On a clear, mild morning at Churchill Downs, three hopefuls for next Saturday's 145th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) including probable morning-line favorite Omaha Beach put in their final works for the Run for the Roses.
Omaha Beach worked five furlongs in company in :59 (second best of 43 at the distance); War of Will worked a half-mile in :47.60 (best of 78) in company and Plus Que Parfait worked five furlongs, also in company, in 1:02 (28th best of 43). Also working at Churchill Downs was Signalman, who worked five furlongs in 1:00, sixth best of 43.
At San Luis Rey Training Center in Southern California, Gray Magician worked five furlongs in 1:00.40
Also working on the fast track beneath the Twin Spires were Oaks hopefuls Chocolate Kisses (half-mile in :48 in company, 11th best) and Dunbar Road (five furlongs in 1:01.60 in company, 22nd best).
Five Derby hopefuls are scheduled to work at Churchill Downs Sunday: By My Standards, Code of Honor, Win Win Win and the Bill Mott-trained duo of Tacitus and Country House.
Expected to work for the Oaks Sunday at Churchill Downs are Lady Apple, Street Band and possibly Champagne Anyone.
Scheduled to arrive this afternoon from California is the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Roadster and 2018 Eclipse Award winner Game Winner. The Tex Sutton charter left from Ontario, California, shortly before 10 o'clock (all times Eastern).
BODEXPRESS – Top Racing, Global Thoroughbred and GDS Racing Stable's Bodexpress, training at Gulfstream Park West, is scheduled to work there Monday for trainer Gustavo Delgado and ship Tuesday.
Bodexpress would need one defection to make the Kentucky Derby field.
“If he doesn't get in the Derby, he'll run in the Preakness,” said Gustavo Delgado Jr., son and assistant to Delgado. “He's doing really well.”
BY MY STANDARDS – Allied Racing Stables' By My Standards visited the starting gate and galloped 1 ½ miles Saturday morning for trainer Bret Calhoun.
“We're just trying to enjoy the ride,” Calhoun said. “The horse couldn't be doing any better and I'm trying to have as much fun as we can along the way. We really thought this horse was special when he debuted. It got a little frustrating that it took him so long to break his maiden. Since then, he's really taken every step forward possible.”
One major piece of the By My Standards team was missing Saturday morning during training. Calhoun's assistant, St. Xavier High School graduate Tom Morgan, had the morning off to run in the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon.
By My Standards is scheduled to breeze Sunday at 7:30 a.m.
CODE OF HONOR – William S. Farish's Code of Honor jogged five furlongs and then galloped a mile and a quarter under exercise rider Brian Duggan for trainer Shug McGaughey.
Code of Honor is scheduled to work Sunday morning with Duggan slated to be aboard. Two-time Derby-winning rider John Velazquez has the call next Saturday.
Third in the March 30 Florida Derby (GI) in his most recent start, Code of Honor has spent most of the month in Kentucky, first at Keeneland where he had two works and then here where he arrived Wednesday.
“I am glad I brought him up early because it's quiet and gives him time to settle in,” McGaughey said. “It also gives me time to settle in.”
COUNTRY HOUSE/TACITUS – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott's Kentucky Derby duo of Wood Memorial (GII) winner Tacitus and Arkansas Derby (GI)-placed Country House left Barn 19 and continued their preparation over the Churchill Downs main track. They went through their paces during the special Kentucky Derby-Oaks 7:30-7:45 a.m. session Saturday.
“They both jogged today and will work, perhaps, tomorrow,” Mott said. “They're both doing well, look well and are eating well. We just have to get through this last work tomorrow. Sometimes you like to do it a day earlier just to get it over with.”
Tacitus and Country House will be Mott's ninth and 10th starters in the 10-furlong affair—a rare American classic the decorated conditioner has not claimed. Indeed, he has yet to hit the board, with his best finish a seventh by Hofburg last year.
CUTTING HUMOR/SPINOFF – The Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Starlight Racing's Cutting Humor and Wertheimer and Frere's Spinoff followed up their Friday works with easy jogs Saturday morning at Palm Beach Downs in Florida. Cutting Humor worked a half-mile in :48 and Spinoff went five furlongs in 1:00.60.
“They both came out of their exercise well,” Pletcher reported. “It's all systems go.”
The conditioner said that his twosome would walk Sunday, then jog again Monday morning prior to making an early trip from Florida Tuesday that should have them arriving at Churchill Downs somewhere between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
Rider Manny Franco is assigned the call on Spinoff. No rider has yet been made official for Cutting Humor, though Pletcher said they were very close to finalizing one. The next day or two should tell the tale, he suggested.
GAME WINNER/IMPROBABLE/ROADSTER – The media scrum piling up outside of Churchill Downs' Barn 33 was a surefire indicator that the white-haired one himself was back on the scene. As Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert emerged to hold court for more than 20 minutes Saturday morning, he led off his Derby week testimonials by giving a hat tip to how stout the lone classic hopeful of his already on the scene was handling the hoopla himself.
With his stablemates and fellow Derby contenders Game Winner and Roadster en route from California, Grade I winner Improbable put in an easy gallop under regular exercise rider Jose Contreras at Churchill Downs one day before his scheduled final workout in advance of the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The son of City Zip was calm and professional on a morning in which likely race favorite Omaha Beach turned in his final pre-Derby move. As well as Improbable got over the Santa Anita Park surface in his preparations for his runner-up outings in the Rebel Stakes (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI), Baffert feels the Churchill Downs main track actually may be more conducive to bringing out the best in the chestnut colt.
“(Assistant trainer) Jimmy (Barnes) has been really happy with him,” Baffert said of Improbable. “He really likes this track. They're coming from Santa Anita where it has been pretty deep, they've made it really, really deep. He'll work tomorrow…but he's really coming into this race pretty well.”
Improbable turned in a half-mile breeze in :48 at Churchill Downs on April 22, a move that may have set the colt up to show more speed early on in his classic try.
“I do know that Bob feels like you do have to get out of the gate well, feels like you need to get into a rhythm. And, you know, Improbable's strength is his stride, so I think he does want him to get in a nice rhythm and not have too many obstacles in his path,” said Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, which co-owns the colt along with China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing. “It's possible that he would show a little more speed, but he's not a horse that's going to drag you to the front end or you're going to have to worry about slowing down. I see him somewhere in that first tier, probably four, five, six lengths off it.”
GRAY MAGICIAN – Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber's Gray Magician put in his final breeze for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday morning at San Luis Rey Training Center. The last-out UAE Derby (GII) runner-up was worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 with Drayden Van Dyke up for trainer Peter Miller.
“He worked super and came home really well,” Miller said. “I couldn't be happier with how he did it. He came home (his final quarter-mile) in :23 1/5 and that was very good. He galloped out another eighth (to get six furlongs) in 1:12 2/5. This is a fast race track here, but it was the way he did it.
“Drayden came and worked him and the horse really did it on his own,” he continued. “He just shook the reins at him once and he opened up on his workmate. He started out about three lengths behind him and finished about 12 lengths ahead. Drayden got along well with the horse and in all likelihood, unless the owners think otherwise, he would ride him (in the Derby).
“As long as he comes out of the work well tomorrow, he will ship on Monday.”
HAIKAL – Shadwell Stable's Haikal continues to fill trainer Kiaran McLaughlin with confidence heading toward the Kentucky Derby. The son of top miler and McLaughlin trainee Daaher put in his final serious drill two days ago at Belmont Park, breezing five furlongs in 1:01.20. The move came six days after blitzing a bullet four furlongs in 47.40.
“We're excited and I loved his work,” McLaughlin said. “I even liked his work this week better than his bullet work. He was a little quicker last week, but this one was strong, in hand and he galloped out strong. With experience, he's come forward. We're not into consolation prizes so much. We really want to win this race.”
The three-time winner from five starts jogged Saturday morning and will ship to Churchill Downs from New York on Sunday after training. He will look to give McLaughlin his first win in the Run for the Roses. The conditioner finished second with Closing Argument in 2005 and has been fourth three times: Jazil (2006), Frosted (2015) and Mohaymen (2016).
LONG RANGE TODDY – Willis Horton's Rebel Stakes (GII) winner Long Range Toddy galloped about 1 ½ miles Saturday for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Long Range Toddy is scheduled to breeze Monday according to Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi.
MASTER FENCER – The first Japanese-bred horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, Master Fencer, has settled in nicely at Keeneland and quickly taken to his American surroundings. He is scheduled to make the short van ride from Lexington to Louisville on Monday evening. He went through his paces Saturday morning under Yosuke Kono and the watchful eye of Mitsuoki Numamoto, racing manager and shipping agent for owners Katsumi and Yasuyo Yoshizawa.
The son of Dubai Turf (G1) winner Just A Way—the world's top-rated horse of 2014 and Japan's champion freshman sire of 2018—did three circuits during the course of his morning routine.
“He jogged one lap around the training track, then went to the main track and did an easy gallop one time around and then a fast-paced gallop,” Numamoto said. “He's working great and he was really enjoying the run.”
Master Fencer exits a good second in the Fukuryu Stakes, the final leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, and already has raced over the 1¼-mile distance two times in his six efforts. Both of those were his initial two starts, over the turf, netting a second and fourth. Switched to dirt, he subsequently won two nine-furlong affairs and was then fourth in the Hyacinth Stakes (Listed) prior to his aforementioned Fukuryu run.
“The dirt here is different than in Japan,” Numamoto explained. “It's more sand in Japan and it is lighter here. It fits Master Fencer, who can run on dirt or turf, and the rider said he felt very good for him. We expected it to be wetter here, but the Keeneland track drains very well and the track was great.
“We are happy because the horse is enjoying it and he has looked good while doing it,” he continued. “He will work on Wednesday with Julien Leparoux at Churchill Downs.”
An exact distance of the breeze has not been determined. Leparoux is slated to ride in the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Katsumi Tsunoda is expected to be on the grounds Tuesday after arriving with the owners Monday evening.
MAXIMUM SECURITY – Gary and Mary West's undefeated Maximum Security galloped Saturday morning at Palm Meadows Training Center in south Florida for trainer Jason Servis.
Winner of the Florida Derby (GI) in his most recent start, Maximum Security is scheduled to work Monday at Palm Meadows and fly to Louisville Tuesday.
OMAHA BEACH – It was work day for Fox Hill Farm's Omaha Beach Saturday and that was just fine with him. The big War Front colt, the apparent favorite for next Saturday's 145th Kentucky Derby, was ready to do his thing when the special 7:30 to 7:45 a.m. Derby/Oaks training period came up and trainer Richard Mandella was ready for him to do it, too.
The Hall of Fame conditioner had waved off a Derby prep Friday for his charge when wet weather and a possible “off” track wasn't seen as the ideal scenario for a final move. Plan B was to go Saturday and switch out riders – local Julien Leparoux subbing for regular rider Mike Smith, who stayed in California – and when the morning dawned bright and the track was perfectly fast, Mandella knew his call was a good one.
The trainer also had made an arrangement with owner Rick Porter to provide a workmate for “Omaha” and that request was answered with the 4-year-old gelding Cowboy Karma, a stakes winner in his own right who had the saddle services of jockey Sophie Doyle. The twosome ponied clockwise from the five-eighths gap around to just past the finish line, then turned and galloped off together around the clubhouse turn to their starting point at the five-eighths pole for the five-panel drill.
“Cowboy” was supposed to be just ahead of the Derby colt at the start, but the older horse was on the muscle for the work and spurted out four lengths ahead right from the get-go. Leparoux, following orders, took a light hold on his mount and let him ease into his business. Both horses moved in smooth order through their exercise and by the time the pair turned for home, the younger horse's long strides had pulled him alongside and outside of his partner and as they leveled off nicely for the run through the lane. From there, it was “Omaha” by one, two, three and more as he moved ahead rapidly and crossed the wire finally five lengths in front.
Churchill Downs' clockers caught Omaha Beach in splits that read like this: :12, :23.60, :35.40 and a final time of :59 flat. They registered a gallop out of 1:12.80. It was the second-fastest of 43 works at the distance during the morning, bested only by the :58.60 of the older major stakes winner McKinzie.
“He felt good, very good,” Leparoux offered after he had dismounted back at Barn 28. “When I asked him, he went.”
Mandella, who has been smiling more than usual of late, also had good things to say about his colt's move.
“I just wanted him to have one more good work; that's all he needed,” the trainer said. “He got it today. They were supposed to go off together, but it all worked out fine. He went and got him. I really liked that he settled right down after the work. He acts like a professional racehorse. I don't think this work took much out of him at all. It couldn't have gone better. It's all working out just right.
“I'm glad to have it (the work) done. You need to get past all the obstacles. This is one of the big ones. I'm glad it's over.
“I've never had a 3-year-old doing this well this early. He's just special. Since the Rebel (his victory in a division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 16) he's filled out and just gotten better. He's pure class. And he's a kind horse. A horse that's easy to be around.”
Shortly after the drill, Mandella fielded a call from owner Porter. “He went awesome,” the trainer told him. “He couldn't be doing better.”
Mandella said Omaha Beach would have a walk day Sunday, then likely go back to galloping for the balance of the week.
As his colt cooled out with a walk under the shedrow, the trainer offered insights on the move and his charge's wellbeing to a flock of journalistic types eager to hear what he had to say. Among the points Mandella made, there was this:
“I've reached a point in my life where I'm happy with what I've done. I'm pretty much good with it all. But if I won this race (Kentucky Derby), I'd be happy – very happy. But if I don't, I'll survive.”
PLUS QUE PARFAIT – UAE Derby (GII) winner Plus Que Parfait put in his final serious breeze Saturday for the Kentucky Derby. The son of Point of Entry drilled five furlongs in 1:02 flat in company with Al Taweel, a last-out claiming winner for trainer Brendan Walsh at Tampa Bay Downs, with furlong splits of 12 flat, 23.60, 36.20 and 49.40. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:15.60.
“He has become more aggressive now than how he used to be, which I think is a good thing to see,” Walsh said. “He went a little faster than we wanted early on and the last thing I wanted to do was do too much with him right now. Then, when he left the lead horse, he lazed a little bit and it was fine. I wanted 1:02 and out in 1:15 and that's exactly how he went. We don't need to see anything spectacular right now from him in the morning and he's never going to do that anyway. I actually really like the way he was doing it. He did it so easy once he leveled off and was moving great.”
Assistant trainer Tom Molloy, who accompanied the chestnut to and from Dubai, as well, was aboard for the breeze. The move took place during the special Kentucky Derby/Oaks 7:30-7:45 a.m. training session.
SIGNALMAN – Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) winner and Blue Grass (GII) third Signalman worked Saturday morning with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., but he has a slight cut above his left eye that will have to be evaluated, trainer Kenny McPeek said.
“He's got a small cut over his eye, we're going to have to clean it up and let him tell us if it's bothering him,” McPeek said. “We're on the bubble anyway. But he does everything right, he's a good, solid colt and he put in a really good breeze.”
Despite the cut, the colt – who races for the partnership of Tommie M. Lewis, Steve Crabtree, Dean Demaree, David Bernsen, Jim Chambers and Magdalena Racing – worked five furlongs in 1:00. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.80.
“It was good out there,” Hernandez said. “He kind of followed a workmate around, then when we got to the quarter pole, he went by him easily and finished up good. The cut didn't seem to bug him any, they'll clean it up and he'll be good to go.”
Plans call for the colt to go on to the Preakness, if he does or doesn't make the Derby field.
SUENO – Silverton Hill LLC's Sueno, currently No. 23 on the Kentucky Derby list, was out shortly after the track opened at 5:15 a.m. and jogged an easy two miles.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux, who continues to hold out hope that his charge might break into the list of 20 runners for the mile and a quarter classic, said he would “probably work him tomorrow.”
No rider has been assigned for the son of the Medaglia d'Oro stallion Atreides.
TAX – Trainer Danny Gargan confirmed Saturday morning that New York-based Withers (GIII) winner Tax is doing well and preparing to ship Sunday from Belmont Park to Churchill Downs. The son of Arch has two wins, two seconds and a third from five career starts and had his final serious breeze Thursday, going a half-mile in 47.80 (fourth-fastest of 79) over the Belmont training track.
“He worked really good the other day and we just jogged him today,” Gargan said. “We only worked him once, with only four weeks between races, since the Wood (Memorial). He's been doing great, but it's the best 20 3-year-olds in the country, so he's going to have to be good. It's all about the post and draw.
“I'd like to be closer to the rail,” he continued. “Churchill seems to be a track where you're better drawn down inside and—like I said—it's all about the post. If he's drawn well, I'd like to see him in fourth or fifth early on. If he's outside in 18 or 19, he'll be third or so early and we'll have to use him.”
Hailing from a deep Claiborne Farm pedigree, Tax is a grandson of multiple graded stakes-winning Yell, who was third in the 2003 Kentucky Oaks (GI) and second in the following year's Louisville Breeders' Cup (GII). He made his first two starts for Claiborne and Adele B. Dilschneider, while trained by Ben Colebrook, but was claimed by Gargan for owners R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable. He has subsequently made three starts, including a third in the Remsen (GII), his aforementioned Withers win and a last-out runner-up effort to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial (GII).
“When I claimed him, I had seen his run first time out,” Gargan said. “I actually thought he was going to be a grass router, being an Arch out of a Giant's Causeway mare, but when I breezed him, I saw that he was a dirt horse—and a good one. He showed he had speed when he ran first time out and a big horse who has that kind of speed is a good thing to have.”
Junior Alvarado, aboard for his past two runs, keeps the mount.
VEKOMA – R.A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables' Blue Grass (GII) winner Vekoma came out of his five-furlong work in :59.95 on Friday at Palm Beach Downs in south Florida in good shape according to trainer George Weaver.
Vekoma worked in company Friday with the 4-year-old Majestic Dunhill who is graded stakes-placed. Majestic Dunhill traveled to Keeneland with Vekoma and finished sixth beaten three lengths in the Commonwealth (GIII) there. Weaver said the $500,000 Churchill Downs (GI) next Saturday is under consideration.
Vekoma is scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs Tuesday. Javier Castellano, who was aboard for the Blue Grass victory as well as Friday's work, has the Derby mount.
WAR OF WILL – Whenever trainer Mark Casse wanted to impress the visitors who would come by his barn during the Saratoga meet last summer, he would pull out a certain bay son of War Front that he had pinned a whole heaping portion of expectations on.
With his Adonis-like looks, War of Will always has been one to fill the eye with admirable qualities. He has backed that up with talent that has earned him a spot in the starting gate for the first leg of the Triple Crown and in his final major piece of work in advance of the May 4 Kentucky Derby, Casse once again got to watch his charge show off for onlookers.
Though he technically worked in company with older stablemate Starinthemaking, Gary Barber's War of Will was basically a one-man show as he posted a four-furlong breeze in :47.60 on a picture-perfect morning beneath the Twin Spires. With jockey Tyler Gaffalione playing passenger in the irons, the Lecomte (GIII) and Risen Star Stakes (GII) winner registered splits of :12, :24 and :36.20 and easily left his workmate in the dust by the time he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 and six furlongs in 1:13.60.
“What you got to see this morning, if you weren't impressed with him this morning, I don't know what we're supposed to do,” Casse said. “But I've been seeing this for a long time. I had him up in Saratoga last summer and anybody that came by I took him out and showed him. And I remember talking to Jim Lawson, who is the (CEO) of Woodbine, and telling him 'I'm sending up a very, very special horse' – and he reminded me of that recently.
“The (workmate) was only there for about an eighth of a mile. I don't know how you could ask for a horse to work any better than he just did.”
Given that his bloodlines screamed turf potential, War of Will began his career going winless in four tries on the lawn but performing admirably enough to earn a start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) last November in which he finished fifth. Since switching to the dirt, however, the sophomore colt has won three of his last four starts with his only blemish coming when he finished ninth in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (GII) after losing his hind end action briefly at the start.
He first flaunted his main-track aptitude at Churchill Downs when he broke his maiden by five lengths going 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 24. Gaffalione piloted War of Will in a race for the first time that day and has continued to be impressed by the colt's progression since.
“Every track that he's run over he handles fine, but he especially loves this track,” Gaffalione said. “I don't know what it is – it might be all the people. I think he knows he's a star so he likes the attention. I've been so high on this horse since I first got on him. I worked him here before he broke his maiden. The thing about him now is he's just all together mentally.”
WIN WIN WIN – Live Oak Plantation's Win Win Win galloped a mile and a half under exercise rider Melanie Williams. Saturday's exercise was his second over the track and first here with trainer Mike Trombetta looking on in person.
“Everybody is happy with what he did this morning,” Trombetta said. “I could see he was checking things out yesterday and I can see why. He picked it up on the second day.”
Win Win Win is scheduled to work Sunday morning with jockey Julian Pimentel coming in for the breeze.
Win Win Win's home base is the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.
“It is a lot quieter there,” Trombetta said. “But he has been around. He wintered at Tampa Bay Downs, came back to Fair Hill, went to Keeneland and then came back to Fair Hill. He is getting used to the project.
SHAPING UP: THE KENTUCKY DERBY – Likely starters in the 145th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) to be run for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles on Saturday, May 4: By My Standards (jockey Gabriel Saez), Code of Honor (John Velazquez), Country House (Flavien Prat), Cutting Humor (undecided), Game Winner (Joel Rosario), Gray Magician (Drayden Van Dyke), Haikal (Rajiv Maragh), Improbable (Irad Ortiz Jr.), Long Range Toddy (Jon Court), Master Fencer (JPN) (Julien Leparoux), Maximum Security (Luis Saez), Omaha Beach (Mike Smith), Plus Que Parfait (Ricardo Santana Jr.), Roadster (Florent Geroux), Spinoff (Manny Franco), Tacitus (Jose Ortiz), Tax (Junior Alvarado), Vekoma (Javier Castellano), War of Will (Tyler Gaffalione), Win Win Win (Julian Pimentel).
Next up in order of preference: Bodexpress (undecided), Signalman (Brian Hernandez Jr.), Sueno (undecided) and Bourbon War (undecided).
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