NEHRO (Mineshaft) is primed and ready to put forth a peak effort in Saturday's Kentucky Derby (G1), galloping 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs Friday morning. Trainer Steve Asmussen reported that all is well with the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up.
"So far so good," he stated.
Meanwhile, Nehro's owner, Ahmed Zayat, understandably had mixed feelings about the defection of Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie). Strategically, Nehro gets to move one post position closer to the rail, from 19 to 18, and will now break outside of a likely pace factor in Soldat (War Front), a more favorable scenario.
However, Zayat is one of the few people who understand exactly what Uncle Mo's owner, Mike Repole, is experiencing, having been forced to withdraw last year's likely Derby favorite, Eskendereya, six days before the race.
"It's absolutely horrible, that feeling," Zayat said shortly after Repole and Todd Pletcher's morning news conference, which was all too similar to the one Zayat and Pletcher called last year. "It's horrible for everyone in the industry to lose a three-year-old champion, one that, in my opinion, was a very special horse. It's a very hard thing for racing."
Zayat conceded that "for selfish reasons," he is pleased to move from post 19, where no horse has won the Derby from, to 18, where Gato Del Sol set a new precedent in 1982. In that running, Gato Del Sol was last of 19 around the clubhouse turn before Eddie Delahoussaye started picking off horses down the backside and passed most of the rest of the field coming out of the turn, going on to win impressively by 2 1/2 lengths.
Zayat emphasized that he was already at peace with his initial post draw and, while this may be a slight improvement, it does not drastically affect his chances. What matters most is that the his colt is in good form and they have a jockey, Corey Nakatani, known for his ability to save ground.
"We are so pumped," Zayat said. "Everything is coming together and he is an unbelievably happy horse. I have 150 horses so I can tell when one is doing well."
Trainer Nick Zito has been particularly hands-on while preparing DIALED IN (Mineshaft) for Derby 137, 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 the first of two Kentucky Derby victories for Zito. 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 (G1) at Gulfstream Park in his most recent start. Zito expects his charge 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."
MUCHO MACHO MAN (Macho Uno) galloped two miles under exercise rider Mike Herra on Friday morning. Trainer Kathy Ritvo posed for pictures with groups of well-wishers outside Barn 41 after the morning activity, handing out green and yellow Mucho Macho Man bands.
"I'm having fun. I'm excited, very excited. It's not a high pressure week for me. The horse is doing good, and that's what I'm concerned with," Ritvo said. "The high pressure week for me was waiting for a heart. This is fun."
Ritvo, who underwent a heart transplant in 2008, has been the most interviewed trainer at Churchill Downs this week and is sure to be in great demand by national media outlets should Mucho Macho Man be victorious in the Derby.
"I can tell them about organ donation and my fabulous horse, Mucho Macho Man," Ritvo said.
The 42-year-old South Florida-based trainer expressed pleasure with the Risen Star (G2) winner's physical condition.
"I think he's actually even gaining weight in hard training," Ritvo said. "I'm ready for war. I think he has a good chance. I think he has as good a chance as any. He's peaking right now. I couldn't ask him to be training any better."
MASTER OF HOUNDS (Kingmambo) trotted once around the track and then cantered a circuit under exercise rider Pat Lillis on Friday morning. The bay 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 only once this year, finishing a game second by a nose in the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) that was part of the undercard for the Dubai World Cup program on March 26. The colt was shipped from Ireland to Louisville, Kentucky, 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."