At the very least, Kentucky Derby time will bolster jockey Manny Franco's airline rewards account. The 24-year-old picked up the mount on the Todd Pletcher-trained Spinoff, who is pointing towards the “Run for the Roses” on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
After riding a full card Thursday at Aqueduct, Franco traveled to the Sunshine State to work Spinoff at his training location in Palm Beach Downs in Del Ray Beach, Florida.
Spinoff breezed five furlongs in 59.99 on Friday morning with Franco up. The veteran rider then flew right back to New York, where he has mounts in six of the day's nine races Friday at the Big A.
“I'm supposed to leave tonight [Thursday] and head down there and work at Palm Meadows Friday,” Franco said on Thursday afternoon. “I'm trying to know the horse. You have to do what you have to do. If you want to ride these types of horses and these types of races, you have to do whatever they ask. They called me to work the horse, so I have to go.”
Jet lag might be the only thing that can slow Franco, who won the Aqueduct winter meet's riding title with 98 winners. Entering Friday, Franco has 15 wins, one more than second-place rider Jose Lezcano, as he seeks to notch another title for the 12-day Aqueduct spring meet that concludes Saturday.
Wertheimer and Frere's Spinoff has 40 qualifying points to the Derby, ranking 19th on the leaderboard. His point totals are the same as Bodexpress, but Spinoff has the edge in non-restricted stakes earnings with $224,000.
The Hard Spun colt earned a personal-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure following a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 23 at Fair Grounds, finishing three-quarters of a length behind By My Standards in his best career stakes performance.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez was aboard for both the Louisiana Derby and the third-place finish in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in August, but Velazquez is slated to ride Fountain of Youth-winner Code of Honor for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
That allowed Franco to pick up the mount, which would be his second career Kentucky Derby start.
“I've watched the replays of him and saw the way he runs,” Franco said. “From the races I've seen, I think he has speed. I don't think he'll be too far out of there, because he puts himself close. We'll see how the race develops.”
Franco's previous Derby experience came with Tencendur in 2015, where the 52-1 longshot ran 17th for trainer George Weaver.
“Because I broke the ice and rode in my first Derby before, I think I'll be a little more relaxed,” Franco said. “It won't be a surprise. Man, when I came in off the paddock and I saw all the people screaming and the race started, it was unbelievable. It was a dream come true.”
The sights of more than 150,000 people jamming Churchill Downs was a special moment, Franco said, and having the chance to win the Triple Crown's first leg remains a goal of almost every rider who sits in the irons.
“It's the goal for all jockeys is to ride in the Derby and try and get the win,” Franco said.
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. has enjoyed a highly prosperous start to 2019, leading all North American jockeys in wins  and earnings [$9,066,500], as well as winning the Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park this winter.
The veteran rider will guide Improbable for the first time in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Improbable was recently second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby behind Omaha Beach, where he was guided by Ortiz's brother, Jose Ortiz.
Ortiz has ridden in the Kentucky Derby three times having guided Uncle Sigh [2014, 14], My Man Sam [2016, 11] and Hofburg [2018, 7].
“He's a nice horse, he has a good trainer, so we'll see what happens. It's very exciting. I've got a lot of good support from the owners and trainers,” Ortiz, Jr. said.
Already a Grade 1 winner when taking the Los Alamitos Futurity in December, Improbable was second in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park behind Long Range Toddy in his sophomore debut.
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