KENTUCKY DERBY UPDATE
CALIFORNIA CHROME – The morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin's California Chrome, went trackside Thursday morning at 6:55 as hundreds of cameras clicked and video rolled. The handsome chestnut colt stopped and took it all in, then did the same several times more as he backtracked his way to the frontside and under the iconic Twin Spires at Churchill Downs, before heading up the tunnel way to the paddock to "school," just as he had the day before.
Following his paddock tour, exercise rider Willy Delgado took the colt to the starting gate for a nice stand.
"Willy told me he did fine in the gate," trainer Art Sherman said afterward. The 77-year-old conditioner had watched his charge go about his morning business from the second floor of the old clocker's stand on the backstretch near the five-furlong gap.
"He's usually fine in there, but sometimes he hesitates going in. He was fine today."
Following the gate education, Delgado put the Californiabred in gear and had him gallop approximately a mile and one half around the oval. California Chrome went through his exercise with vigor, pulling strongly on the rider's reins.
"He looked good out there," Sherman said. "He's feeling good and he's doing good. He's coming up to this race right."
California Chrome, who has shown he has front-running speed in his bag of tools, drew post five in the 20-horse Derby field.
There are several other "speed" type horse drawn among the first 10 gate positions and Sherman was asked if he was concerned about his horse possibly getting caught up in a sapping speed battle early on.
"No, not really," he said. "My horse has speed; he's really fast. And if Victor (rider Victor Espinoza) wants to use it, he can. I'm not going to give him any instructions. That's not my way. I know how that works (Sherman rode for more than 20 years). Victor knows him; he has confidence in him, and I've got confidence in Victor.
He's won four stakes on my horse and he's won the Kentucky Derby.
"The key in a race like this with 20 horses in the field is the first 70 yards. You want to get out and get yourself some position. You don't want to get bumped or knocked off stride. You don't want to get the wind knocked out of them. If that happens, then they can't get into that rhythm; they can't get rolling properly."
Sherman, who has been a man in demand since arriving in Kentucky Monday, spend a quite night Wednesday by having dinner at his hotel (The Brown) with his wife and two nieces who had come in from California and Oregon. "Back in the room and headed to bed by quarter to 10," he said. Following training this morning, he was planning on getting to the Kentucky Derby Museum to see it and its famous Derby film, as well as visiting the grave of the 1955 Derby winner Swaps. Sherman was the exercise rider for that horse, called by many the best California-bred of all time. He is buried in The Garden behind the Derby Museum along with four other Derby winners.
The trainer said he plans to gallop California Chrome at 6 a.m. Friday morning given the early (8 a.m.) track closing on Oaks Day. He also will hold an impromptu press conference at his Barn 20 at 7:30 a.m.
CANDY BOY – Trainer John Sadler told owner/breeder Lee Searing that he liked the Churchill Downs racetrack "first thing" for their horse Candy Boy, so at 5:45 Thursday morning when the track opened, Searing was standing trackside near the Lukas gap as exerciser rider Jelani Grant took the bay colt onto the pristine strip.
"John said he thinks this track is at its best very first thing in the morning, so we decided to take advantage of it," Searing said.
Rider and horse were among the very first to go about the business of being fit, backtracking to the frontside before turning and beginning a strong and steady gallop of about a mile and one-half around the oval. Sadler, as is his wont, drove over to the Churchill grandstand to watch the move, then reported that he was pleased with what he saw when he returned to Barn 43.
Searing, a California guy, has 15 runners at the track in California with Sadler, including six 2-year-olds. In addition, he keeps a broodmare band currently at nine in Kentucky.
"I just don't like the choice of stallions in California, so I do my breeding in Kentucky," he said. "I wouldn't mind having Calbred horses, but I'm just not pleased with what is offered right now." Among his Kentucky broodmares is She's an Eleven, dam of Candy Boy, who is by the Argentinian import Candy Ride.
Searing presently has a yearling colt by Quality Road out of She's an Eleven and she's in foal now to Candy Ride again.
CHITU/HOPPERUNITY – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert announced Thursday morning that a hoof issue will prevent Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman's Hoppertunity from running in the Kentucky Derby.
Baffert's remaining Derby contender, Tanma Corporation's Chitu, had a routine gallop of 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Dana Barnes.
Baffert said that he and his staff first noticed what is through to be a minor problem, a bruise, Wednesday morning, but that the colt appeared to be fine after loosening up. When Hoppertunity had the same problem Thursday morning, Baffert said he and the owners decided to pull him from the Derby field and send him to the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., for a thorough examination by Dr. Larry Bramlage.
"We felt more comfortable withdrawing him and we're going to send him to get scanned," Baffert said. "It's pretty sure that it's the foot, but we want to make sure that it's nothing else so we can continue on with him to the Preakness."
Hoppertunity drew post 11 in the Derby and was the 6-1 second choice behind California Chrome on the morning line.
"Unfortunately, the timing is horrible because we don't have enough time to work on the foot," Baffert said. "It's tough, this close to the Derby. The horse is fine." Baffert said the colt would be sent to the hospital on Thursday afternoon and he expects a report by Friday afternoon.
"It's a head-scratcher. Dr. Bramlage and my vet looked at it and we think it's the foot, but we want to rule out anything else. He warms out of it, but I didn't feel comfortable the way he is. So he's out." Baffert said that the colt might have suffered the injury when he breezed on wet track Monday morning. "I explained to Dr. Bramlage the situation and he agreed that if I didn't feel good about it why take a chance, and let's rule out everything else but the foot," Baffert said.
Hoppertunity took a while to develop as a 2-year-old, but emerged during the winter into a leading contender in the Derby.
"It's disappointing because I think he was very live," Baffert said. "He likes this track. He trained well over it. The distance is his distance. I really felt he was going to be really live. I feel bad for the owners; they came here with Lookin at Lucky and had bad luck with the one-hole and now this."
With the scratch of Hoppertunity, Mike Battaglia revised the morning line for Derby 140. The revised line from the rail out is as follows: Vicar's in Trouble (20-1), Harry's Holiday (50-1), Uncle Sigh (30-1), Danza (8-1), California Chrome (5-2), Samraat (15-1), We Miss Artie (50-1), General a Rod (15-1), Vinceremos (30-1), Wildcat Red (15-1), Dance With Fate (20-1), Chitu (20-1), Medal Count (20-1), Tapiture (12-1), Intense Holiday (8-1), Commanding Curve (50-1), Candy Boy (15-1), Ride On Curlin (15-1), Wicked Strong (6-1) and Pablo Del Monte (50-1).
COMMANDING CURVE – Trainer Dallas Stewart is looking at the No. 17 post position (now No. 16) for West Point Thoroughbreds' Commanding Curve, a late runner, as favorable. "With his running style and the way the speed's on the inside, that should help us, hopefully, a little bit,'' Stewart said. "Hopefully, he gets a clean break. Last time, he did not get a clean break."
In the Louisiana Derby (GII), Commanding Curve rallied to finish second after being bumped early and dropping back to last place. He finished five lengths behind winner Vicar's In Trouble, who led all the way.
"We need the speed to show up and be aggressive,'' Stewart said. "And with 'Vicar' having the 1-hole, he'll be aggressive." On Thursday morning, Commanding Curve galloped under exercise rider Emerson Chavez. Stewart said the colt might jog Friday.
"He might even jog race day, because he gets a little cranked up in the stall. Not cranked up, but you've got to kind of watch him, keep him settled, do a little something with him."
DANCE WITH FATE – Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable and Ciaglia Racing's Dance With Fate galloped a little more than 1 ¼ miles after the Thursday morning renovation break with exercise rider Issac Muniz aboard. Dance With Fate schooled in the paddock in Thursday's first race and is slated for a repeat visit in Friday's fourth race.
"I was very pleased with how he went this morning," trainer Peter Eurton said of Dance With Fate, who drew post position 12, but now will start from No. 11 with the withdrawal of Hoppertunity.
The Kentucky Derby will mark the first start on dirt for Dance With Fate since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
"I feel more confident than I did before the Breeders' Cup," Eurton said of the Florida-bred colt who had finished second in his dirt debut in the FrontRunner (GI) before the Breeders' Cup. "He had a few little issues in behind before the Breeders' Cup. Now, all is good."
Eurton said that he and jockey Corey Nakatani have not had a strategy session yet.
"I'm a good listener," Eurton said. "Corey just won on him and we'll see what he has to say and how things may pan out."
DANZA /INTENSE HOLIDAY/VINCEREMOS/WE MISS ARTIE – Trainer Todd Pletcher's four Derby colts got some exercise Thursday morning during the special Derby/Oaks training period at 8:30 on a chilly May morning at Churchill Downs.
The sophomore aces galloped strongly for approximately a mile and three-eighths under their regular exercise riders – Ezequiel Perez (Danza), Isabelle Bourez (Intense Holiday), Nick Bush (We Miss Artie) and Ovel Merida (Vinceremos). They all returned in good order and now are just one training day away from the biggest race of their careers.
Pletcher, as he often does, dealt with media questions concerning the horses. He has come to understand that the media part of his business – though not his favorite part – is a necessary one. Whereas someone like the outgoing Bob Baffert is at ease and even appears to enjoy his media sessions, Pletcher is more reserved and less inclined to toot his own horn in front of the press. And though he has had no formal media training, he has evolved into a straightforward and mostly willing source for all sorts of media requests.
"Yes, I realize it is part of the job," he said at his Barn 34 Thursday morning. "I try my best to work with the media folks, but sometimes it's hard. I've got a lot of horses I'm responsible for (he has approximately 150 horses in training currently) and a lot of times I'm in my office dealing with horses in New York or New Jersey and not able to jump right on media requests. I spend a lot of time dealing with assistants, owners, people I need to work with to do my job and it can get busy. On a real busy day my phone calls and texts and emails will be in the hundreds. But I know media people have a job to do, too, and I try my best."
On one morning during this Derby week, Pletcher bounced from one camera or microphone to another, giving insights, answering questions and providing productive quotes. He gave specific answers to specific questions, didn't fall into clichés to any extent and generally mixed an understanding tone into his basically direct style.
"When I first started a horse in the Derby in 2000, it was different with media types then," he recalled. "Back then it seemed they'd come at me in groups – four from New York would come and ask questions; then four from Kentucky would come and often ask the same questions. Now it seems it's a bit easier in that it mostly happens in press conference style with everyone there at once. That makes things easier."
And has a media type ever thrown a question at him that he couldn't answer?
"Well, I don't think I'm the only one to have this one come his way, but it did happen to me," the trainer said. "I had a fellow ask me if my Derby horse didn't run well, would I bring him back next year and try again. Not much you can do with that one."
GENERAL A ROD/HARRY'S HOLIDAY/VICAR'S IN TROUBLE – Having drawn the 1-hole for the Kentucky Derby, Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Vicar's in Trouble will be breaking from a post position that hardly anyone would choose for a Derby contender.
But Ken Ramsey, always the optimist, is focusing only on positive aspects of the Louisiana Derby (GII) winner's draw.
"Well, the 1-hole is the closest way home,'' Ken Ramsey said. "We're going to save a little ground. He's got tactical speed. I think he'll come out. Rosie (jockey Rosie Napravnik) has ridden him in all of his races. She's knows what to do.
"In life, I'll tell you, you have to play the cards you're dealt. So we've been dealt the 1-hole. We're going to play it. I'm not going to fall on my sword just because we got the 1-hole. A lot of people moaning and carrying on, but we're looking at it like the glass is halffull.''
On Thursday morning, Vicar's in Trouble came onto the track soon after it opened for a gallop under exercise rider Joel Barrientos for trainer Mike Maker. Barrientos galloped Skychai Racing, Terry Raymond and Jana Wagner's Harry's Holiday a little later, and after the renovation break galloped Starlight Racing
and Skychai Racing's General a Rod.
Harry's Holiday drew No. 2, and General a Rod drew No.8. Maker said that he doesn't think about possible trips for the horses he's running in the Derby.
"There's no real reason,'' Maker said."You know as well as I do that when those gates open, anything can happen. There are too many scenarios to play out, let alone get in right. So I'm going to leave it up to the jocks and go from there.''
Concerning whether Vicar's in Trouble got an unlucky draw, Maker said: "There's no way to predict it. Maybe the five stalls to the outside of him, they break slow. Who knows? "If I could predict what was going to happen, I wouldn't have to train horses."
MEDAL COUNT – Spendthrift Farm's Medal Count galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar during the Oaks and Derby training session, sticking with the same routine as the last two days.
"No problems," trainer Dale Romans said afterward. "He did everything great."
Romans, who practically grew up on the backside of Churchill Downs and other Kentucky racetracks as the son of trainer Jerry Romans, has a remarkable record in the Kentucky Derby.
While he still seeks to fulfill a lifelong dream with his first win in the race, Romans has earned a check with three of his four starters: Dullahan (third, 2012), Shackleford (fourth, 2011) and Paddy O'Prado (third, 2010). His first Derby runner, Sharp Humor, finished 19th in 2006.
"I feel better than I ever have about any of my chances going into the Derby," Romans said. "I think that we really fit well with this group. I think he's peaking at the right time. I think he's got all the parts that it takes to win a Derby."
PABLO DEL MONTE – Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor and trainer Wesley Ward's Pablo Del Monte, who was placed on the also-eligible list for Saturday's Kentucky Derby after entries were taken Wednesday, became eligible to run in the first leg of the Triple Crown Thursday morning because of the scratch of Hoppertunity.
"It's amazing to have the opportunity to run," Ward said. "I own 25 percent of the horse. With my 25 percent there is nothing I'd love better, with a horse that I bred, than to run. But I have to go with what my partners want to do, and respect it."
Not expecting to draw into the 20-horse Derby field, Ward and his partners were looking ahead to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes (GI) on May 17.
"The original plan, when we weren't in the race, was to go to the Preakness because we didn't think we'd have this decision to make. We felt the spacing of five weeks between races was ideal and that everything looked good," said Ward, whose homebred finished third in the Blue Grass (G1) on April 12. "But I'm hopeful they'll want to run in the Derby."
Ward expected to learn of his partners' decision later in the day.
"They're all in Europe and six hours ahead of us. I know they're going to talk later on this afternoon," he said. "We should have a decision later this evening or tomorrow morning."
Horses with assigned post positions outside of the 11 post drawn for Hoppertunity will all move inside one stall in the starting gate, leaving the No. 20 post open for Pablo Del Monte, should his owners opt to run.
"I think it sort of helps me a little bit. Obviously, in a mileand-a-quarter race, it's a factor, but when you're speed and you're on the outside, it's not like you're in the 2-hole or the 5-hole," Ward said. "He can have a nice relaxed break on the outside where he can either go to the lead or tuck in in the forefront of the race." The son of Giant's Causeway galloped 1 3/8 miles at Churchill Downs Thursday morning with jockey Jeffrey Sanchez aboard.
RIDE ON CURLIN – Trainer Billy Gowan said he thinks the No.19 (now No. 18) starting spot for Daniel Dougherty's Ride on Curlin is just fine.
"All the speed's on the inside,'' Gowan said."I think they'll run out there, and I think we can just drop over. I'm hoping we can, anyhow."
Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, who has won the Derby three times and is known for rail-skimming rides, has the mount. At the post draw, moderator John Asher, Churchill Downs Inc. Vice President of Racing Communications, joked about an over-under bet that Borel would get Ride On Curlin to the rail in the first 300 yards of the race.
"That's his thing, Bo-rail," Gowan said."I'll take the under. He'll be there."
Gowan said he won't do much game-planning for the race. "Because it all changes when the race starts anyhow," he said."I mean, you've got a fairly good idea. You know my favorite - quote of Charlie Whittingham's? 'A good jockey doesn't need instructions, and bad jockey can follow them.'
"You don't tell a jock anything, because anything you plan, even in life, whatever you plan, it doesn't work out that same way anyhow."
Ride On Curlin galloped Thursday under exercise rider Bryan Beccia.
SAMRAAT – My Meadowview Farm's Samraat schooled in the gate and had a routine gallop Thursday morning.
Samraat drew post position six in the Kentucky Derby and will be ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Trainer Rick Violette said the son of Noble Causeway emerged as a Derby prospect during the winter with wins in the Withers (GIII) and Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct.
"He always trained well and came out of Jim Crupi's farm in Florida. They liked him and they thought he had some talent," Violette said. "He's a New York-bred and you're hoping that he could run a little bit. It was the Withers that gave us an indication that he was better than just a good New York-bred. I think the Gotham confirmed that.
"In the Damon Runyon (restricted to New York-breds), he won by almost 17 lengths. You knew you had a pretty nice horse, but you weren't sure what you beat. When you bounce into open company and win a couple of real heart-wrenching, stretch-long duels, you had a pretty good clue that he might be a nice horse."
TAPITURE – Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tapiture came to the track around 7:15 a.m. to school in the starting gate and enjoy an easy gallop afterward with regular exercise rider Abel Flores up.
"We're trying to keep him happy and loose," trainer Steve Asmussen said of the Southwest Stakes (GIII) winner. Asked if he had found any explanation for Tapiture's even but unspectacular fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (GI) last time out, the trainer replied: "Not a good one."
It could be partially attributed, though, to a rough winter at Oaklawn Park, where Tapiture was stabled from early February until leaving for Churchill Downs in mid-April, forcing Asmussen to call a few audibles with the colt's schedule.
"I think his brilliant race in the Southwest was a product of how well he was training in New Orleans and went to Hot Springs," Asmussen said. "But then the weather everywhere was pretty interrupted and I think we got a little out of rhythm.
"How rough the trip was run in the Rebel, I think, made him a little anxious. It's a roughly run race and you're disappointed you didn't win, but immediately your focus is on your well-being. Are you OK? Where do we go from here?
"Then you try to get back on track for [the Kentucky Derby]. You're hoping for a better race in the Arkansas Derby and you expected a better race in the Arkansas Derby, but with that being said, how are you when you come out of it?
"I've been very pleased with who he is since he came back to Churchill and I think a lot of that has to do with his experience here all last fall. He's a horse that spent a lot of time here, in this barn, and has had a lot of success over this racetrack."
Tapiture won the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs in November and, earlier last fall, nearly won the Iroquois Stakes (GIII) as a maiden, finishing third, a half-length behind Cleburne.
Since arriving at Churchill, Tapiture has settled into familiar surroundings and worked well over a track where he stabled and started three times as a juvenile.
"I feel that he's done better every single day since he's been here," Asmussen said.
UNCLE SIGH – Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony Robertson's Uncle Sigh, who had an unofficial half-mile "mini breeze" on Wednesday, jogged a mile the wrong way under Benito Alvarado before visiting the starting gate Thursday morning.
"He's kicking-the-walls-down good," said trainer Gary Contessa, who timed his New York-bred trainee in :52 3/5 for a lung-opening half-mile Wednesday.
Uncle Sigh was wearing blinkers and the yellow hood decorated with a purple heart that he will wear for the first time in the Derby. The hood matches the colors of George "Chip" McEwen's Wounded Warrior Stables.
McEwen, who has owned horses for 17 years, renamed his stable two years ago to bring attention to the plight to service people wounded and killed in Afghanistan.
"It's not about me. It's about them and it's about getting them in the forefront of people's minds again, because it's easy to forget that we've been at war since 2001 in Afghanistan – 13 years we've been over there," McEwen said. "Kids are getting shot over there every day and nobody thinks about it."
Wounded Warrior Stables donates 10 percent of its horses' purse earnings and his pin-hooking business to various veteran organizations, including the Seal Foundation, Green Beret Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project and Retrieving Freedom.
McEwen, who owns a pharmaceutical business in South Carolina, was returning from a trade show in Las Vegas two years ago when he and the other passengers on a plane were asked to allow a wounded war veteran to get off the plane first.
"So off comes his kid who's 27 whose dad is walking him with his arms underneath his. He's walking him down the aisle. The kid's walking because he still had his arms and legs, but he didn't have his faculties because he was hit on the head by an IED. Behind him was his wife and an 18-month-old baby. He had a 5-year-old girl and his mother. Right then I realized that not only was he injured but the whole dynamic of the family has changed forever. He went from being the breadwinner to somebody having to have people take care of him," said McEwen, emotionally recalling the sad scene that spurred him into action.
"Right then, I decided to do something different. What's going to happen to his 5-year-old and his 18-month-old? How are they going to go to school? How are they going to get fed? Who's going to pay the bills?"
Wounded veterans Keith David, Scott Schroeder, Nate Whiting, a Green Beret whose brother was killed in Iraq, and his parents will be among Wounded Warrior Stables' guests at Churchill Downs Saturday.
"We're excited to have them here. It's a special day for us and this horse. Every horse owner's dream is to get to the Derby," McEwen said. "We're hoping for a miracle, like everybody else."
WICKED STRONG – Trainer Jimmy Jerkens had Centennial Farms' Wicked Strong work three furlongs in :36.60 Thursday morning as part of his daily exercise program.
Known as a "blowout," the colt was asked to accelerate from his gallop by exercise rider Kelvin Pahal as they ran down the stretch.
Jerkens was unable to see the three-furlong move because he didn't have time to get to the front side of the track from the stable area on the backside. Jerkens was delayed watching a blacksmith replace a couple of nails on one of the colt's rear shoes.
"I didn't have a chance to go around so I watched him come around the turn," Jerkens said. "But he was good and into the bridle, so I imagine he went OK. It wasn't supposed to amount to much, just something to stretch his legs and open up his lungs a little bit because he's had plenty of work. He's dead-fit, but we still wanted to do something to get him to take a deep breath."
Jerkens hoped that Wicked Strong would draw a post position somewhere in the middle of the field, but the colt landed in the outside post, No. 20 at the draw Wednesday. Because of the scratch of Hoppertunity, he will move one spot closer to the rail and start from the 19th position. Jerkens said people in racing have told him Wicked Strong, a closer, will be OK leaving the gate from an outside post.
"Edgar Prado thought it was a great post position," Jerkens said. "Edgar is a Hall of Famer and has ridden a million races, big races, and he texted me right after saying, 'perfect.' I didn't know if he was being sarcastic so I had to call him back.
"He said, 'I think it's great, especially with a horse like him that gets impatient in the gate. I think it's perfect." He said, "You've got a long run down the stretch, a very long run to the turn, you can size the race up inside of you. I think you will be fine."
Jerkens said the colt's rider, Rajiv Maragh, told him not to worry about the post.
"I felt a lot better that the jock didn't feel it was a big deal," Jerkens said. "The more they're talking, the more they are convincing me. The speed horses have to do what it looks like they're going do on paper for it to work for us. If they come in front of the stands in one big ball, we're going to be in trouble."
Jerkens said his father, the legendary trainer H. Allen Jerkens, hasn't given him a lot of advice about how to approach his first Derby.
"He said you have to try to treat it like any other race," Jimmy Jerkens said. "And he said, 'Don't let anybody or anything sway your judgment. Don't be pressured into doing something you wouldn't otherwise do just because it's the Derby. A lot of people fall into that trap where they keep second-guessing themselves." He said, 'You've got to get into a place where you can think by yourself. Just treat your horses like it was any other race. Don't train them any different just because somebody might come up to you and say "So and so went out there and did this with his horse."
He said you've got to make sure you don't fall prey to that.'
WILDCAT RED – Honors Stable Corp.'s Wildcat Red galloped 1½ miles under exercise rider Juan Belmonte Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.
"He's doing great. He has a lot of energy," trainer Jose Garoffalo said two days before he's scheduled to saddle his first Kentucky Derby starter.
Wildcat Red never has been worse than second in seven career starts, all at Gulfstream Park. He captured the Hutcheson Stakes (GIII) and the Fountain of Youth (GII) before coming up a head short of capturing the Florida Derby (GI) last time out. By accomplished sprinter D'wildcat, Wildcat Red's credentials to win at 1¼ miles have been questioned.
"It's not frustrating. I don't pay too much attention to the comments. You just do what you have to do," Garoffalo said. "The way he trains and the races he's run, he's proven he can go longer. I'm not too worried about the comments. It's like that in every sport; there are a lot of opinions. After the wire we'll see who is wrong or right."
Luis Saez, who was aboard for the Fountain of Youth, has been named to ride Wildcat Red, who'll be attempting to become the seventh Florida-bred horse to win the Derby and first since Silver Charm (1997).
LONGINES KENTUCKY OAKS UPDATE
AURELIA'S BELLE –Trainer Wayne Catalano said Thursday morning that he wasn't quite done making a game plan for the Kentucky Oaks run Friday by Jim Miller's Aurelia's Belle.
"I'm not as good as Gary Stevens,'' Catalano said with a laugh, "As soon as they had a draw, he had a game plan."
In a TV interview during the Kentucky Derby post draw, Stevens, a Hall of Fame jockey, said that he began formulating a game plan for the race as soon as the post position for his mount (Candy Boy) was drawn.
"To make a game plan, you see how everything's played out, some of the races early in the day, see how it goes,'' Catalano said. "And you go by your horse. Hopefully, we can get in a good position where she's not going to be taking a lot of dirt. Trying to get her out when we need to.
"She doesn't have a whole bunch of experience with getting a whole lot of dirt. You're going a mile and an eighth. You've got a lot of things to think about. So we'll map out a plan like that. We'll probably be laying about where we want to be. I didn't look at the race that good yet.
"What you do is mostly you talk to your rider and see how the race unfolds. You can talk about it all you want on paper, but when they break and go, you kind of like have Plan A and Plan B and see how it unfolds and adjust to that. And those are the reasons you ride the riders that can make the adjustments. You just kind of leave it to them."
Channing Hill has the mount.
Exercise rider Calamity Compton galloped Aurelia's Belle on Thursday morning, and Catalano said he planned to school her in the paddock in the afternoon. She had schooled Wednesday, too.
"I'm very happy," Catalano said. "Everything's good right at the moment. She's run some big races on dirt, run against some nice horses. That horse of Pletcher's is 4-for-4. On the dirt and a speed-favoring racetrack, those were some impressive races."
He was referring to two Gulfstream Park races in which Aurelia's Belle chased Onlyforyou, trained by Todd Pletcher. In the Forward Gal (GII), Aurelia's Belle finished second, 2 3/4 lengths behind Onlyforyou. In the Davona Dale (GII), Aurelia's Belle finished third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Onlyforyou.
EMPRESS OF MIDWAY – Daniel Kramer, Dave Kenney and RAP Racing's Empress of Midway galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday under exercise rider Humberto Gomez for trainer Doug O'Neill.
Jack Sisterson, assistant to O'Neill, said the filly would jog tomorrow morning before going postward in the Oaks from where she will exit post position 10.
The lightly raced daughter of Empire Maker will be ridden by Corey Nakatani in the Oaks. John Velazquez was aboard in the filly's most recent start, a dead heat for second in the Sunland Park Oaks.
"I don't think Doug will tell Corey too much," Sisterson said. "At Sunland, we told Johnny to put her in the race early because of the way the track was playing for speed. Corey probably will not have to use her as much early here. Just get a good position and let her do the rest."
FASHION PLATE – Arnold Zetcher and Michael Tabor's Fashion Plate backtracked to the half-mile pole and then put in an open gallop of a mile under exercise rider Paul Eddery after the morning renovation break.
Trainer Simon Callaghan said Fashion Plate would jog once around when the track opened for training at 5:45 Friday morning and then await her Oaks run that will commence from post position seven.
Fashion Plate has won her past two starts in a wire-to-wire manner and Callaghan expects a similar mode of operation Friday under Gary Stevens.
"Gary knows her well," Callaghan said. "I would like to see her break well and find her rhythm. She will be forwardly placed and if someone else wants to go, she can sit back and stalk."
GOT LUCKY/MY MISS SOPHIA – The Oaks duo out of the Todd Pletcher barn – the dark bay Got Lucky and the chestnut My Miss Sophia – both made the short trip from Barn 34 through the Lukas gap to the racetrack Thursday morning at 8:30 at the start of the special Derby/Oaks training period.
Got Lucky had her regular exercise rider Amy Mulen aboard, while My Miss Sophia brought along partner Humberto Zamora. The two went about their business of galloping approximately a mile and three-eighths, then went back home to a bath and just one more day of waiting for their starts in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI).
Got Lucky will be handled by Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez out of post No. 12 in the field of 13 sophomore fillies.
Javier Castellano has the call on My Miss Sophia from post 11. The race is scheduled to go off at 5:49 p.m.
KISS MOON – Carl Pollard's Kiss Moon galloped 1 ¼ miles under Otto Thorwarth to the satisfaction of trainer David Vance.
Kiss Moon, who has trained extensively at Churchill Downs but never raced here, will be ridden in the Oaks by Victor Espinoza.
Vance knows how he would like the 1 1/8-mile race to play
"I'd like her to be no worse than fourth on the backside and it doesn't matter if she is inside or outside," Vance said. "I want her to get the first run at the leaders because I don't see a lot of horses coming from out of it. If she is good enough, she'll get them."
PLEASE EXPLAIN – Tim Turney, half of the ownership of Niall Racing said that Oaks entrant Please Explain galloped Thursday morning.
Turney, who with his son Patrick own and operate Shamrock Glen Farm in Versailles, said the decision to enter the Oaks was made by trainer Tom Proctor.
"She got back here from Oaklawn Park and she was doing so good that he said we ought to give it a shot," Turney said. Please Explain, who won the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, will break from post position one and be ridden by Jose Lezcano.
RIA ANTONIA – Christopher Dunn and Loooch Racing Stable's Ria Antonia galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Jorge Alvarez Thursday morning during the training period open to Derby and Oaks runners.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) winner was doing well the morning before her start in the Oaks. The Rockport Harbor filly drew post two and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
ROSALIND – Landaluce Educe Stables' Rosalind had an uneventful visit to the starting gate this morning, one day after she balked at the suggestion.
"It was a pretty basic day," trainer Kenny McPeek said. "We walked her through the paddock and then she had a nice gallop and then she went to the gate and she stood and backed out. We had a pony meet her and take her over to the gate. Once we had the pony meet her she was fine."
Regular exercise rider Danny Ramsey was aboard for this morning's final preparations in advance of Friday's Kentucky Oaks.
McPeek is relieved the race is imminent. His dead-heat Ashland Stakes (GI) winner has impressed over the Churchill Downs surface this week and appears ready to fire in a race that could set up for a closer.
"She does everything right," McPeek said. "She's been eating good and acting good. As long as everything goes well overnight I think we're ready."
Rosalind will school in the paddock today, most likely during the seventh race.
SUGAR SHOCK – Fantasy (GIII) winner Sugar Shock visited the starting gate and galloped an easy mile under exercise rider Seth VanDyke for trainer Doug Anderson.
Owned by On Cloud Nine LLC, Sugar Shock will break from post position three under Calvin Borel.
"I would like to see her break good and get good position without using herself up early," Anderson said. "If they leave her by herself on the lead, that would not bother me at all."
As Anderson was laying out his perfect scenario, Borel and his agent Jerry Hissam drove up to Barn 27 and the Oaks-winning rider on Rachel Alexandra in 2009 offered his take.
"I just want to get the wire first!" Borel said.
THANK YOU MARYLOU – Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Thank You Marylou is giving trainer Mike Maker positive vibes as she heads toward a run Friday in the Kentucky Oaks.
"She's going to fire a big one," Maker said Thursday. "There's no doubt in my mind. She's really doing well. Looking forward to it."
The filly, the third-place finisher in the Ashland (GI), galloped Thursday under exercise rider Joel Barrientos.
UNBRIDLED FOREVER – Charles Fipke's Unbridled Forever, third-place finisher in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), had a light day Thursday.
"She trained hard all week," trainer Dallas Stewart said. "We just shedrowed her today. Just tack-walked her. Most of these fillies when they run, I usually shedrow them the day before."
UNTAPABLE – Winchell Thoroughbreds' Untapable was out early with trainer Steve Asmussen's second set. Sending them to the track after 6 a.m. allows the trainer to get a read on the surface when he first tests the dirt aboard his pony at 5:45 a.m., a long-established routine for the barn's Oaks and Derby horses.
The Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) and Rachel Alexandra (GIII) stakes winner had an easy gallop with regular exercise rider Angel Garcia aboard. As has been the case all week, Untapable was full of energy and wanting to be let loose.
"She went to the track really well today," Asmussen said. "I think she's in good condition. The cool weather this morning had everyone feeling nice and it was a perfect morning to train."
Being a brilliant 3-year-old filly in the Asmussen barn, comparisons between Untapable and Rachel Alexandra are inevitable. Asmussen assumed training of Rachel Alexandra after her win in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks, managing her through four straight Grade I scores that summer en route to Horse of the Year honors.
Rachel Alexandra went from a record-setting 20 ¼-length score in the Oaks to another historic win against colts in the Preakness Stakes (GI) two weeks later. Anyone dreaming of a similarly bold attempt from Untapable, though, should not get their hopes up. That was a rare circumstance where not only was the Oaks
winner one of the greatest fillies ever, the Derby did not produce many serious Preakness hopefuls.
"I don't think that is great timing for her, for who she is," Asmussen said of wheeling Untapable back in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. "With Rachel, with her year, I think that how the Derby ran had a lot to do with that. We have a lot to worry about on Friday. I think the Rachel year – which everybody draws the comparison to – it sorted itself out after they ran."
Asmussen won the Oaks in 2005 with Summerly. His only other Oaks starter was Lady Tak, who finished sixth in 2003 before developing into a multiple Grade I winner sprinting.