ANIMAL KINGDOM – Team Valor International’s Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII) winner Animal Kingdom will be ridden by John Velazquez in Kentucky Derby 137. Velazquez was named to replace Robby Albarado, who suffered facial injuries in a paddock accident on Wednesday.
“We decided last night that if Robby rode today, we would stick with him,” said Barry Irwin, chief executive officer of Team Valor International. “But if he was not able to ride today, we didn't feel comfortable riding him on Saturday. We made the decision this morning, before the betting opened, so the 'punters' would have full knowledge of what the deal was."
Animal Kingdom went to the track Friday morning and galloped 1 5/8 miles.
Trainer Graham Motion said he is happy with the colt as he approaches America’s most important race.
“He’s doing very well and I feel very good about running him,” Motion said. “I feel good about how he’s doing. I’m pretty relaxed about it, to be honest.”
Motion is a good example of a trainer who has seen his scenario for the Derby under go a complete overhaul since mid-March. At that point, Animal Kingdom was a maiden winner who had finished second in an allowance race on turf, and Toby’s Corner was a coming off a third-place finish in the Gotham (GIII).
Animal Kingdom established himself as a Derby prospect with his win in the Spiral on March 26 and Toby’s Corner won the Wood Memorial (GI) on April 9. Animal Kingdom turned in a nice work at Churchill Downs on Saturday, April 30 that confirmed he was ready for the Derby, but Toby’s Corner was found to have a problem with his left rear leg on Monday, May 2, an injury that kept him out of the race.
Motion has seen his lineup change and has had to change riders on Animal Kingdom. “I’ve kind of been through all of the ups and downs, the emotions of it,” Motion said. “I’m kind of getting to the point where I’m putting that behind me.
“It’s been a real emotional roller coaster for everybody, particularly for the guys at Fair Hill, who put so much into Toby’s Corner. That is the nature of the game and it’s what you grow used to. I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated two months ago this horse running in the Derby, but I don’t think that’s a knock against him because I think he’s a really special horse. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, he’s a really good horse.”
The Derby will be Animal Kingdom’s first race on dirt and the breeze on Saturday gave Motion confidence that he can handle the change in surfaces.
“That was a very good work,” Motion said. “It’s still different to go over there in the afternoon and duplicate that. It was a very good work and that has kind of kept me relaxed about the whole situation.”
ARCHARCHARCH – It was all smiles Friday morning at Barn 40 as Robert and Val Yagos’ Archarcharch completed his preparations for Kentucky Derby 137 with a mile and a half gallop over a fast race track with jockey Jon Court up.
“He looked good galloping by me,” trainer Jinks Fires said. “We’re all good here and he won’t go out in the morning.”
It has been a big week for the 70-year-old Fires as he prepares to send out his first Derby starter and the high pressure valve has been kept on low with members of the Fires family converging on Louisville and the trainer even allowing a local TV sports anchor to ride his pony a couple of mornings.
It also did not hurt that the barn picked up a winner Thursday in Court’s Journey, a 3-year-old ridden by Jon Court and owned and bred by Fires’ daughter and Court’s wife Krystal.
“The owner was ecstatic,” said Jon Court, who rode three winners Thursday and has six victories in the first four days of the meet. “It’s the only horse she has now.”
Two of the victories Thursday came from post position one, the spot from which Archarcharch will break on Saturday. “I’ll take back and try to avoid getting bumped around,” Court said looking ahead to Saturday and leaving the one hole on Archarcharch.
On hand to watch the morning activity was Doug Fires, Jinks’ 30-year-old son who is on leave from Camp Pendleton in California.
“I haven’t been to a Derby since I was a kid,” said Doug Fires, a Marine Cobra helicopter pilot who has served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. “The Derby was always during finals week (at the Naval Academy) or I was deployed.”
BRILLIANT SPEED – Live Oak Plantation’s homebred Dynaformer colt Brilliant Speed galloped a mile and a quarter under assistant trainer Dan Blacker Friday morning.
Trainer Tom Albertrani watched the colt while he was on the track from a spot along the rail and said the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) winner is coming up to the Derby the right way.
“He’s definitely on the muscle and that’s what I want to see,” Albertrani said. “I want to see him go around there. He’s dragging my rider around there and that’s usually a good indication for me; that’s when he’s doing good.
“I feel pretty confident. He’s training extremely well. The only question is how he’s going to handle this surface. I feel pretty confident going into the race.”
Brilliant Speed ran poorly on dirt in his first two career starts last year, but began to blossom when he was switched to longer races on the turf in the fall. He ran well in two grass stakes at Gulfstream Park during the winter and earned his ticket to the Derby with a victory on the Polytrack at Keeneland in the Blue Grass.
Albertrani acknowledged that it is wide-open race with many contenders.
“I’m focused on my horse right now and I find a lot of positives on my horse. That’s why I feel pretty confident,” he said. “There’s not one horse you could lay a finger on because that’s why they are all in there.”
As a son of Dynaformer out of a Gone West mare, Brilliant Speed has bloodlines that say he could be a player in the Derby.
“He’s got the pedigree. The distance is going to be no problem for him,” Albertrani said. “I love the way he’s training. I think he’s going to run well.”
COMMA TO THE TOP – Trainer Peter Miller had his Kentucky Derby charge Comma to the Top out at 7 a.m. Friday for a bit of exercise on a cool and cloudy morning at Churchill Downs. The Southern California-based conditioner, who also serves as his horse’s exercise rider for their Kentucky adventure, jogged his gelding once around the big strip as well as allowing him to stand for a minute in the starting gate.
“Took it easy on him today,” the trainer said. “If he isn’t fit by now, I’m not going to get him fit today.”
Comma to the Top, a son of the Indian Charlie sire Bwana Charlie, is the most experienced horse in the field for Derby 137 with 13 starts already under his girth. The speedster, who will be handled by veteran Patrick Valenzuela, is considered by many the likely pacesetter in the 10-furlong classic.
Miller was asked about his plans for Comma to the Top on Derby Day.
“Usually I just walk my horses on the day they race,” the trainer said. “But with post so late for this race (scheduled for 6:24 p.m.), I might put him on the track for a jog in the morning.”
The Florida-bred bay will break from post position six in the 19-horse Derby field.
DECISIVE MOMENT – Just For Fun Stable’s Decisive Moment jogged once the wrong way under trainer Juan Arias on Friday morning at Churchill Downs.
Arias shares a name with the trainer of Canonero II, who pulled off a huge upset in the 1971 Kentucky Derby.
The South Florida-based trainer, who is no relation to Canonero II’s trainer, will saddle Decisive Moment with a dream of joining him in Derby history.
“It means a lot to my career. It’s a race that everybody wants to be in,” Arias said.
Just having a horse in the Derby field has been an important development in his training career.
“It shows that I can take a horse to the next level,” he said.
Kerwin Clark has the mount aboard Decisive Moment.
DERBY KITTEN/TWINSPIRED -- With their respective owners buzzing around the barn Friday morning, it was business as usual for the Mike Maker-trained duo of Derby Kitten and Twinspired. Both turned in routine, mile and a half gallops as their trainer tended to business across town at Trackside Training Center. Derrick Smith was up for Twinspired, while Rachel Muzikar was aboard Derby Kitten.
Maker, an assistant trainer under D. Wayne Lukas when Charismatic won the 1999 Kentucky Derby, seeks his first Derby glory as a head trainer. A victory by Derby Kitten or Twinspired promises to be a raucous victory for the locals who make up their ownership. Ken and Sarah Ramsey of Nicholasville, Ky. own Derby Kitten, while Twinspired is owned by Alpha Stables (Jim Shircliff, et al), Skychai Racing (Dr. Harvey Diamond) and Sand Dollar Syndicate (David Koenig, et al), comprised mostly of folks from Louisville and Union, Ky.
The Ramseys are among Churchill’s most famous faces and have won a remarkable 17 leading owner meet titles. The Kentucky Derby would be the one jewel above all others for Ramsey.
“The only Derby I missed since 1967 was Lil E. Tee’s year (1992) when I was in the hospital,” Ken Ramsey said. “We will be there with bells on Saturday with the entire family. There’s only one Kentucky Derby!”
DIALED IN – Trainer Nick Zito has been particularly hands-on while preparing Dialed In for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, and that trend continued Friday morning. The Hall of Fame trainer helped give his 4-1 morning-line favorite a bath following his morning gallop.
“I’m fond of this horse, and I really like everything he’s done so far. He’s done everything at a high level and he’s gotten here, so far,” Zito said. “This never gets old.”
Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of Zito’s first of two Kentucky Derby victories. Strike the Gold closed off the pace to capture the 1991 Run for the Roses, three years before Go for Gin put him in the winner’s circle for a second time in 1994.
“We were blessed to win in 1991 and then come back and win it again,” Zito said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve won this race, but you’ve got to be thankful for the ones you won.”
Zito said he gets emotional when he thinks about Strike the Gold’s victory and how much Dialed In reminds him of his first Derby winner.
“They’re both not very big, but they’re balanced. ‘Strikey’ is muscular, this horse is muscular, but they’re not very tall,’ he said. “They both have great personalities and they have the same running style, just coming from last.”
Dialed In, who won his debut at Churchill Downs in November, closed from last to win the Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park in his most recent start. He expects the son of Mineshaft to come from far off the pace on Saturday.
“I just think he has to run his race. He’s a closer and that’s the way he needs to run,” Zito said. “There are a lot of good horses in the race. There are four or five horses that look good, but you have to beat all of them. You don’t underestimate your opponent. I don’t look any horses other than my one. I’m just zeroing in on my horse.”
Zito has faith in Julien Leparoux, Dialed In’s regular rider.
“Pat Day has the greatest hands around, but this kid comes pretty close,” Zito said. “He has a good head on his shoulder, and I knew he was going to be a come from behind horse, so I thought he was the ideal jock.”
MASTER OF HOUNDS – Mrs. John Magnier’s Master of Hounds trotted once around the track and then cantered a circuit under exercise rider Pat Lillis on Friday morning.
The Kingmambo colt is being handled by T.J. Comerford, the traveling head lad for Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, who will attend the Derby.
Master of Hounds has raced once this year, finishing a game second by a nose in the UAE Derby (GII) that was part of the undercard for the Dubai World Cup program on March 26. The colt was shipped from Ireland to Louisville on Tuesday, spent Wednesday in quarantine and had some exercise time on the track on Thursday and Friday.
Comerford said he likes the way the colt looks and got over the track as he approaches the race.
“He was very good,” Comerford said. “Pat is happy with him. He’s grand now. He was well-behaved out here again today. We’re very happy with him.
Lillis said the colt felt good to him on the dirt. The horse trains and races on grass or synthetic surfaces.
“He’s a natural,” Lillis said.
Comerford said preparations are complete and he is looking forward to Master of Hounds being able to go out and race.
“There’s nothing more than we can do now,” he said. “We’ll see how things turn out tomorrow. He doesn’t mind all that’s going on around him. It’s all new to him, but he’s very good. We’re very pleased with him.”
Garrett Gomez will ride Master of Hounds, who will exit post position 11.
MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE – Arnold Zetcher’s homebred Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Midnight Interlude had a normal morning Friday, galloping once around the main track.
“He looks great. He’s done everything right here,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “It’s a matter of if he’s good enough. I think we’re all in the same boat.”
Victor Espinosa will ride Midnight Interlude in the Kentucky Derby.
Midnight Interlude did not run as a 2-year-old and has emerged as a Derby horse since his debut in late January. Should he win, he will be the first horse to win the Derby without a start as a 2-year-old since Apollo won the race in 1882.
Baffert said he never imagined in January that Midnight Interlude would take him to the Derby.
“Hell no,” he said. “We knew he could run and we liked him, but I was thinking he was more of a turf horse.”
That thinking changed when the colt won a maiden race in March and Baffert decided to try him in the Santa Anita Derby.
“The good ones develop really quickly,” Baffert said. “That’s what I liked about this horse. It’s just, boom, boom, boom. All of a sudden you’ve got this little 13-year-old throwing this 40-yard pass. You do, `hey that’s what I want.’ The good ones come around quick.”