ALWAYS DREAMING/PATCH/TAPWRIT – A pair of Derby-bound colts were out early for exercise and another had a day off Sunday out of the Todd Pletcher barn on a cloudy but mild morning at Churchill Downs.
The trio of 3-year-olds — Always Dreaming, Patch and Tapwrit – were the “chosen ones” who had made the cut from a once-substantial roster of potential hopefuls pointing for America's most famous race. This past week that lineup had shrunk further from a possible six down to the current three, bringing focus to the trainer's 17th crack at winning the Derby.
Always Dreaming (with Adele Bellenger in the tack) and Tapwrit (Silvio Pioli up) both went trackside just after 5:45. Tapwrit, hero of the Tampa Derby (GII), simply jogged around the big oval, nice and easy does it. Always Dreaming, the star of the Florida Derby (GI), was – as has proven his wont – more serious with his efforts, galloping very strongly and proving full of himself during about a mile and a quarter tour of the strip.
“He's a good-feeling colt and his energy level is off the charts,” Pletcher said after the exercise. “The trick for us is to keep him focused.”
The third Pletcher charge, Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up Patch, simply walked the shedrow.
“Nothing special there,” Pletcher said. “Just a day off.”
The bay son of Union Rags, owned and bred by the historic Calumet Farm, was handled for the first time in his Louisiana effort by young rider Tyler Gaffalione, who has done most of his work so far out of Miami. Pletcher confirmed that he's been signed back on and will make his Kentucky Derby debut on Saturday.
The trio of Pletcher charges who were recent candidates to try Derby 143 also – Battalion Runner, Malagacy and Master Plan — are being pointed for other efforts.
Battalion Runner has been sent to WinStar Farm for a brief freshening while staying in light training. He's being aimed for the July 8 Dwyer (GIII) at Belmont Park. Malagacy may be seen next in the Preakness (GI) at Pimlico May 20. And Master Plan appears to be a candidate for the Peter Pan (GIII) at Belmont May 13.
BATTLE OF MIDWAY – WinStar Farm and Don Alberto Stable's Santa Anita Derby (GI) runner-up Battle of Midway tested the Churchill Downs main track for the first time as soon as it opened for training at 5:45 a.m. The Smart Strike colt arrived Saturday afternoon along with the other Southern California-based Derby Week contenders.
“He was on his toes, feeling frisky and settled right in,” said Christina Jelm, the East Coast assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “This morning he had a one-mile jog and a walk through the paddock. Everything's on schedule and going as planned. He's a big, sleek, great animal, and he's been perfect since he's been here.”
Regular exercise rider Edgar Rodriguez traveled with Battle of Midway and was aboard for the exercise.
CLASSIC EMPIRE/STATE OF HONOR – Likely Kentucky Derby favorite Classic Empire and Florida Derby (GI) runner-up State of Honor jogged Sunday morning for trainer Mark Casse.
“Everyone is doing well following their breezes,” Casse said.
Classic Empire could become the richest horse to make a start in the Kentucky Derby with $2,120,220 in earnings after winning the April 15 Arkansas Derby (GI).
“He's special in many ways,” Casse said. “(Assistant trainer) Norman (Casse) and our entire crew have gotten so many accolades for the job we did to get him to the Arkansas Derby after three months off. Honestly, the only way that was possible is because of how special he is.”
“There was no way he was 100 percent fit before that,” Casse continued. “With three months between races, there was a long time we didn't get to do a lot because of his foot and back injuries. Within that time, he probably missed four to five weeks of training, not all at that time but in different spans.”
The Casse Derby hopefuls are scheduled to jog again Monday morning.
FAST AND ACCURATE – Kendall Hansen, Skychai Racing and Bode Miller's multiple stakes winner Fast and Accurate vanned from Trackside Louisville Sunday morning and had his final work for the Kentucky Derby (GI) when logging five furlongs in company in 1:01.20.
Working in tandem with GI-placed stablemate Adventist, third in last year's Wood Memorial (GII), the son of Hansen was piloted by jockey Channing Hill. The Spiral (GIII) winner will attempt to capture his third consecutive stakes with his third different rider when Hill takes the reins on May 6. Hill was aboard for his graduation in December at Turfway Park in maiden claiming company. This will be his first Kentucky Derby mount.
“Everything went smoothly,” trainer Mike Maker said. “It was nothing out of the ordinary with him. I thought he handled the dirt well.”
A winner on turf and synthetic, Pennsylvania-bred Fast and Accurate was off the board in his lone dirt try last fall at Parx Racing. Sunday's work was his fourth consecutive dirt drill since taking the Spiral over Turfway's Polytrack by three-quarters of a length. Three works back on April 15, he drilled a bullet five furlongs in :59.60 at Trackside Louisville.
GIRVIN – Brad Grady's Louisiana Derby (GII) and Risen Star (GII) winner Girvin walked the shedrow at trainer Joe Sharp's Keeneland barn on Sunday morning one day after his final work for the Kentucky Derby (GI).
“He came out great,” Sharp said. “Everything is going well and I couldn't be happier.”
Sharp, who will be saddling his first Kentucky Derby (GI) starter, confirmed that Girvin will ship to Churchill Downs Tuesday evening.
GORMLEY/ROYAL MO – The California-based colts Gormley and Royal Mo are bound for Kentucky Monday morning on a flight filled with West Coast runners with Derby Week designs following their Saturday works.
Trainer John Shirreffs' pair had drilled separately at Santa Anita Saturday under exercise rider Francisco Alvarado, Gormley covering seven furlongs in 1:26.20 and his stablemate going six panels in 1:13.
Sunday morning their conditioner chose to merely walk Royal Mo, but put Gormley back on the track for a gallop.
“How far did you gallop him?” Shirreffs was asked.
“Far enough,” he said with a laugh.
Gormley, who'll be handled next Saturday by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Victor Espinoza, is guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Royal Mo, who has Gary Stevens — also a three-time Derby winner — assigned as his rider, needs just a bit more help to run. The Santa Anita Derby (GI) third-place finisher is one position away from a start. Should any of the current 20 assigned spots in the gate withdraw before this Friday's 9 a.m. Derby scratch time, Royal Mo will be one of the ones who gets “his chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance.”
GUNNEVERA – Peacock Racing Stables' Gunnevera galloped a leisurely mile and a quarter Sunday under exercise rider Victor O'Farrel for trainer Antonio Sano.
Gunnevera will be Sano's first starter at Churchill Downs.
“I have 34 horses between two barns at Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream Park West,” said Sano, who brought only Gunnevera to Kentucky. “This is like a vacation; a nice vacation.”
HENCE/LOOKIN AT LEE/UNTRAPPED – Trainer Steve Asmussen now officially has three Kentucky Derby starters with Lookin At Lee joining the 20-horse field after trainer Todd Pletcher withdrew Malagacy from the race Saturday. Asmussen also was able to finalize riding assignments with Florent Geroux getting the mount on Hence, Corey Lanerie picking up the mount on Lookin at Lee and Ricardo Santana Jr. being named on Untrapped.
“The one thing we feel very good about with Lookin at Lee is if you look at the field, you see a lot of truly talented horses, but not a lot of experience,” Asmussen said. “There's not a lot of experience with some of the talented ones. There's a lot of variables there. With 'Lee,' you've eliminated all of that. He's well-seasoned. He's at his best right now. His last race in the Arkansas Derby (when third) was his fastest from a numbers standpoint. We're all excited about running him a mile and a quarter.”
Lookin at Lee galloped Sunday shortly after 7 a.m. with Juan Vargas aboard, while Hence, with Angel Garcia up, and Untrapped, Vargas aboard, each had strong gallops during the special 8:30 a.m. training time reserved for Oaks and Derby horses. All three will have half-mile works at their regular training times Monday.
“We'll send 'Lee' out early,” Asmussen said. “We'll stay with what we've been doing. Since Hence and Untrapped had already been in the Derby field, they'll continue to go out at the 8:30 time.”
IRAP – The husky Tiznow colt Irap made his Churchill Downs bow Sunday morning, taking advantage of the 8:30-8:45 special training period for Derby and Oaks runners.
Regular exercise rider Tony Romero was in the boot and looking on was trainer Doug O'Neill's trusted assistant Leandro Mora, who had jetted in from their Southern California headquarters Saturday.
Romero allowed the big bay to jog under restraint near the middle of the track with his head cocked and his coat shining.
“We tried jogging him the wrong way outside, but he got too rank with that,” Mora said. “So we just let him go around with the other horses.”
O'Neill, who was scheduled to fly east Monday evening, has built a major racing operation in California solidly based on longevity with his help. Mora, a hands-on horseman with a positive demeanor, has been with the trainer for the past 17 years. Romero, who includes the multi-millionaire and Hall of Famer Lava Man among his gallop charges, has been a member of Team O'Neill for 15.
“I wanted to get him out this morning with lots of people around,” Mora said. “We're not going to hide him. The more he's around people and crowds, the better chance he'll have to deal with the scene we're going to see here next Saturday.”
Mora is well aware of the Derby “scene.” This will be his fifth go-round with the Run for the Roses, a pair of which ended with “his” horse wearing those roses. In 2012 he was part of the crew rooting home I'll Have Another. Then last year he again was signed on for the glory when Nyquist proved the best 3-year-old on the first Saturday in May.
“Irap has just been getting better,” Mora said. “We believed he belonged in the Blue Grass (Stakes-GII), even though he was a maiden. He proved us right. We think he belongs here, too.”
IRISH WAR CRY – Isabelle de Tomaso's homebred Irish War Cry completed his final serious preparations in advance of the Derby with a six-furlong work in 1:13.20 at the Fair Hill Training Center, according to trainer Graham Motion. The move was accomplished in company with Providence Road, a 4-year-old maiden who broke off about two lengths ahead.
“He pretty much did what he wanted,” Motion said. “He sat a couple of lengths off his workmate and did it nicely. I was very happy.”
Jockey Rajiv Maragh traveled to Fair Hill to work the Curlin colt. The 31-year-old rider was aboard for Irish War Cry's win in the Wood Memorial (G2), the jockey's first major stakes breakthrough since suffering several broken vertebrae, a broken rib, and a punctured lung in a July 2015 spill at Belmont Park, and has the return call for the Derby.
“I think Rajiv was very comfortable with him,” Motion said. “He had been anxious to see how he'd handle sitting off another horse, which is something we'd done with him before in Florida but Rajiv hadn't been on him then and wanted to see how he'd be. He handled it very well and was very relaxed about it.”
Motion said he would share video of the work later today from his Twitter account, @GrahamMotion.
J BOYS ECHO – Albaugh Family Stable's J Boys Echo walked the shedrow Sunday morning following his five-furlong breeze Saturday in 1:01 for trainer Dale Romans.
The colt is expected to return to the track Tuesday.
McCRAKEN – Whitham Thoroughbreds' McCraken completed the heavy lifting for his run in Kentucky Derby 143 by working five furlongs in 1:00.80 under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. Sunday morning.
Working on his own, McCraken produced fractions of :13, :25.20, :36.80, :48.60 and 1:00.80 with a six-furlong gallop out in 1:13.40, seven-eighths in 1:27.20 and the mile in 1:41.80. The five-eighths time was the 10th fastest of 32 at the distance.
“It was just what I wanted,” trainer Ian Wilkes said with a laugh in repeating one of the most-used clichés in trainer-speak. “I only wanted him to gallop out an extra eighth because I wanted him to want to do more and he wants to do more.”
McCraken won his first four starts, but Wilkes knew early on that he had a special horse on his hands.
“I worked him with one of my good fillies and I knew the horse could run then,” Wilkes said. “A lot of horses have the talent, but they don't have the class. This horse has the class. You can have all the talent in the world, but if they can't handle the pressure, that's the difference. The horse with class can handle the pressure and get better.”
Sunday's work was the third for McCraken since finishing third in the Blue Grass (GII) at Keeneland on April 8.
“I feel like he is back into his rhythm,” Wilkes said. “The Blue Grass was a little different for him in that he was fresh and didn't switch leads and that took away from his punch.”
As he had done in a five-furlong breeze last Monday, McCraken galloped out well past the track kitchen at the half-mile pole.
“The last three times he has done that,” Hernandez said. “You think he is going to pull up and then he spots the pony and takes off again. He just enjoys what he is doing. He sees the pony and doesn't want to go back to the barn.”
PRACTICAL JOKE – Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence's Practical Joke galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Fernando Rivera during the Kentucky Oaks and Derby training session, his first time back on the track since a timed work Friday.
“The horse did really well,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He came out of the work good. He continues to get stronger and I'm real happy with him overall.”
The Into Mischief colt finished a strong second in the Blue Grass Stakes (GII) while stalking Irap from the outside, but could not get past that 31-1 winner.
“I was very pleased with the race,” Brown said. “I was disappointed with the result in that he didn't win but I was very pleased with the effort. The horse showed a sustained run going a mile-and-an-eighth and past the wire. He got a lot out of that and physically he's a fitter horse now. I'm optimistic that he can stretch it out a little farther.”
SONNETEER – Calumet Farm's Sonneteer, looking to become the first maiden to win the Kentucky Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933, had his first gallop over the Churchill Downs track Sunday morning after arriving Saturday from California. Exercise rider Maurillo Garcia was aboard.
“He travels so well,” assistant trainer Julie Clark said. “He doesn't care where he's at.”
The Midnight Lute colt, who had been sitting at No. 22 on the leaderboard, officially made the 20-horse Derby field Saturday after trainer Todd Pletcher declared Malagacy and Battalion Runner out of Derby 143.
“It's nice to know we're in the field,” Clark said. “We can make plans now. We also have the chance to draw a better post rather than drawing in and getting stuck in number 20.”
Clark said Sonneteer would work Monday with jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard. Trainer Keith Desormeaux, who finished second in last year's Kentucky Derby with Exaggerator, is scheduled to arrive Tuesday or Wednesday.
THUNDER SNOW – Godolphin Racing's homebred UAE Derby (Group II) winner Thunder Snow arrived on the scene at Churchill Downs at 7:10 a.m. following an eight-hour flight from East London Airport to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and a van ride to Louisville.
“We left England last night at 6:30 p.m. and he couldn't have traveled any better,” said Rachel Perry, the barn manager who traveled with Thunder Snow from Godolphin Stables in Newmarket, near London. “He's a good horse and he's quite sound anyway. He's a very laid-back horse, and good horses tend to be that way. I'm very happy with him.”
Thunder Snow is required to spend 42 hours in quarantine before he can visit the main track.
“He'll walk in the quarantine barn two or three times a day and then Tuesday we'll get to the track,” Perry said.
Thunder Snow will be Godolphin's 10th Kentucky Derby starter since 1999, with the best finish being Frosted's fourth in 2015. Two of the nine previous starters, including Frosted, had prep races in the United States, and those that didn't typically showed up at Churchill Downs at least two weeks out to acclimate. The only one to arrive the week of the race, Curule in 2000, ranged up within striking distance at the quarter-pole before flattening out to finish a good seventh. Perry was quick to dismiss concerns that Thunder Snow's relatively late arrival could be a detriment.
“He's a well-traveled horse,” she said. “He's just come from Dubai to England and England to here. And it's warm in Dubai, as well, so I don't see any problem for him.”
From the first North American crop of Helmet, the Irish-bred Thunder Snow was a top 2-year-old sprinting on the turf, concluding his juvenile season with a five-length win in the French Group 1 Criterium International. This year Thunder Snow has won both his starts, which also included the UAE 2000 Guineas (GIII) at Meydan.
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