The New York-based trio of Samraat, Wicked Strong, and Uncle Sigh had their final major preps for next Saturday's Kentucky Derby Friday morning, with Samraat working a mile at Aqueduct and Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh breezing seven and five furlongs, respectively, over Belmont Park's training track.
Samraat, who won his first five races before finishing second to Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial, was first out, stepping onto the main track at the Big A shortly after 7 a.m. (EDT). With exercise rider Rodney Paine in the irons, the New York-bred son of Noble Causeway went an easy mile in 1:45 4/5, with an opening quarter in :27 3/5 and a half in :54 3/5.
"I really didn't want him to go too fast," trainer Rick Violette said. "We just wanted to get it done. Time was only important if he went too fast, and he didn't. He went great."
Violette said the decision to work Samraat a mile was based on how effective that schedule has been for him in the past. The colt won all three races against New York-breds as a two-year-old, including a 16 3/4-length victory in the Damon Runyon, and narrowly beat Uncle Sigh in the Withers and the Gotham before finishing 3 1/2 lengths behind Wicked Strong in the 1 1/8-mile Wood.
"It's worked for him all along," said Violette, who said Samraat will be flown to Kentucky on Monday. "Now, we have eight days with a travel day. We'll let him be happy and recharge his batteries. He'll have a light week, and he just has to feel like King Kong on Saturday. I think it's a wide-open race. California Chrome is the target, and the favorite, but there are going to be 19 horses to beat. You need a good trip, a little bit of luck here or there, and a good horse to win."
At Belmont Park, both Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh went out after the second renovation break at 9:30 a.m.
Wicked Strong, with exercise rider Kelvin Pahal up, worked seven-eighths in 1:27 after breaking from the half-mile pole, galloping out a mile in 1:40 3/5.
"It's always good to finish up a work like that," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "It's for stamina, and it just keeps him from getting too nervous. I like the way he worked. A lot of things have to work out. He's got to handle the crowd, he's got to handle the track, he's got to handle all the other things that go with it. At least he's going there in a good frame of mind and in good condition. As far as how he's doing, I couldn't be happier."
Jerkens, who trains the Hard Spun colt, said Wicked Strong leaves New York on a van for Louisville on Saturday afternoon, arriving at Churchill Downs early Sunday morning.
"He's got a good work under his belt; I was happy to get this out of the way," Jerkens said. "We can afford to lose the day he's going to lose shipping. He can lounge a little bit, we can take him out in the afternoon to look at the place, and then he can gallop Monday morning."
Jerkens said Wicked Strong would most likely blow out a quarter-mile through the stretch on Thursday at Churchill Downs.
"If he gallops out in 37 and change, that should be all he needs," he said.
Uncle Sigh, who was 1-3-0 in four starts before finishing fifth in the Wood, went five furlongs in 1:00 under former jockey and exercise rider Nick Santagata, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:27 3/5.
"He came home shading 23 seconds; it was a very strong work," trainer Gary Contessa said. "His last quarter-mile was effortless and it was exactly what I was looking for. He came back like he can't even blow out a match."
It was the second time Uncle Sigh worked in blinkers, which he will wear in the Derby.
"He's much more focused (with blinkers); he's rating kindly," Contessa said. "Everybody that puts blinkers on before the Derby worries about being the next Palace Malice. I see that he's rating kindly in behind horses; we put him in behind horses and made him eat dirt. We've done our due diligence this last month and we've worked him where he has to come up through the rail. I don't see any hesitancy, and I always saw hesitancy in (Uncle Sigh) without the blinkers."
Like Wicked Strong, Uncle Sigh will be vanned to Louisville, departing at 5 a.m. on Saturday.
"I might do something at Churchill. I'm thinking maybe Wednesday or Thursday let him run through the stretch just to let him air out a little, three-eighths," Contessa said. "I just wanted to get his (work) done here; this is his hometown. I didn't want to throw him into the fire down in Churchill right away and I think we're getting there far enough in advance that he'll be able to take it all in."