It was work day for Fox Hill Farm's Omaha Beach Saturday at Churchill Downs 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.”
WATCH: Omaha Beach breezes 5F in :59 in company w/ Cowboy Karma 1:00.80
Splits: 12, 23.60, 35.40. Out 6F 1:12.80. Omaha Beach started 4 lengths back and finished 5 in front. pic.twitter.com/aUqoXco7F0
— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) April 27, 2019
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