1979 Woodward (GI) in the slop at Belmont Park and, in his 2-year-old campaign, was second to Alydar in the 1977 Champagne (GI) over a “muddy” Belmont surface.
CONVEYANCE/LOOKIN AT LUCKY – Trainer Bob Baffert’s pair of morning line favorite Lookin At Lucky, owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, and Zabeel Racing International’s Conveyance galloped Friday morning.
Baffert said the heavy rain forecast for Friday night and into Saturday is likely to have an impact on the race.
“Any time the track gets like that, every longshot has a chance,” Baffert said.
Baffert said his colts are in different situations in the mud. Conveyance, ridden by Derby rookie Martin Garcia, has a lot of early speed. Lookin At Lucky, ridden by Garrett Gomez, comes from off the pace and will have to work his way from post No. 1.
“The trip is so important. The gray horse (Conveyance) won’t be eating any mud. He’ll be gone,” Baffert said. “Then you’ve got Garrett on ‘Lucky.’ I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Pegram said Lookin At Lucky’s run of what could be described as bad luck – the outside post in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), a stumble in the Rebel Stakes (GII), an incident in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) that forced Gomez to check, and drawing the inside post in the Derby – are part of the game.
“You go through that stuff,” he said. “You cannot say that you are unlucky when you are the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. Those two just don’t go together. They just don’t happen. The deal at the Breeders’ Cup was the worst in my mind. The other stuff was race riding and that stuff happens. At the Breeders’ Cup we got a bad draw, he got hung (wide) and there were just no breaks. The other stuff happens in racing.”
DEAN’S KITTEN/STATELY VICTOR – Trainer Mike Maker said all week that a wet racetrack would only help the chances of his two Derby contenders. With as much as two inches of rain forecast for Saturday it looks as if handicappers will have to consider upgrading the chances of Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Lane’s End Stakes (GII) winner Dean’s Kitten and Thomas and Jack Conway’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner Stately Victor.
Dean’s Kitten, a stakes winner on turf and synthetic Polytrack, has only one try on dirt, a last-place finish, 33 ¾ lengths behind winner Eskendereya, in October’s Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park, which was taken off the turf and run on a “good” main track.
“The horse wasn’t right that day,” Ken Ramsey said. “I know everyone’s looking at that and saying that he got beat by 34 lengths and he can’t run on an off track and all that. But we would relish an off track. We really hope for it. He trained well over it this week.
“We’re expecting a big race from him. I think he’ll be running at the end. I don’t think he’s going to step on his pedigree or have to stop for a drink of water at the eighth pole.”
Dean’s Kitten’s dam, Summer Theatre, ran her best career race over a “wet-fast” track at River Downs.
Ramsey added that he’d like to see a big performance from Dean’s Kitten as much for his sire, Kitten’s Joy, as for himself.
“It would do for him what it did for Distorted Humor when Funny Cide won,” Ramsey said. “It would just elevate him into another stratosphere. Everyone just looked at Distorted Humor in a totally different light. They’ve got Kitten’s Joy classified as a horse that’s turf because he was a turf champion but that’s probably an inaccurate assessment. He’s by El Prado just like Medaglia d’Oro is and Medaglia d’Oro sired Rachel Alexandra and some other good dirt horses.”
As for Stately Victor, the Ghostzapper colt finished second in his debut over a “good” track, but never has raced over a surface saturated with water as he could Saturday.
Stately Victor’s dam, the Grade I winner Collect the Cash, broke her maiden by nine lengths over a Fair Grounds surface labeled “good,” but never dealt with a wet track.
Earlier in the week Maker, who exercised both his colts over the slop at the Trackside Training Center, insisted Stately Victor could handle it all.
“Rain, snow, sleet or shine, it’s not going to matter,” he said.
Maker reported that both horses galloped 1 1/4 miles in succession Friday after the track opened at 5:45 a.m.
"Everything went perfect and we're ready to go," he said.
DEVIL MAY CARE/DISCREETLY MINE/MISSION IMPAZIBLE/SUPER SAVER – Trainer Todd Pletcher had his Kentucky Derby contingent out on the racetrack early Friday morning for gallops of approximately a mile and one quarter.
The quartet of Glencrest Farm’s Devil May Care (with exercise rider Horacio De Paz aboard), E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Discreetly Mine (Obed Perez), Twin Creek Racing Stables’ Mission Impazible (Kevin Willey) and WinStar Farm’s Super Saver (Patti Barry) is earmarked for their “chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance” on Saturday in the $2,185,200 Run for the Roses.
Pletcher said all was good with his runners and that he was aware of the dire weather forecasts for the Louisville area, but wasn’t going to concern himself too much with them.
“There’s not much you can do in that regard,” the four-time Eclipse Award winner said, “so I just let it be. My horses have done well enough (training on ‘off’ tracks at Churchill) that I think they’ll do all right if it comes to it.”
The trainer was asked if there was one particular Derby rival he was afraid of going into the 10-furlong classic.
“I’m afraid of them all,” he said.
DUBLIN – Robert Baker and William Mack’s Dublin, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, galloped a mile and five-eighths Friday morning.
Lukas said he could not predict how Dublin will handle the expected wet track in the Derby.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t ever worry about things that I have no control over. I think it’s foolish to worry about something that may never happen. If it happens we’ll deal with it when he goes over there. I don’t really know what he’ll do. We obviously will lead him over there in the mud, or on crushed glass. We’re going to show up and we’ll see what happens.”
Dublin has a tiny bit of experience from training in wet conditions.
“We only galloped him over it,” Lukas said. “We had one work where it was a little bit wet. We did gallop him over it, but he did that well. So does, I’m sure, all the other 19 horses, too. You really don’t know.
“Going a mile and a quarter with mud coming back, he wears blinkers, that’s not an ideal situation for me. I don’t really look forward to it.
“But I live a charmed life. I’ve been on scholarship my whole life, so it probably won’t rain.”
HOMEBOYKRIS – Louis Lazzinnaro and partners’ Homeboykris jogged a mile under exercise rider Joe Deegan Friday morning. The Champagne Stakes (GI) winner will break from the No. 19 post position under jockey Ramon Dominguez.
“I’m just hoping for a good trip, just like everyone else. I don’t know if we’ll get one from out there,” trainer Rick Dutrow said. “He’s got plenty of speed. So we need him to break good and fall into a saving-ground position going into the first turn. That’s what we’re hoping for, but it probably won’t happen. We’ll see. There’s no pressure on the horse or the jock.”
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre owns a 10-percent share in Homeboykris.
“He won’t be here, but he’ll be here in spirit,” Dutrow said.
ICE BOX/JACKSON BEND – Robert LaPenta’s Ice Box and Jackson Bend, who is co-owned by breeder Jacks or Better Farm, galloped a mile and a half Friday morning. Dennis Chavez was aboard Ice Box, while Carlos Correa exercised Jackson Bend.
Trainer Nick Zito has not welcomed forecasts for heavy rain Saturday.
“It kind of makes you a little apprehensive, because you really don’t know. That’s the hard part. You want a fast track, that’s all both these horses have run on. I don’t have any barometer to tell (if they can handle an off track). They’ve practiced enough on it, but it’s still not the race. You just don’t know. I’m positive that they’ll like it, but you don’t know.”
Jose Lezcano will ride Ice Box, while Mike Smith will be aboard Jackson Bend.
LINE OF DAVID/SIDNEY’S CANDY – Trainer John Sadler had both his Derby colts – Sid and Jenny Craig Trust’s Sidney’s Candy and Ike and Dawn Thrash’s Line of David -- out early for gallops of about a mile and one half under exercise rider Lupillo Alferez.
“We’re all good,” the trainer said. “I’d like to put them back out on the track tomorrow morning for a jog, but I don’t know with the weather. If it is pouring rain and the track is soaked, they probably won’t go.”
The Churchill Downs track is scheduled to be open from 6-8 a.m. for training on Derby morning, but inclement weather – which is forecast for Saturday and on the thoughts of everyone with a Derby interest -- might make Sadler’s concerns moot. Track officials will make a call on whether the track opens at all in the morning.
Sadler spent Thursday afternoon at Lane’s End Farm in nearby Versailles taking part in a luncheon and other events with Jenny Craig, the weight-loss guru who, with her late husband Sid, bred and now races Sidney’s Candy, a son of their Argentinian-bred sire Candy Ride, who now stands at Lane’s End.
“Jenny is looking good and doing great and she’s very excited about this race,” Sadler said.
While Sidney’s Candy has shown a willingness to perform well on an “off” track in his gallops and during a good workout at Churchill last Saturday, stablemate Line of David has gone the other way and demonstrated a dislike for a wet track.
“Yes, I might consider not running him if it were to get really bad here tomorrow,” Sadler said. “But it would have to be something extraordinary. My owners want to run and I want to run him. And I know this track can change drastically from morning to afternoon, so anything I might do in that regard would have to be right up on the race. We’d wait until the last minute.”
According to Churchill Downs stewards, the “last minute” for a Kentucky Derby scratch is normally four hours before the race.
“But in a case of serious weather conditions, we could give a trainer more time,” steward Brooks Becraft III said. “If a trainer would contact us and say he wants another hour or so to look at the situation before taking his horse out, I’m sure we’d work with him on that.”
Post time for Kentucky Derby 136 is scheduled for 6:24 p.m. (ET).
Sadler added a Triple Crown note to the proceedings Friday morning when he offered that another Thrash runner, Hurricane Ike, winner of Churchill’s opening day The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII), was being seriously considered for a run in the Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico in Baltimore on May 15.
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 Friday morning.
Peter Johnson, who owns the son of Bernstein with his wife Ellen, hopes to be able to make the walk from the Barn 41 to the paddock Saturday with his first Kentucky Derby starter, who drew into the field Wednesday, the day entries were taken, because of the defection of Endorsement.
“It’s very exciting. When I learned about it, I was in shock for a couple hours,” the 73-year-old retired businessman said. “It’s been a dream to come here.”
Johnson, whose sons run the direct marketing business he founded, has owned horses since 2004, all of them trained by Alexis Barba.
“I enjoy a good relationship with Alexis, probably a little different from most owners and trainers, because most of her horses are my horses,” said Johnson, who also owns Alphie’s Bet, a 3-year-old who has won the Sham (GIII) and Snow Chief Stakes in California this year. “I know that all of her effort and time are devoted to our horses. We communicate very well together. We’ve enjoyed a nice working relationship.”
Joel Rosario will ride Make Music for Me.
NOBLE’S PROMISE – Under exercise rider Walter Blum Jr., Noble’s Promise completed his Kentucky Derby 136 training Friday morning with a 1 ¾-mile gallop and a little dress rehearsal for what it will be like breaking from post No. 3 on Saturday.
“We back-tracked around and then (trainer) Kenny (McPeek) wanted me to let him break away for a quick few strides from the quarter-pole to simulate the start,” Blum Jr. said. “If you’re one of the inside four horses, you have to be careful inside with the way the rail sits in regard to the gate.”
Blum Jr. knows his way around Derby horses. He was the New York and Florida exercise rider at various points for 2008 star of stars Big Brown. His father, Walter Blum, rode Reason to Hail and Royal and Regal in the 1967 and 1973 Kentucky Derby editions, respectively, the latter finishing eighth behind Secretariat.
Owned by a 25-person syndicate known as Chasing Dreams Racing 2008 LLC, Noble’s Promise has turned out to be a $10,000 home run purchase who has earned $823,500 to date. Ron Holmberg, one of three managing partners in the stable, understands just how lucky they have been.
“We’re batting at a hell of a lot higher average than you’re supposed to,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve got 25 partners, all from Kentucky, and all will be here. The new partners we’re recruiting are going to think it is this easy to get to the Derby, but we know better.”
Noble’s Promise will walk the shedrow on Derby morning. Jockey Willie Martinez has the mount in Derby 136.
PADDY O’PRADO – With a large contingent of his ownership group gathered Friday morning, Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) runner-up Paddy O’Prado galloped 1 ½ miles and put the finishing touches on his Derby 136 exercises.
Owned by Donegal Racing, a cast of more than 300 folks from across the country have converged on Louisville as either partners or supporters of Paddy O’Prado.
Jerry Crawford, owner of the NBA Developmental League’s Iowa Energy and the head of Donegal Racing, was bursting with energy Friday on the brink of Derby Day.
“It’s such a dream come true for me to come here with a Kentucky Derby starter,” he said. “I have loved horses since I was about 5 years old. I can die a happy man now.”
Crawford had a brush with death three years ago at Churchill Downs during Derby Week. He suffered a heart attack and was rushed to Jewish Hospital. So grateful for the care he received there from Dr. Nick Xenopolus, he would later name a horse Dr. Nick in his honor, who eventually became a debut winner at Churchill Downs.
“We’re hoping things go a lot smoother this year,” Crawford said. “Kent Desormeaux said the word for the week for Paddy O’Prado and for me is ‘suave.’ Let’s hope he’s right.”
Crawford said managing a racing stable and a basketball franchise are different, but have some similarities.
“Both require a great deal of management and you have to put together a great team and manage a schedule,” he said.
Crawford tapped into some of his sports mentality when dividing up a group of eight 2-year-olds he had on a farm in South Carolina. His two trainers, Bill Mott and Dale Romans, went to the farm to evaluate the talent and conducted a two-man draft. Romans, who has more history with Crawford as a client, got the first pick in the four-round draft and tabbed a juvenile by Dynaformer. Mott’s first pick was a 2-year-old son of First Samurai.