Derby Notes: Favorite Justify ‘Acted Like A Pro’ In First Churchill Downs Gallop

by | 05.01.2018 | 2:53pm
Justify on-track at Churchill Downs

China Horse Club International, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm's undefeated Justify, who was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite for Kentucky Derby 144 after 21 horses were entered Tuesday morning, made his first appearance on the main track at Churchill Downs during the 7:30-7:45 training window for Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses.

Justify arrived from his Southern California base Monday afternoon on a flight that also included stablemate Solomini as well as Bolt d'Oro, both of whom went to the track this morning.

Also making initial track appearances following Monday arrivals were Enticed and Firenze Fire.

AUDIBLE/MAGNUM MOON/NOBLE INDY/VINO ROSSO – The Pletcher Four continued their ongoing march toward Kentucky Derby 144 Tuesday morning with a quartet of good gallops during the special 7:30-7:45 training period for Derby/Oaks runners.

The four colts, each striking in their own way for their good looks and obvious good health, had their regular exercise riders attached – Amelia Green on Audible, Nick Bush on Magnum Moon, Carlos Cano on Noble Indy and Adele Bellinger on Vino Rosso.

Todd Pletcher, the seven-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation's leading trainer, watched his charges from trackside as he steadily steers them toward their “chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance” Saturday.

The conditioner has scheduled two of his aces – Florida Derby (GI) hero Audible and Louisiana Derby (GII) winner Noble Indy – for paddocking sessions with the horses for Race 5 at Churchill Downs today. The other two – Arkansas Derby (GI) star Magnum Moon and Wood Memorial (GII) ace Vino Rosso – will go to the paddock during racing Wednesday afternoon.

The articulate Bellinger, who has horsebacked in Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Florida, Kentucky, New York and other points around the country, and been with the Pletcher stable for several years, was asked what she liked best about her steady guy, Vino Rosso.

“He's just so classy,” she said. “He's an 'old soul.' He doesn't have a whole lot of natural speed, like Magnum Moon does for instance. But I think he's got the right makeup to run a far distance. He can work up a head of steam and keep on going. I like getting on him.”

The Curlin colt has won three of his five lifetime starts, each time with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez aboard. The same rider has the call Saturday.

Audible is owned by the four-way partnership of China Horse Club International, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm. Magnum Moon goes in the silks of Lawana and Robert Low. Noble Indy races for WinStar Farm and Repole Stable, while Vino Rosso's connections are Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable.

BLENDED CITIZEN – Greg Hall and SAYJAY Racing's Blended Citizen stretched his legs in a good gallop Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs after having shipped over from Keeneland Monday. The Proud Citizen colt went about a mile and three-eighths at 7:30 for exercise rider Jonny Garcia, the go-to guy for the big horses in trainer Doug O'Neill's barn.

Kyle Frey will ride the Kentucky-bred colt should Blended Citizen draw in from the also-eligible list.

BOLT D'ORO – Ruis Racing LLC's Bolt d'Oro jogged once around the Churchill Downs racetrack Tuesday morning after arriving from Southern California Monday afternoon.

“He's doing good. He couldn't have been training better, looking better. We'll see him gallop tomorrow. He was a cool cucumber today out there. Nothing bothers him,” owner/trainer Mick Ruis said.

Ruis said that the son of Medaglia d'Oro is scheduled to gallop Wednesday and Thursday but that he's still undecided about Friday morning's training session.

“We'll school probably on Wednesday and see if we need to do it again on Thursday,” he said. “He's got a good mind. We'll take him to the gate tomorrow. We'll jog him to the gate and let him stand there and then he'll go ahead and gallop.”

Victor Espinoza, who has had winning Derby rides aboard American Pharoah (2015), California Chrome (2014) and War Emblem (2002), is slated to ride Bolt D'Oro, for the first time, Saturday.

“Victor said, 'Wow, I've got my fourth Derby win,'” said Ruis, recalling the moment Espinoza was told that he had the mount aboard Bolt d'Oro. “I said, 'I sure hope so.'”

BRAVAZO – With his Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas leading him, Calumet Farm's Bravazo was among the first horses on the track Tuesday morning during the special7:30 training time. The Awesome Again colt, for the second straight day, galloped 1 ½ miles under Danielle Rosier.

When asked what post position he was hoping for, Lukas said, “I'd like the 15 or 16, but probably won't get that lucky.”

Lukas' wish for post positions comes from experience. Should the longshot Bravazo win, he would move into a clear second with five wins. He is tied with Bob Baffert and Herbert Thompson with four victories. Two of those wins (Thunder Gulch, 1995 and Charismatic, 1999) came from the 16 hole and Grindstone broke from the 15 hole in 1996. His first winner, Winning Colors, broke from post 11 in 1988.

Later that morning, Bravazo drew post No. 13.

COMBATANT – Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton's Combatant walked the shedrow Tuesday morning, one day after posting a half mile workout in :49.60. TrainerSteve Asmussen reported that he was “perfect” following his final Kentucky Derby work.

Combatant is the only horse to have competed in all four of Oaklawn Park's Kentucky Derby preps that began with the Smarty Jones Stakes in January and culminated with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) April 14. The Scat Daddy colt finished second in both the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes (GIII), third in the Rebel Stakes (GII) and fourth in the Arkansas Derby, but exited all the races with excuses.

“I don't think he's necessarily had a good trip through the series at Oaklawn,” Asmussen said. “With the way the track was playing and how he had drawn, I think things could have been a lot different for him. The best is definitely yet to come for him whether it's this Saturday or a date following.”

Asmussen feels Tuesday's post position draw will be critical to how the Derby shapes up.

“This is an extremely talented field of horses that has been separated very well,” he said. “But, when you put them all together they won't all get the spot they are hoping for. The draw will be very interesting to see what you have to do from your position.”

Combatant subsequently drew post No. 20.

ENTICED – Godolphin LLC's Enticed galloped 1 ½ miles Tuesday morning during his first training session since arriving at Churchill Downs Monday afternoon from South Florida.

The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt went to the racetrack shortly after 9 a.m. with exercise rider Jason Gracia aboard. Gracia was also aboard McLaughlin trained Take Charge Paula, who is entered to run in Friday's Kentucky Oaks, during the training period reserved for Derby and Oaks horses that began at 7:30 a.m.

“We trained Enticed later because we only have one rider and we can't fit them both in (during the 7:30 period). I like the time when we went out there. It was a very quiet racetrack. It's a better time for him,” McLaughlin said. “He trained well.”

Enticed was rated at 30-1 in the morning line two hours later, but his trainer believes the son of Medaglia d'Oro is no ordinary longshot.

“He won here last fall. He has good foundation. He's had six races. He's doing very well. He has a great mind and a great pedigree,” said McLaughlin, whose trainee won the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs last fall. “He has certain things that come into play on Saturday evening.”

Junior Alvarado, who was aboard Enticed for victories in the Kentucky Jockey Club and this year's Gotham at Aqueduct, has the return mount.

FIRENZE FIRE – Mr. Amore Stable's Firenze Fire got acquainted with the Churchill Downs racetrack Tuesday morning after arriving by van from Belmont Park earlyMonday morning. The son of Poseidon's Warrior galloped once around the track.

“We just went out for a short gallop, just to get some air and get a feel for the track,” trainer Jason Servis said. “He's settled in great.

“We'll probably gallop him tomorrow about a mile and a quarter. Thursday, we might let him stretch out a little, but nothing serious. He'll probably have a light gallop Friday.”

Servis said he probably wouldn't school Firenze Fire in the paddock this week.

“I was never really much on that. I've never schooled him, so I guess I'm not looking for trouble,” he said.

Firenze Fire is the first Derby entrant for both Servis and owner/breeder Ron Lombardi.

“There were 20,000 plus foals that year and we're one of 20 to make it to the Derby,” Servis said. “What's so amazing about that is he's a homebred. That's hard to do. The fact that we're doing it is good stuff, darn good stuff. No matter where we end up.”

FLAMEAWAY – During the 7:30-7:45 training period for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, John Oxley's Flameaway jogged a mile with rider Chris Garraway, ponied by trainer Mark Casse's assistant Nick Tomlinson before galloping a mile on his own. He also stood in the starting gate, which Casse said he will likely repeat tomorrow.

“If there's 20 horses, he could end up standing in there for a long time, so we just want to keep him refreshed on that,” Casse said. “Because the gate Derby Day, you're talking about a long load.”

FREE DROP BILLY/PROMISES FULFILLED – Albaugh Family Stables' Free Drop Billy and Bob Baron's Promises Fulfilled galloped 1 ½ miles Tuesday morning at7:30 for trainer Dale Romans.

Blue Grass third Free Drop Billy is Albaugh Family Stables' third Kentucky Derby starter.

“This is my favorite trip each year,” Dennis Albaugh said. “We are always excited to come back to Kentucky and we're lucky enough to have a great horse to compete in the Derby.”

Free Drop Billy is named after Albaugh's friend Billy who took too many free drops playing golf.

“(Billy) will be here later this week,” Albaugh said. “Hopefully he's a good luck charm.”

Free Drop Billy, with Robby Albarado aboard, will break from post position two (30-1 morning line) while stablemate Promises Fulfilled (30-1) will break just to his outside in post three with Corey Lanerie aboard.

“If I had to handpick the posts I probably would've picked a little differently,” Romans said. “It is what it is. We'll work with what we have. Promises Fulfilled will go to the front and Free Drop Billy will be closing late.”

GOOD MAGIC – “This is a happy trainer smiling,” Chad Brown said Tuesday morning, suggesting a most appropriate caption as he posed for a photographer outside Barn 42. Last year's Eclipse Award-winning Champion 2-Year-Old Male Good Magic, owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds & Stonestreet Stables LLC, had just put in another impressive gallop under regular exercise rider Walter Malasquez during the Derby training session.

“He galloped about a mile-and-a-half and he went super,” Brown said. “The horse continues to train really, really well. He just keeps following another day of 'better than the day before.' The horse continues to improve and do well and this is another day where it's the best I've seen him move. I couldn't be happier with him.

“The horse is moving so, so well right now. He's getting over the track well, mechanically he's so sound and smooth. As a trainer it's what you're looking for going into a race like this.”

HOFBURG – Juddmonte Farms Inc.'s homebred Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Hofburg continued to impress with his smooth way of moving. The Tapit colt visited the Churchill Downs paddock before galloping 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Penny Gardiner.

“He was a little anxious in the beginning, of course, but that's just showing good energy,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. “He had good energy and looked like he was moving well. Usually he settles down and levels out a little better toward the end.”

INSTILLED REGARD – OXO equine LLC's Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Kentucky Derby (GI) contender Instilled Regard arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday afternoon at approximately 2 o'clock and had his first visit to the main track during the Tuesday morning 7:30-7:45 a.m. training session. The winner of Fair Grounds' Lecomte Stakes (GIII) is stabled at Barn 41 and was ridden by Edgar Rodriguez, while under the watchful eye of assistant conditioner Christina Jelm.

“He shipped in really well and this morning we jogged over to the paddock did a couple turns with and then just jogged home and gave him a look around everything,” Jelm said. “He's relaxed and taking everything really well. So far he seems to be enjoying himself. He had Edgar on him, who is his regular exercise rider and was also here last year with Battle of Midway.”

Battle of Midway was third in last year's Kentucky Derby for Don Alberto Stable and WinStar Farm during a season that was capped with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (GI) in November.

“He was fine over the track and it was just a chance to jog and take in everything,” Jelm said. “He's impeccably bred and seems to be enjoying himself. Jerry should be here Wednesday.”

A GI-placed son of Arch, Instilled Regard is a grandson of champion Heavenly Prize, who was elected to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in April.

JUSTIFY/SOLOMINI – The pair of Kentucky Derby threats from the barn of four-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert tested the Churchill Downs surface for the first time this morning, each galloping about one mile, both under exercise rider Humberto Gomez.

The undefeated morning line favorite Justify – owned by China Horse Club International Ltd., Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm LLC – went first when the track opened for Derby and Oaks horses at 7:30 a.m.

“He looked great,” Baffert said. “The cool air hits them when they get here, the track was real soft, and he just bounced around there. I was happy. It's a good first day and that's what we're looking for.

“He's done everything he's been asked to do. He has a good mind and doesn't get excited. He went out there today and acted like a pro and he enjoyed it.”

Today was also Baffert's first morning at Churchill Downs this year and the Hall of Fame trainer was greeted by more than 100 writers and photographers, one of the largest media swarms to assemble in the historic barn area. A heavy Derby favorite will do that, especially a late-arriving one under the care of one of the sport's all-time most successful and most-quotable horsemen. Baffert was asked if he was feeling any pressure bringing an undefeated and gifted horse here as the public's choice.

“To me the pressure will be more on Mike Smith,” he said. “If I were riding him I'd feel pressure. You need racing luck and I've led the best horse up there before and gotten beat.

“We have a good enough horse that can win it but it's a very competitive race. But we're here with just three outs because we have a superior racehorse and that's why he's made it here. It's going to be a great race but you're going to have to have some luck.”

Baffert also addressed the elephant – or, in this case, the mythological deity – in the barn, Apollo. One of the most enduring Derby traditions, for better or worse, is the summoning of the “Curse of Apollo,” referring to the last Derby winner that was unraced as a 2-year-old, in 1882.

“There are so many other things that can go wrong I don't even worry about that,” Baffert said. “The Apollo curse is something I don't even think about and it's something that'll be broken, whether it's this year or another year. I got him in December and we just brought him along on his own.”

It didn't take long from there for Baffert to know he had a special talent on his hands.

“When I worked him the first time at Santa Anita, he did something really incredible in the morning. It wasn't that fast of a time but it was the way he did it. Drayden Van Dyke came back and he said, 'Wow, this horse is nice.' And then when he won the maiden race, I told Elliott Walden there was an allowance race and from there we maybe could take a shot in the Arkansas Derby, which is what I was thinking at the time.”

Added Baffert: “There's nothing like seeing a horse like that and you just know, this is the goods right here.”

After Justify returned to the barn, Gomez hopped onto Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) runner-up Solomini – owned by Zayat Stables LLC, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor & Derrick Smith – and followed the same routine.

“He's a horse that's right there and tries hard every time,” Baffert said. “He won't wow you in the mornings. He's made $700,000 and won a Grade I, got disqualified, but he's a nice horse and he just hasn't hit that next level that we're always looking for. We're just going to let him break, go easy the first part, and finish, and I think he'll be more effective that way.”

LONE SAILOR – G M B Racing's Lone Sailor galloped 1 ½ miles at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday with exercise rider Maurice Sanchez aboard for trainer Tom Amoss.

Lone Sailor drew post No. 8 and will be ridden by James Graham.

“We're very pleased with the draw – especially with what posts were left by the time we were drawn,” Amoss said.

MENDELSSOHN – Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith's Kentucky Derby (GI) contender Mendelssohn arrived at Churchill Downs from his Ballydoyle base in County Tipperary, Ireland, on Monday evening at approximately 9:50. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) and UAE Derby (GII) winner immediately entered quarantine in Barn 17 and is expected to clear by late Wednesday afternoon.

Head traveling lad Pat Keating was on hand Tuesday morning to report on the $3 million Keeneland September yearling purchase, the most expensive American yearling of 2016.

“Everything is fine and they settled in great,” Keating said. “We couldn't be happier with them.”

The son of Scat Daddy's first appearance during morning training at the Louisville oval will be Thursday morning for the Aidan O'Brien-trained star.

MY BOY JACK – Don't Tell My Wife Stables, Monomoy Stables and West Point Thoroughbreds' My Boy Jack went trackside Tuesday morning during the special 7:30 to 7:45 training period for Derby/Oaks runners under regular exercise rider Peedy Landry.

With trainer Keith Desormeaux watching from a spot near the backstretch Clocker's Stand, the dark colt by Creative Cause galloped a mile around one time, stopped to go to the gate, then galloped another mile to finish up his morning exercise. He put good energy into his efforts and came off the track snorting and dancing.

Also watching the gallop were Kirk Godby and several of his partners. The Fort Worth, Texas, business man, who specializes in the courier delivery world inhabited by big dog Amazon, said he had 14 partners in his Don't Tell My Wife Stables arrangement and that 13 of them were coming on board for the 144th Kentucky Derby.

“We're going to have 66 people all told here rooting for our horse on Saturday,” Godby said. “We're just so pleased to have this opportunity. Working with Keith has been a treat and we've had some good luck so far. We're hoping for more.”

KENTUCKY DERBY FIELD

The field for the Kentucky Derby, with riders and morning-line odds from the rail out, is: Firenze Fire (Lopez, 50-1), Free Drop Billy (Albarado, 30-1), Promises Fulfilled(Lanerie, 30-1), Flameaway (Jose Lezcano, 30-1), Audible (Castellano, 8-1), Good Magic (J. Ortiz, 12-1), Justify (Smith, 3-1), Lone Sailor (James Graham, 50-1), Hofburg(Irad Ortiz Jr., 20-1), My Boy Jack (Desormeaux, 30-1), Bolt d'Oro (Espinoza, 8-1), Enticed (Junior Alvarado, 30-1), Bravazo (Contreras, 50-1), Mendelssohn (Moore, 5-1),Instilled Regard (Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1), Magnum Moon (Saez, 6-1), Solomini (Prat, 30-1), Vino Rosso (Velazquez, 12-1), Noble Indy (Geroux, 30-1) and Combatant(Ricardo Santana Jr., 50-1). Also-eligible: Blended Citizen (Frey, 50-1). All starters will carry 126 pounds.

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram