As we count down the final days until Kentucky Derby 137, we have created a Paulick Report Derby Guide to help you keep track of the latest developments with each of the Derby contenders. We will be updating this guide throughout Derby week with the latest news, comments and workout notes (courtesy of Churchill Downs media department)
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Paulick Report Morning Line: 20-1
Dam: Dalicia (Acatenango)
Owner: Team Valor International
Breeder: Team Valor
Trainer: Graham Motion
Jockey: John Velazquez
Most Recent Sale Price: $100,000
If Summer Soiree wins the Oaks, Team Valor could be poised to make history with this Vinery Spiral Stakes winner.
FRIDAY: Team Valor International's Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII) winner Animal Kingdom will be ridden by John Velazquez in Kentucky Derby 137. Velazquez was named to replace Robby Albarado, who suffered facial injuries in a paddock accident on Wednesday.
“We decided last night that if Robby rode today, we would stick with him,” said Barry Irwin, chief executive officer of Team Valor International. “But if he was not able to ride today, we didn't feel comfortable riding him on Saturday. We made the decision this morning, before the betting opened, so the 'punters' would have full knowledge of what the deal was.”
Animal Kingdom went to the track Friday morning and galloped 1 5/8 miles.
Trainer Graham Motion said he is happy with the colt as he approaches America's most important race.
“He's doing very well and I feel very good about running him,” Motion said. “I feel good about how he's doing. I'm pretty relaxed about it, to be honest.”
Motion is a good example of a trainer who has seen his scenario for the Derby under go a complete overhaul since mid-March. At that point, Animal Kingdom was a maiden winner who had finished second in an allowance race on turf, and Toby's Corner was a coming off a third-place finish in the Gotham (GIII).
Animal Kingdom established himself as a Derby prospect with his win in the Spiral on March 26 and Toby's Corner won the Wood Memorial (GI) on April 9. Animal Kingdom turned in a nice work at Churchill Downs on Saturday, April 30 that confirmed he was ready for the Derby, but Toby's Corner was found to have a problem with his left rear leg on Monday, May 2, an injury that kept him out of the race.
Motion has seen his lineup change and has had to change riders on Animal Kingdom. “I've kind of been through all of the ups and downs, the emotions of it,” Motion said. “I'm kind of getting to the point where I'm putting that behind me.
“It's been a real emotional roller coaster for everybody, particularly for the guys at Fair Hill, who put so much into Toby's Corner. That is the nature of the game and it's what you grow used to. I certainly wouldn't have anticipated two months ago this horse running in the Derby, but I don't think that's a knock against him because I think he's a really special horse. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, he's a really good horse.”
The Derby will be Animal Kingdom's first race on dirt and the breeze on Saturday gave Motion confidence that he can handle the change in surfaces.
“That was a very good work,” Motion said. “It's still different to go over there in the afternoon and duplicate that. It was a very good work and that has kind of kept me relaxed about the whole situation.”
THURSDAY: Team Valor International's Animal Kingdom stood in the starting gate and galloped a mile and three quarters Thursday morning over a fast track at Churchill Downs.
“It was pretty uneventful,” trainer Graham Motion said with a smile.
Animal Kingdom was scheduled to school in the paddock Thursday afternoon during the fifth race.
“This is purely to go through the routine,” Motion said. “He's very classy acting.”
Motion said that the condition of Toby's Corner, who sustained an injury to the left hind this week and was withdrawn from consideration for the Derby, had not changed.
WEDNESDAY: Team Valor International's Animal Kingdom galloped a mile and a half shortly after 7 a.m.
The Derby will be Animal Kingdom's first start on dirt and trainer Graham Motion said he is confident that the colt will handle the surface switch..
“He gallops on it fine,” Motion said. “He's galloped on it all winter at Palm Meadows. I think he's handled everything we've asked him to do. Ultimately, you just don't know how they are going to get over it until they run, but certainly from the way he's gone, he gives you every indication that he's going to handle it. And he's doing very well.”
Motion's other Derby prospect, Toby's Corner, who was removed from consideration on Tuesday because of lameness in his left hind leg, was returned to Motion's barn at the Fair Hill Training Center.
“He's about the same. I'm none the wiser of what actually caused the problem,” Motion said.
Motion said it might be possible for the colt to make the Preakness on May 21.
“I would say it is 50-50 right now,” Motion said. “He's going to have to improve very dramatically in order to do something like that.”
TUESDAY: Team Valor International's Animal Kingdom was out in the rain and the mud Tuesday morning to visit the starting gate and gallop a mile over the sloppy track.
MONDAY: Animal Kingdom returned to the track Monday morning and jogged a mile over a sloppy course. Dan Rock, assistant to trainer Graham Motion, sent the colt out a little after 7 a.m. during a short break in the rain. The Leroidesanimaux colt worked six furlongs Saturday morning in 1:13. Rock said the colt has come out of the work in good order.
SUNDAY: Trainer Graham Motion said Team Valor International's Animal Kingdom came out of Saturday's work in good order. The Leroidesanimaux colt worked six furlongs Saturday morning in 1:13 at Churchill Downs. He walked the shedrow Sunday morning.
Dam: Woodman's Dancer (Woodman)
Owner: Robert and Loval Yagos
Trainer: Jinks Fires
Jockey: Jon Court
Most Recent Sale Price: $60,000
The Lane's End Weekender Pedigree
Has any horse so quietly won the Southwest and Arkansas Derby with a third-place Rebel in between?
FRIDAY: It was all smiles Friday morning at Barn 40 as Robert and Val Yagos' Archarcharch completed his preparations for Kentucky Derby 137 with a mile and a half gallop over a fast race track with jockey Jon Court up.
“He looked good galloping by me,” trainer Jinks Fires said. “We're all good here and he won't go out in the morning.”
It has been a big week for the 70-year-old Fires as he prepares to send out his first Derby starter and the high pressure valve has been kept on low with members of the Fires family converging on Louisville and the trainer even allowing a local TV sports anchor to ride his pony a couple of mornings.
It also did not hurt that the barn picked up a winner Thursday in Court's Journey, a 3-year-old ridden by Jon Court and owned and bred by Fires' daughter and Court's wife Krystal.
“The owner was ecstatic,” said Jon Court, who rode three winners Thursday and has six victories in the first four days of the meet. “It's the only horse she has now.”
Two of the victories Thursday came from post position one, the spot from which Archarcharch will break on Saturday. “I'll take back and try to avoid getting bumped around,” Court said looking ahead to Saturday and leaving the one hole on Archarcharch.
On hand to watch the morning activity was Doug Fires, Jinks' 30-year-old son who is on leave from Camp Pendleton in California.
“I haven't been to a Derby since I was a kid,” said Doug Fires, a Marine Cobra helicopter pilot who has served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.. “The Derby was always during finals week (at the Naval Academy) or I was deployed.”
THURSDAY: Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Archarcharch was the picture of calm composure as he waited in the “Holthus Gap” for the track to open at 8:30 after the Thursday morning renovation break.
With hundreds of onlookers lining each side of the entrance to the track, Archarcharch, with jockey Jon Court up, never turned a hair as he waited patiently alongside veteran trainer Jinks Fires, who was astride his pony.
His cool demeanor figures to be a plus Saturday in Kentucky Derby 137 for Archarcharch, who landed in post position one and will have one of the longest waits in the gate as the field of 20 is loaded.
“He has always been good in the gate,” Fires said. “It (the one hole) could be a concern for a rowdy horse who could blow it right in the gate.”
After the wait, Archarcharch galloped a mile and a half and will do the same thing Friday morning before staying in the barn Saturday morning.
Owned by Robert and Val Yagos, Archarcharch represents the first Kentucky Derby starter for all the connections. Fires and Court are Churchill Downs regulars and Yagoses live in Jacksonville, Ark., and last attended the Derby in 2005.
Court, 50, has ridden more than 3,000 winners of which more than 300 have come at Churchill Downs. To prepare for his initial Derby ride, some film study has been conducted by Court.
“I watched videos of the starts of past Derbys looking at spots we thought we'd like before we got the one hole and some of those made me a little nervous,” Court said. “I left with a knot in my stomach. I am going to go back and look again at those races.”
Fires has one hope for how things unfold for Archarcharch.
“I just hope he gets out of the gate and can save some ground,” Fires said.
WEDNESDAY: Robert and Val Yagos' Archarcharch galloped a mile and a half after the renovation break with jockey Jon Court up for trainer Jinks Fires.
Archarcharch represents the first Kentucky Derby starter for the 70-year-old Fires, a Churchill Downs regular. Fires saw his first Derby in 1961.
“That was Carry Back and Johnny Sellers,” Fires said. “Crozier ran that year and I bet on him and Carry Back just got him at the wire.”
Of all the Kentucky Derby winners he has seen, Fires was asked which was the most impressive.
“I would have to say Secretariat,” Fires said. “He was a big, beautiful chestnut and I galloped alongside him.”
In the 50 years he has been observing Derby Week activities, Fires was asked if he had seen anything in training that made him scratch his head in amazement.
“It's hard to train another man's horse,” Fires said. “I am sure they had their reasons for doing what they did.”
TUESDAY: Robert and Val Yagos' Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Archarcharch, training in company with stablemate Supreme Ruler, was given a half-mile work in :52 over a sloppy track on a cold and rainy Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs under jockey Jon Court.
“It was not really a work,” trainer Jinks Fires said. “They were just doing a two-minute lick around there to make them competitive, but they went a little faster than I wanted to. Archarcharch will go by himself tomorrow.”
The owners were on hand for the morning activity after driving to Louisville on Monday from Jacksonville, Ark. The couple has had horses with Fires for nearly 20 years.
Archarcharch was a $60,000 sales purchase as a yearling at Keeneland.
“When we bought him we thought: 'Wouldn't it be fun to buy a horse for $60,000 and go to the Kentucky Derby with him,' ” Val Yagos said.
The couple turned down offers to sell the colt in which Val became a part owner for $10.
“After we decided not to sell, we decided it would be better to have two of us making the decisions,” Bob Yagos said. “We thought about selling, but we didn't buy him with the intent to sell.”
Yagos has run an auto salvage business for 28 years, but Fires had to question the owner's business acumen regarding Archarcharch.
“I told Bob that I didn't think he was a very good businessman,” Fires said with a laugh.
MONDAY: Robert and Val Yagos' Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Archarcharch galloped a mile and a half after the renovation break over a sloppy track with jockey Jon Court aboard. The owners are driving to Louisville from Jacksonville, Ark., today and expected to be on hand during training hours in the morning when more rain is expected.
The long-range forecast for Derby Day calls for a 30 percent chance of rain and Court was asked if he had any concerns about Archarcharch handling a wet track.
“I would prefer a dry track, but they all have to run on it,” said Court, who will be riding in his first Kentucky Derby. “It doesn't show (on his past performances), but he has had experience on an off track. I am confident in his ability and skill to think that he could handle it.”
Archarcharch's only off-the-board finish in six starts came on a track listed as “good” in a fourth-place finish in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 17.
“That day,” Court said, “that track was muddy, sticky and tiring.”
SUNDAY: Robert and Loval Yagos' Archarcharch galloped a mile and a half after the renovation break over a sloppy track under exercise rider Carlos Vasquez. The Arkansas Derby (GI) winner had worked a bullet five-eighths in :59.40 on Friday and had light exercise Saturday morning. “We just walked him and jogged him a little yesterday and he got mad because he wanted to gallop,” trainer Jinks Fires said.
Vasquez was in the saddle this morning in place of jockey Jon Court, who opened the Spring Meet last night with two victories on the card. “We didn't have much this morning, so Carlos got on him,” Fires said. “(Brother) Manny (Fires) and Carlos got on him at Oaklawn.” Fires said that Archarcharch may visit the paddock once in the afternoon during the week and may go to the gate one more time. “He has always been good at the gate,” Fires said of Archarcharch, who was kicked by another horse in the gate before the Rebel (GII). “Maybe if we take him over there enough, he won't think about that.”
Dam: Speed Succeeds (Gone West)
Owner: Live Oak Stud
Breeder: Live Oak Plantation
Trainer: Tom Albertrani
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Most Recent Sale Price: Homebred
Blue Grass Stakes winners increasingly seen as a non-Derby contenders. A win here would be a big deal for the Keeneland prep.
FRIDAY: Live Oak Plantation's homebred Dynaformer colt Brilliant Speed galloped a mile and a quarter under assistant trainer Dan Blacker Friday morning.
Trainer Tom Albertrani watched the colt while he was on the track from a spot along the rail and said the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) winner is coming up to the Derby the right way.
“He's definitely on the muscle and that's what I want to see,” Albertrani said. “I want to see him go around there. He's dragging my rider around there and that's usually a good indication for me; that's when he's doing good.
“I feel pretty confident. He's training extremely well. The only question is how he's going to handle this surface. I feel pretty confident going into the race.”
Brilliant Speed ran poorly on dirt in his first two career starts last year, but began to blossom when he was switched to longer races on the turf in the fall. He ran well in two grass stakes at Gulfstream Park during the winter and earned his ticket to the Derby with a victory on the Polytrack at Keeneland in the Blue Grass..
Albertrani acknowledged that it is wide-open race with many contenders.
“I'm focused on my horse right now and I find a lot of positives on my horse. That's why I feel pretty confident,” he said. “There's not one horse you could lay a finger on because that's why they are all in there.”
As a son of Dynaformer out of a Gone West mare, Brilliant Speed has bloodlines that say he could be a player in the Derby.
“He's got the pedigree. The distance is going to be no problem for him,” Albertrani said. “I love the way he's training. I think he's going to run well.”
THURSDAY: Live Oak Plantation's homebred Dynaformer colt Brilliant Speed galloped a mile and a quarter under assistant trainer Dan Blacker shortly after 8:30 a.m. during the training period reserved for Oaks and Derby horses.
“He looked sharp,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “It looks like we're ready to go.”
Albertrani trains three horses for Live Oak Plantation, owned by Mrs. Charlotte Weber. Brilliant Speed is out of the unraced Gone West mare, Speed Succeeds, who was sold for $1,450,000 at the Keeneland September Sale in 2002.
Speed Succeeds is a daughter of the dual stakes-winning Deputy Minister mare Daijin, and is a half-sister to Canadian champion Serenading (by A.P. Indy). Passing Mood (by Buckpasser), the second dam of Speed Succeeds, was also an impressive producer. She is the dam of multiple Canadian champion With Approval (by Caro) and Grade 1-winning millionaire Touch Gold (by Deputy Minister), both of whom became sires.
Brilliant Speed started showing promise when he was moved to turf and into longer races last fall following two dirt sprints. This year he was beaten a nose in the Dania Beach and was placed second through a disqualification in the Hallandale Beach. Albertrani tried him in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) on the Polytrack at Keeneland and he rolled from last to first to win by a nose over Twinspired.
Albertrani likes what he has seen of the colt this week at Churchill Downs.
“He looks every bit as good as he did for his last few races, so we're optimistic,” he said. “The horse looks great.”
The question that will be answered in the Derby is how the colt will run on dirt. He was badly beaten in his two tries on the surface when was a young and inexperienced competitor.
“He's always trained on it, but sometimes you don't know,” Albertrani said. “He may or may not like it. We just don't know. A lot of good turf horses will train good on it, but they won't run good on it. We're going to be hoping for a good race.”
WEDNESDAY: Live Oak Plantation's Toyota Blue Grass (GI) winner Brilliant Speed returned to the track under assistant trainer Dan Blacker Wednesday morning, two days after he breezed five furlongs on 1:01.20 on a muddy ..
“We jogged two miles today. It was pretty much routine for him after he breezes,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “Then we'll gallop up to the race the next couple of days.”
Albertani said he likes the Dynaformer colt is coming into the race.
“He's looking great,” Albertrani said. “He looks fantastic.”
TUESDAY: Live Oak Plantation's Toyota Blue Grass (GI) winner Brilliant Speed walked the shedrow Tuesday morning, a day after he breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20. The homebred son of Dynaformer has a 2-2-2 record from eight starts and has hit the board in six consecutive races since leaving sprint races on dirt.
“He's a pretty straightforward horse; there's nothing unusual about him,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “He enjoys his training and right now he looks happy. I'm pretty satisfied with the way he's coming into the race.
The Derby will be Brilliant Speed's first start on dirt since he finished seventh in a maiden special weight race on Aug. 21 at Saratoga. Albertrani moved the colt to turf in September and he ran five times on grass before winning the Blue Grass on the Polytrack at Keeneland at odds of 19-1.
“We ran him twice in Florida at Gulfstream, in the Dania Beach and he ran back in the Hallandale Beach,” Albertrani said. “They were kind of close together and I thought he was a bit unlucky not to win them both. He ran against my other horse, King Congie, who ran a huge race in the Hallandale Beach, but he bumped Brilliant Speed late in the stretch and it might have cost him the race.”
Brilliant Speed was second by a nose in the Dania Beach and was moved up to second in the Hallandale Beach when King Congie was DQ'd.
“We gave him a little break,” Albertrani said. “We weren't really thinking about Derby at the time because he was doing so well on turf, but with nowhere else to go, the Blue Grass was always in the back of our minds. We thought that we really don't know if he's truly a turf horse, so let's try the Poly and see where that leads us. We felt that if he runs well in the Blue Grass we definitely would be considering coming. It kind of worked out that way.”
MONDAY: Brilliant Speed breezed 5F in 1:01 1/5. 12 3/5, 24 4/5, 36 2/5, 48 2/5. Out 6F in 1:15.
“I thought he went well. The work was good and he galloped out nicely,” said trainer Tom Albertrani, who watched it from the backstretch clockers' stand. “I thought it was a nice work, what we were looking for.”
Brilliant Speed shipped over from Keeneland on Friday and galloped on the surface on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Two days of rain forced Albertrani to breeze the homebred colt on the muddy surface.
“I just wanted to see how he handled the track,” Albertrani said. “Today wasn't the best day with the rain that we've been having. Ideally, I would have preferred a fast track, but there is no guarantee what the track might be like on Saturday, either. Today was just kind of a maintenance move and I thought he worked well.”
SUNDAY: Live Oak Plantation's Toyota Blue Grass (GI) winner Brilliant Speed galloped a mile and a quarter over the wet track under assistant trainer Dan Blacker. “He seemed to go over it great,” Blacker said. “Even though it was sealed, the track seemed like it had a nice cushion on it. He felt great, strong all the way. I couldn't be happier. He's doing great.”
Trainer Tom Albertrani is scheduled to arrive in Louisville Sunday and will supervise the colt's breeze Monday morning.
Sire: Bwana Charlie
Dam: Maggie's Storm (Stormy Atlantic)
Owner: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara
Breeder: Richard and Linda Thompson
Trainer: Peter Miller
Jockey: Patrick Valenzuela
Most Recent Sale Price: $22,000
The Lane's End Weekender Pedigree
If this 13-time starter hits the board, could he start a movement towards battle-tested Derby runners?
FRIDAY: Trainer Peter Miller had his Kentucky Derby charge Comma to the Top out at 7 a.m. Friday for a bit of exercise on a cool and cloudy morning at Churchill Downs. The Southern California-based conditioner, who also serves as his horse's exercise rider for their Kentucky adventure, jogged his gelding once around the big strip as well as allowing him to stand for a minute in the starting gate.
“Took it easy on him today,” the trainer said. “If he isn't fit by now, I'm not going to get him fit today.”
Comma to the Top, a son of the Indian Charlie sire Bwana Charlie, is the most experienced horse in the field for Derby 137 with 13 starts already under his girth. The speedster, who will be handled by veteran Patrick Valenzuela, is considered by many the likely pacesetter in the 10-furlong classic.
Miller was asked about his plans for Comma to the Top on Derby Day.
“Usually I just walk my horses on the day they race,” the trainer said. “But with post so late for this race (scheduled for 6:24 p.m.), I might put him on the track for a jog in the morning.”
The Florida-bred bay will break from post position six in the 19-horse Derby field.
THURSDAY: The California-based Comma to the Top, who many feel may carve out the pace in Derby 137 on Saturday, was out even before the crack of dawn Thursday morning at Churchill Downs for a jog of two miles under full-time trainer and sometimes exercise rider Peter Miller. The duo hit the track right when it first opened at 5:45 a.m.
“He was a little anxious here yesterday waiting around until 8:30 (when there is a designated open-track period of 15 minutes for Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses),” Miller said. “So I decided not to wait today. We went out there early, took care of our business and now he can relax for the rest of the day.”
Comma to the Top, a son of the Indian Charlie sire Bwana Charlie, had been flown from his Southern California headquarters to Louisville on Tuesday and got his first bit of exercise in Kentucky yesterday. Saturday, he'll break from post position six in the 20-horse lineup and be handled by veteran Patrick Valenzuela, who has a reputation as one of the best “gate riders” (a rider who usually breaks his horse very quickly) in the country. Comma to the Top has been first or second early on in 11 of his 13 starts, six of which have seen him run all the way to the winner's circle.
“I'm going to paddock-school him today and we'll likely go tomorrow, too,” Miller said. “We've got a spot with the horses for today's third (race).”
WEDNESDAY: The California speedster Comma to the Top went trackside for the first time on a chilly Wednesday morning at Churchill at 8:30 following the renovation break. He was joined in the Lukas Gap near the six-furlong pole by a slew of other Derby and Oaks horses, who have the strip to themselves for the first 15 minutes following the makeover.
Comma to the Top, a gelding by the Indian Charlie sire Bwana Charlie, had a pony at his side and trainer Peter Miller up for a jog of about a mile around the big oval. The horse, who'll be the most experienced runner in Saturday's Derby 137 with 13 starts already to his credit, had flown in from his Southern California base Tuesday.
“He went fine,” the 44-year-old Miller said back at Barn 42. “He shipped fine and seemed to enjoy the track this morning. I've gotten on him on occasions (in California) before, just like I like to get on all my horses every once in a while. It helps me get a feel for them; to see how they're doing.”
Miller, a former groom and exercise rider, has been training on his own since 2004. This is his first Kentucky Derby experience.
“I'll paddock school him this week,” Miller said. “Not today, but maybe Thursday and Friday. One or two days of that, we'll see.”
California-based Patrick Valenzuela, who won the 1989 Kentucky Derby on Sunday Silence, has the call on Comma to the Top.
TUESDAY: The Southern California-based gelding Comma to the Top was airborne Tuesday morning, jetting across the country after boarding a Tex Sutton flight from Ontario Airport just east of Los Angeles around 4 a.m. that arrived in Louisville just before noon. With him on the flight were several other California stakes runners, including Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss' Zazu, who has a date in Friday's $1 million Kentucky Oaks.
Comma to the Top arrived at Churchill Downs at 1 p.m. and is housed in Barn 42, Stall 16. Trainer Peter Miller, who'll be saddling his first Kentucky Derby starter, has veteran Patrick Valenzuela named aboard his Florida-bred son of Bwana Charlie. Miller was in Kentucky Tuesday and likely to join his horse at the track later in the day.
When Comma to the Top breaks from the gate Saturday, it will be the 14th start of his career, the most by any horse in Derby 137. The quick bay, who is quite likely to be among the forward elements in the expected 20-horse field, is the fourth-leading graded stakes money winner in the Derby lineup with $671,000 already in the bank.
MONDAY: Trainer Peter Miller reported that his Kentucky Derby charge Comma to the Top looked “super” Monday morning at Hollywood Park following his five-furlong drill Sunday that he accomplished in 1:00.40.
“He's doing great,” Miller said. “We just walked him today and he's got his plane at 4 tomorrow morning.”
Miller indicated that he'd be flying this afternoon from Los Angeles and planned to be on board at Churchill when Comma to the Top makes the scene, probably early Tuesday afternoon.
California-based Patrick Valenzuela – one of four of this year's Derby riders who has won the race previously – has the call on the son of Bwana Charlie.
SUNDAY: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara's speedy multiple-stakes winner Comma to the Top put in his final preparations for his run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby several thousand miles away from Churchill Downs on the West Coast Sunday when he skipped through a five-furlong drill at Hollywood Park in 1:00.40 at 8 a.m. Southern California time. It was the 16th fastest of 46 works at the distance during the morning. The Florida-bred gelding by Indian Charlie's son Bwana Charlie had his scheduled Derby rider, Patrick Valenzuela, aboard for the exercise.
“I loved it,” said trainer Peter Miller, speaking from his Hollywood Park barn shortly after the move. “I loved it and so did Patrick. He's ready now.”
While Valenzuela has eight previous go-rounds in the Run for the Roses, including a victorious one in 1989 with the flashy Sunday Silence, this Derby outing will be a first for Miller, a 44-year-old Californian who has been around horses most of his life, but out on his own as a public trainer only since 2004. “I worked (as a groom) for Charlie Whittingham when he won the Derby with Ferdinand (1986),” Miller recalled. “But I didn't get to go to Kentucky for that one.”
Miller said Comma to the Top will be aboard a Tex Sutton flight leaving Los Angeles at 4 a.m. Tuesday en route to Louisville. He will headquartered in Barn 42, Stall 16 on the Churchill Downs backside.
Sire: With Distinction
Dam: Lady Samira (Dehere)
Owner: Just For Fun Stables
Breeder: Just For Fun Stables
Trainer: Juan Arias
Jockey: Kerwin Clark
Most Recent Sale Price: $70,000 RNA
Risen Star fifth place sandwiched by second-place finishes in the Vinery Spiral and Delta Downs Jackpot.
FRIDAY: Just For Fun Stable's Decisive Moment jogged once the wrong way under trainer Juan Arias on Friday morning at Churchill Downs.
Arias shares a name with the trainer of Canonero II, who pulled off a huge upset in the 1971 Kentucky Derby.
The South Florida-based trainer, who is no relation to Canonero II's trainer, will saddle Decisive Moment with a dream of joining him in Derby history.
“It means a lot to my career. It's a race that everybody wants to be in,” Arias said.
Just having a horse in the Derby field has been an important development in his training career.
“It shows that I can take a horse to the next level,” he said.
Kerwin Clark has the mount aboard Decisive Moment.
THURSDAY: Just For Fun Stable's Decisive Moment went to the track for a morning gallop under trainer Juan Arias Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.
“I galloped him about a mile and a half and let him pick it up through the lane,” said the 46-year-old Arias, a South Florida-based trainer who also serves as his Derby entrant's exercise rider.
Ruben Sierra, who races as Just For Fun, was on hand for the routine morning exercise of his homebred colt. He developed an interest in racing as a boy in Caracas, Venezuela, and received his first horse, a 25-percent interest in a filly that won two races on his 12th birthday.
“From that moment I've been dreaming of this day. To have the opportunity to participate in this event is a dream come true,” said Sierra, who graduated from Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) with a degree in mechanical engineering and worked for a grain company in Kansas City 14 years. “To be here is a little surreal.”
The 46-year-old Davie, Fla., resident opened his own grain export company in South Florida in 2000 and five years later purchased a training center near Ocala where he breeds horses. Sierra owns 70 to 80 horses, which race in Louisiana, New Jersey and Calder Race Course, where Arias trains his stable.
“When I met Juan, what intrigued me the most was that he not only trains but he gets on his horses. I thought that had to be a great advantage,” Sierra said. “Besides that, Juan is a great person and I consider him my personal friend. We have a good relationship. I love having Juan as my trainer. He just makes my experience owning horses very enjoyable.”
WEDNESDAY: Just For Fun Stable's Decisive Moment schooled at the starting gate before galloping a mile under trainer Juan Arias Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.
Arias is a former jockey who was forced to retire in 1990 at the age of 25 after suffering a stroke that was ultimately caused by complications from drastic weight-reduction practices.
“By doing that, I came down with bleeding ulcers, and I was bleeding internally, and I didn't know. My blood count was down, and that's when I came down with the heart problem, because my heart didn't have enough blood to pump,” the South Florida-based trainer said. “They kept me in hospital for 45 days. The hospital wouldn't release me until my heart gave a normal reading. My doctor said if it reoccurred, it would be worse.”
Accepting that his riding career was finished, Arias continued on in racing as an exercise rider and assistant to trainer Richard Root, before working for Wesley Ward and Happy Alter.
“Once I knew I had experience to do my own deal, I began to grab horses that other trainers didn't want to train, sore horses and horses with behavior problems,” he said. “I began to fix those, then came Mr. Richard Rowan. He was the one who really opened the door for me. He was the one who increased my number of horses.”
Ruben Sierra of Just For Fun Stable now has become the dominant owner in Arias' public stable.
TUESDAY: Just For Fun Stable's Decisive Moment walked under tack at Barn 41 at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning with trainer Juan Arias up.
“It was the weather and racetrack, both. I was waiting to go out and when I saw that the weather didn't break by 8:30 I decided to keep him in. He walked for 45 minutes under tack and now he's walking half an hour by hand,” said Arias, while watching his Derby hopeful walk the shedrow.
Arias, who galloped Decisive Moment over a sloppy track Monday, said he just wanted to keep his colt dry on a rainy, raw morning.
“The weather being so inconsistent, the chances are they can get sick easy when they get wet,” Arias said.
MONDAY: Trainer Juan Arias was aboard Decisive Moment for a morning gallop Monday following the renovation break at Churchill Downs, where another man by the name of Juan Arias visited the winner's circle with 1971 Kentucky Derby winner Canonero II. Decisive Moment's trainer is quick to point out that he is no relation to the trainer of the Venezuelan invader who pulled off the shocking victory 40 years ago.
“People want to make me Juan Arias II, but I don't want to be second. I want to be first,” Arias quipped.
Arias, though, admitted that he wouldn't mind if Decisive Moment followed in Canonero II's footsteps and pulled off an upset in the Derby. The South Florida-based trainer reported that the Just For Fun Stable's homebred colt galloped well over the sloppy track Monday.
“He loved it. I wish on race day it would be the same way,” he said. “He's been here a month and tried every condition this track can have, and he adjusts perfectly on all of them. No surprises for him.”
Kerwin Clark will ride Decisive Moment in the Derby.
SUNDAY: Trainer Juan Arias hopped aboard Decisive Moment Sunday morning for a 1 1/4-mile gallop over the sloppy Churchill Downs track. The South Florida-based trainer runs a hands-on operation. “I tell people, 'When I win a race, there are four people in the winner's circle.' I'm like four people, the trainer, the exercise rider, the groom, the hotwalker,” said Arias, a former jockey in South Florida. Decisive Moment, who'll be ridden by Kerwin Clark in the Derby, walked the shedow on Saturday after working five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Friday.
Sire: Kitten's Joy
Dam: Blush (Menifee)
Owner: Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Breeder: Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Trainer: Michael Maker
Most Recent Sale Price: Homebred
The Lane's End Weekender Pedigree
Coolmore Lexington winner gets his Derby opportunity with the defection of Toby's Corner.
FRIDAY: With their respective owners buzzing around the barn Friday morning, it was business as usual for the Mike Maker-trained duo of Derby Kitten and Twinspired. Both turned in routine, mile and a half gallops as their trainer tended to business across town at Trackside Training Center. Derrick Smith was up for Twinspired, while Rachel Muzikar was aboard Derby Kitten.
Maker, an assistant trainer under D. Wayne Lukas when Charismatic won the 1999 Kentucky Derby, seeks his first Derby glory as a head trainer. A victory by Derby Kitten or Twinspired promises to be a raucous victory for the locals who make up their ownership. Ken and Sarah Ramsey of Nicholasville, Ky. own Derby Kitten, while Twinspired is owned by Alpha Stables (Jim Shircliff, et al), Skychai Racing (Dr. Harvey Diamond) and Sand Dollar Syndicate (David Koenig, et al), comprised mostly of folks from Louisville and Union, Ky.
The Ramseys are among Churchill's most famous faces and have won a remarkable 17 leading owner meet titles. The Kentucky Derby would be the one jewel above all others for Ramsey..
“The only Derby I missed since 1967 was Lil E. Tee's year (1992) when I was in the hospital,” Ken Ramsey said. “We will be there with bells on Saturday with the entire family. There's only one Kentucky Derby!”
THURSDAY: The Derby two-fer for trainer Mike Maker turned in mirrored exercise Thursday morning with gallops at a mile and a half each. Derrick Smith was up for Twinspired, while Rachel Muzikar was aboard Derby Kitten. Both horses will school in the paddock during Race 5 this afternoon, Maker said.
Maker may be in search of his first Kentucky Derby score as a trainer, but he has been down this road before. Not only did he have two starters in last year's Derby lineup (Dean's Kitten and Stately Victor), but he knows what it's like to make the Derby in a last-ditch effort.
“We got horses here at the last minute three times when I was with D. Wayne Lukas – Charismatic, Proud Citizen and Scrimshaw – all by winning the Lexington just like Derby Kitten,” Maker said. “They did pretty well, too, with a win and a second. I worked closely with them here in Louisville and we sent them over to Keeneland.”
As for pulling double duty on Derby Day for the second year in a row, you won't hear Maker complain about the extra workload.
“It's not really much harder (than starting one horse),” Maker said. “I'd rather be here than watching at home on TV, that's for sure.”
WEDNESDAY: Trainer Mike Maker's Kentucky Derby 137 fortunes already have taken a turn for the good, being one of only two barns in this year's starting gate to be represented by a pair of starters (joining Todd Pletcher). Add to it the fact that Maker's pair snuck in at No. 19 and No. 20 in the graded stakes earnings rankings that determine the starting field.
Maker also had a pair of starters in Derby 136, Stately Victor and Dean's Kitten.
“It feels good to be back,” Maker said Wednesday, his first day at Churchill Downs since his horses were vanned from the nearby Trackside Training Center. “They vanned over well and both were right at home on the track here.”
Both horses galloped a mile and a quarter this morning and schooled in the starting gate. Both are expected to school in the paddock Thursday afternoon during the live racing program.
“Twinspired can be quirky and aggressive when he wants to be,” exercise rider Derrick Smith said. “Today he was excellent.”
As for Derby Kitten, “He handled the track great here,” exercise rider Rachel Muzikar said. “He's usually strong out there and today he just seemed to enjoy himself.”
Both Twinspired and Derby Kitten have excelled on turf and Polytrack in their careers and must answer the dirt question in the Kentucky Derby. Maker has been down this road before, just last year with Toyota Blue Grass winner Stately Victor and Spiral (then-named Lane's End) winner Dean's Kitten.
“It's unfair to just say a horse can or can't do something off of one dirt race early in their careers,” Maker said. “A lot changes as their careers advance and it would be premature to just say that they 'can't' or 'never' will handle the dirt. Most horses train every single day on the dirt and are most familiar with it.”
TUESDAY: “Derby headquarters here!” exclaimed Ken Ramsey as he answered the phone minutes after finding out his Coolmore Lexington Stakes (GIII) winner Derby Kitten secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby 137 starting gate. Derby Kitten moved from No. 21 to No. 20 on the all-important graded stakes earnings list with the defection of Wood Memorial (GI) winner Toby's Corner.
The gregarious Kentucky owner could not contain his enthusiasm for making it back to his home state's signature event for the second year in a row.
“I'm absolutely ecstatic and I can't sit down,” he said. “To have two sons of Kitten's Joy in the Kentucky Derby two years in a row after Dean's Kitten last year, that's just fantastic. That's enormous for my stallion Kitten's Joy, who stands on my farm.”
For Derby Kitten, the name says it all for Ramsey.
“I've got hundreds of horses with Kitten in their name,” he said. “Former Gov. Brereton Jones told me that if you're going to breed horses to your own stallion, use the stallion's name so people remember who he is. Kitten's Joy is making quite a name for himself.
“I'll tell you this much, of all the trainers in this year's Kentucky Derby, Mike Maker has the two most appropriately named horses of them all, Twinspired and Derby Kitten,” Ramsey said. “Are you kidding me? It doesn't get better than that. All you need is something with 'rose' in it and then you've got it all.”
Derby Kitten is a full-brother to William's Kitten, a promising 2-year-old of 2009 who was sidetracked by injury en route to last year's Kentucky Derby. Ramsey said Derby Kitten got his name because they thought he could follow in William's Kitten's footsteps as a big-time prospect.
Ramsey is widely known as a big bettor in Kentucky and is not shy about going to the windows. He joked about a recent story he read surrounding the owner of Uncle Mo.
“I heard Mike Repole was going to bet enough to make Uncle Mo the Derby favorite,” Ramsey said. “That's good news for us; for every million he puts on Uncle Mo, that makes Derby Kitten 40-1 instead of 30-1. And I'm doing a rain dance. My horse loves the soup and slop.”
When asked if Ramsey had planned to wage a personal wagering war to make Derby Kitten the favorite, he laughed and said, “I read somewhere in the paper that Mike Repole sold Vitamin Water for $3.2 billion. I'll just say that for every million I've got, he's got a billion. That being said I'll let him have the honor of being the Derby favorite this time!”
Both Twinspired and Derby Kitten galloped a mile and a quarter over the sloppy track at Trackside Training Center this morning. The duo then vanned across town at approximately 11 a.m. to bed down at Barn 41, where they will complete their Derby preparations. Neither horse has previously been stabled at Churchill Downs, Maker said.
A jockey decision is expected to come this afternoon on Derby Kitten, Ramsey indicated, noting that their first choice, Julien Leparoux, is booked to ride one of the Derby 137 favorites, Dialed In.
SUNDAY: Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Derby Kitten, winner of the Coolmore Lexington (GIII) in his most recent start, galloped at Trackside.
Dam: Miss Doolittle (Storm Cat)
Owner: Robert LaPenta
Breeder: W. S. Farish, Madeleine Pickens and Skara Glen Stables
Trainer: Nick Zito
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Most Recent Sale Price: $475,000
The Lane's End Weekender Pedigree
Joins Archarcharch as Derby field's only two-time graded stakes winners in 2011, with victories in Holy Bull and Florida Derby.
FRIDAY: Trainer Nick Zito has been particularly hands-on while preparing Dialed In for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, and that trend continued Friday morning. The Hall of Fame trainer helped give his 4-1 morning-line favorite a bath following his morning gallop.
“I'm fond of this horse, and I really like everything he's done so far. He's done everything at a high level and he's gotten here, so far,” Zito said. “This never gets old.”
Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of Zito's first of two Kentucky Derby victories. Strike the Gold closed off the pace to capture the 1991 Run for the Roses, three years before Go for Gin put him in the winner's circle for a second time in 1994.
“We were blessed to win in 1991 and then come back and win it again,” Zito said. “It's been a long time since we've won this race, but you've got to be thankful for the ones you won.”
Zito said he gets emotional when he thinks about Strike the Gold's victory and how much Dialed In reminds him of his first Derby winner.
“They're both not very big, but they're balanced. 'Strikey' is muscular, this horse is muscular, but they're not very tall,' he said. “They both have great personalities and they have the same running style, just coming from last.”
Dialed In, who won his debut at Churchill Downs in November, closed from last to win the Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park in his most recent start. He expects the son of Mineshaft to come from far off the pace on Saturday.
“I just think he has to run his race. He's a closer and that's the way he needs to run,” Zito said. “There are a lot of good horses in the race. There are four or five horses that look good, but you have to beat all of them. You don't underestimate your opponent. I don't look any horses other than my one. I'm just zeroing in on my horse.
Zito has faith in Julien Leparoux, Dialed In's regular rider.
“Pat Day has the greatest hands around, but this kid comes pretty close,” Zito said. “He has a good head on his shoulder, and I knew he was going to be a come from behind horse, so I thought he was the ideal jock.”
THURSDAY: Owner Robert LaPenta was on hand to watch Dialed In school in the starting gate before galloping at Churchill Downs Thursday morning. His 4-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby will be his fifth Derby starter, all trained by Nick Zito.
“We really believe this year we have a special horse,” said LaPenta, taking a play out of Zito's game book and knocking the wooden stable sign hanging outside the shedrow of Barn 36. “We've been fortunate to be here in five Derbies in the past10 years – when I think about it I get chills – and we've been here with some nice horses, but I think this year we have something special, which puts some added pressure on us,”
LaPenta has been represented by The Cliff's Edge (fifth in 2004), Andromeda's Hero (eighth in 2005), Cool Coal Man (15th in 2008) and Ice Box, who finished a troubled second in last year's Run for the Roses.
“You read the lines on the race: stopped, checked, stopped, and then he came out at the 16th pole and just exploded,” said LaPenta, whose 2010 Derby starter closed from 11th in mid-stretch to fall 2 ½ lengths short of catching victorious Super Saver.
LaPenta, who owned 2008 Belmont Stakes winner Da'Tara, has been a loyal client of Zito's since 2001, when he started his own stable after partnering with Rick Pitino for a few years.
“Before I got involved in the game in a meaningful way, I used to watch the races on TV and Nick was great at developing young horses – very patient, a lot different than other trainers. I always said, 'When I get into racing in a meaningful way, Nick is going to be my trainer.'”
Zito, who saddled Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994) for Derby victories, impressed LaPenta with his horsemanship with young horses.
“To be successful in this sport, you need to have a trainer who develops horses for the classics,” the owner said. “You can't make money racing; you need to develop a horse that wins some of the big races, so ultimately they have some value as a stallion. So that was my whole game plan, and Nick fit that perfectly. Nick has gone beyond a trainer now. We have a great relationship. We're friends and partners.”
Dialed In will be ridden Saturday at Julien Leparoux, who was aboard the son of Mineshaft for all four of his starts, including a debut score at Churchill Downs last November and a victory in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in his most recent start.
WEDNESDAY: Robert LaPenta's Dialed In schooled in the Churchill Downs paddock Wednesday morning before galloping under exercise rider Carlos Correa.
The Florida Derby (GI) winner has trained on a different program than Nick Zito's other Derby starters. The focus for the son of Mineshaft, who arrived from at Churchill from his South Florida winter quarters on Saturday, has been more on galloping and less on workouts.
“With a horse like this, he's not very big. We had a really good place to train on at Palm Meadows on a very heavy racetrack. He's a lightly raced horse, very lightly raced,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “Even Uncle Mo, who has only raced two times (this year), he's had three races (as a 2-year-old). Actually, they were three major races. Dialed In had one major race in November. Uncle Mo had a race in August when he won by a pole, then he came back and won the Champagne and won the Breeders' Cup. He had a lot of bottom. This horse didn't have much bottom running right into the Holy Bull (GIII), a very big allowance race against older horses and then the Florida Derby.”
Dialed In has become “ripped” through the program that included a lot of jogging and galloping with well-spaced workouts.
“Horses are gifts, horses this good. When you get a gift like this, you've got to figure out how to train this particular horse,” said Zito, who has saddled two Derby winners, Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go for Gin in 1994. “That's how we do it. Every horse, you couldn't train like this.”
Dialed In, who captured the Holy Bull at Gulfstream in his second lifetime start, broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last November in his career debut.
“We were pretty high on him from Day One, but you have to see them run. I told a bunch of people I liked this horse,” Zito said. “So when the day came and he ran and he broke not as good as he could break and he was way back and was kind of in trouble and kind of did this and did that and then he just came running, we got excited.”
Julien Leparoux, who rode Dialed In for his debut and three races at Gulfstream this year, has the return mount.
TUESDAY: Although some of his help thought Dialed In should have stayed under the shedrow on a raw and rainy Tuesday morning, trainer Nick Zito “had a feeling” that it would be better if Robert LaPenta's Florida Derby (GI) winner went to the track. Exercise rider Carlos Correa, whom Zito said voted against taking Dialed In to the track, was aboard for a twice-around gallop over the sloppy track at 7 a.m. The morning exercise turn out to be of benefit if the track should be wet for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, considering that the son of Mineshaft has had such limited experience on wet tracks.
“He's never trained on it until (Monday). It was the first time he trained on it. In Florida, it was dry and if it rained at Palm Meadows, for some reason it rained at night or the morning after we trained. I think the track was sloppy one day, but he was out already,” Zito said.
Dialed In had the opportunity to make his second lifetime start and first race around two turns in the slop, but Zito scratched his colt from an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 21.
“It was a mile and an eighth and it was a monsoon that day,” said Zito, whose colt made his second lifetime start in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream on Jan. 30, when he closed from last to win by 1 ½ lengths. “That's why we're here probably — that scratch.”
Dialed In gave his trainer no indication that he wouldn't handle a sloppy track in the Derby, but the Hall of Famer admitted that the prospect of rain on Saturday is a concern.
“He looked good. Yesterday, he looked good twice around. I'd rather not see it sloppy, but once again, you can't tell God, 'Don't let it rain,' and you can't put a dome on the track. Who knows? We'll see what happens – that's the way fate is,” Zito said.
“Carlos Correa, who gets on him and has been with me a long, long time, said, 'Nick, he can handle it.' I hope Carlos is right. (Mineshaft's trainer) Neil Howard told me Mineshaft liked it, so I was happy about that.”
MONDAY: Exercise rider Carlos Correa took Robert LaPenta's Dialed In to the track at 7.a.m. Monday for a long gallop over the sloppy surface at Churchill Downs.
“He galloped a pretty long way, went around twice there,” trainer Nick Zito said during a break in the morning rains. “It was just like this when he went out, but then God said, 'Nah, I want him to get wet like the other horses.' But he liked it. I can't remember, believe it or not, since I got him galloping on a track like that. I think that was the first time – this morning – that he galloped on a wet track. It looked like he did all right.”
The ever-superstitious Zito, who has saddled Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994) for victories in the Kentucky Derby, has been outwardly and comfortably confident in Dialed In this spring, although he did make an effort to knock on wood outside Barn 36 when he talked about his positive feelings about the son of Mineshaft.
“I'm just confident with a horse like this. To me, he's a special horse. He always tries so hard, it's nice to have a horse like that. You know he's going to put in his run,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “I'm always confident when I have a horse like this – confident, but not overconfident.”
Dialed In, who won the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) and the Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park, has returned to the Churchill Downs, a more mature-looking colt than the one who broke his maiden here last November.
“He was a little bit of a butterball. He was a little chunky. Obviously, he streamlined. He's not a very big horse, but he streamlined down beautifully,” Zito said. “He's a gorgeous horse. I think his development has been terrific.”
SUNDAY: Trainer Nick Zito sent Dialed In to the track for a light jog Sunday morning to re-familiarize himself with Churchill Downs, where he broke his maiden in his debut last November. The Hall of Fame trainer liked what he saw in Robert LaPenta's Florida Derby (GI) winner, who shipped in Saturday from his winter base at Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach, Fla. “He jogged, and I loped him a little bit the right way because I had the feeling that he wanted to do a little bit more,” Zito said. “He just shipped in, so I didn't want to do too much with him, but he bounced off the track.”
Zito was just happy that the heavy early morning rain gave way to cloudy skies long enough to get Dialed In to the racetrack. “I wasn't going to take him out in torrential rain. I wasn't going to take the chance of getting him sick,” said Zito, who saddled Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994) for Kentucky Derby victories.
Dialed In's familiarity with Churchill Downs only heightens his trainer's confidence in him. “I think it's very important,” said Zito, noting Derby rival Uncle Mo won over the Churchill track in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI). “Dialed In was here for 40 days almost. He was on this track all of November. He knew where he was when he got off the van. He came bouncing off the van. He's happy.”
When Dialed In won his debut, in which he closed from last through traffic to prevail over 11 rivals, his connections received a trophy in the winner's circle that Zito has kept close to the son of Mineshaft. “It's a beautiful trophy they gave us when he won his maiden race here. It's a horse with a rider. I'm shipping it up this morning. It's on a van. I said 'I'm going to take it with me and leave it with this horse all along.' Then, he'll come back here and get the other trophy,” said Zito, clearly interested in adding the Kentucky Derby trophy to Dialed In's collection. Julien Leparoux, who was aboard Dialed In for his victorious debut and his wins in the Holy Bull (GIII) and Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, has the return mount.
Dam: Silk and Scarlet (Sadler's Wells)
Owner: Mrs. John Magnier
Breeder: Silk and Scarlet Syndicate
Trainer: Aidan O'Brien
Jockey: Garrett Gomez
Most Recent Sale Price: Private Purchase
A strong performance here could lend great credibility to UAE Derby field from second-place finisher.
FRIDAY: Mrs. John Magnier's Master of Hounds trotted once around the track and then cantered a circuit under exercise rider Pat Lillis on Friday morning.
The Kingmambo colt is being handled by T.J. Comerford, the traveling head lad for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, who will attend the Derby.
Master of Hounds has raced once this year, finishing a game second by a nose in the UAE Derby (GII) that was part of the undercard for the Dubai World Cup program on March 26. The colt was shipped from Ireland to Louisville on Tuesday, spent Wednesday in quarantine and had some exercise time on the track on Thursday and Friday.
Comerford said he likes the way the colt looks and got over the track as he approaches the race.
“He was very good,” Comerford said. “Pat is happy with him. He's grand now. He was well-behaved out here again today. We're very happy with him.
Lillis said the colt felt good to him on the dirt. The horse trains and races on grass or synthetic surfaces.
“He's a natural,” Lillis said.
Comerford said preparations are complete and he is looking forward to Master of Hounds being able to go out and race.
“There's nothing more than we can do now,” he said. “We'll see how things turn out tomorrow. He doesn't mind all that's going on around him. It's all new to him, but he's very good. We're very pleased with him.”
Garrett Gomez will ride Master of Hounds, who will exit post position 11.
THURSDAY: Mrs. John Magnier's UAE Derby (GII) runner-up Master of Hounds made a good impression during his first visit to the track Thursday morning.
The Kingmambo colt cleared quarantine and went to the track at 8:30 with a number of other Oaks and Derby horses. He trotted once around the course and then cantered another circuit.
Master of Hounds turned heads when he waited at the gap to go on the track.
“I thought he looked good and when we were walking around and we could see the American horses walking around. I thought he looked quite well,” said T.J.Comerford, the traveling head lad for trainer Aidan O'Brien. “He was looking well and he had a good shine on him.”
Master of Hounds ran very well in Dubai and is O'Brien's first Derby horse since he debuted with a pair in 2002.
“I think it was always in Aidan's plan to come here,” Comerford said. “We try to bring a horse that you think might handle it. I know the last time we brought Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo. This horse ran so well in Dubai that maybe that sealed it that we would bring him here.”
Aside from how he gets over the dirt, Comerford said he doesn't have any concerns about the laid-back colt.
“If he handles they dirt, that's the thing,” Comerford said. “If he handles the dirt, he will run well. He broke well in Dubai. He was actually first out in that. He's no slouch.
Hopefully, he will run well. I think he will.”
Comerford said the colt traveled well on the dirt with rider Pat Lillis on Thursday.
“Pat rode him and he was happy with him,” Comerford said. “That means a lot. He rides him every day and he knows the horse. Pat was telling Aidan that he was happy with him. That's all we can do.”
Garrett Gomez will ride Master of Hounds in the Kentucky Derby.
WEDNESDAY: Mrs. John Magnier's UAE Derby (GII) runner-up Master of Hounds walked the shedrow of Barn 45 Wednesday while serving his mandatory quarantine period.
The son of Kingmambo was flown from Ireland to Louisville Tuesday morning and T.J. Comerford, traveling head lad for trainer Aidan O'Brien, said everything was going well and the colt was settled in.
“He's just having a walk under tack in the barn for three-quarters of an hour to an hour,” Comerford said. “He will walk again this evening and will go out to the track in the morning. He's good, very good.”
Master of Hounds will clear the quarantine period in time for training hours Thursday. Comerford said the plan is to take him to the track at 8:30 during the period reserved for Oaks and Derby horses.
“He'll do his own little jog and a canter around,” Comerford said. “The next day the same. That will just take the edge, the freshness out of him.”
This is Master of Hounds' second visit to Churchill Downs. He was the beaten favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GII) on Nov. 6. His lone start of 2011 was in the UAE Derby, where he was caught at the wire, losing by a nose. His only victory in seven starts was in a maiden race, but he has three seconds and a third and has started in three consecutive graded stakes on as many continents.
“He's good. There are no problems with him,” Comerford said. “He's very straightforward.”
TUESDAY: Mrs. John Magnier's Master of Hounds traveled from Ireland on Tuesday and completed his journey at 9:35 a.m. when the Sallee Van arrived outside the quarantine section of Barn 45 at Churchill Downs. T.J. Comerford, traveling head lad for trainer Aidan O'Brien, supervised the shipping of the Kingmambo colt. O'Brien is scheduled to travel Friday and will be at Churchill Downs to saddle the colt for the Kentucky Derby. Comerford said the trip was perfect.
“It couldn't have been any better,” he said.
The journey began with a 90-minute drive from O'Brien's Ballydoyle training center to Shannon International Airport. The colt was loaded on a freight plane for a direct flight to Chicago. Master of Hounds and his traveling party changed planes for a direct flight to Louisville International Airport. He was the only horse on either flight.
“It was very quick, the quickest that we've traveled over here,” Comerford said. “He traveled great, 100 percent.”
Master of Hounds finished second in Dubai's $2 million UAE Derby (GII) on March 26 in his only start of 2011. Last fall he visited Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup World Championships, where he finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GII).
The colt cannot go to the track until he clears the quarantine period. Comerford said that O'Brien will give him instructions on what do with Master of Hounds when he goes to the track on Thursday and Friday. Exercise rider Pat Lillis will be aboard.
“He did his last piece of work before he came here,” Comerford said. “Now he will do some very light canters here before he runs. “All his work is done. He's run in Dubai and will improve from the run that he had. He's coming here with a good chance. We think he has, anyway.”
MONDAY: Scheduled to depart for United States from Ireland. Mrs. John Magnier's Master of Hounds is scheduled to arrive in Louisville between 8 and 8:30 a.m. (EDT) Tuesday and van to Churchill Downs with an arrival time at the quarantine section of Barn 45 between 9 and 9:30 a.m.
The Irish-based son of Kingmambo, trained by Aidan O'Brien, finished second in Dubai's $2 million UAE Derby (GII) on March 26, in his only start of 2011. Master of Hounds visited Churchill Downs last fall for the Breeders' Cup World Championships, where he finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GII).
Master of Hounds will be ridden by Garrett Gomez.
Sire: War Chant
Dam: Midnight Kiss (Groom Dancer)
Owner: Arnold Zetcher
Breeder: Arnold Zetcher
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Most Recent Sale Price: Out Yearling
Surprise Santa Anita Derby winner now Bob Baffert's lone Kentucky Derby hopeful.
FRIDAY: Arnold Zetcher's homebred Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Midnight Interlude had a normal morning Friday, galloping once around the main track.
“He looks great. He's done everything right here,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “It's a matter of if he's good enough. I think we're all in the same boat.”
Victor Espinosa will ride Midnight Interlude in the Kentucky Derby.
Midnight Interlude did not run as a 2-year-old and has emerged as a Derby horse since his debut in late January. Should he win, he will be the first horse to win the Derby without a start as a 2-year-old since Apollo won the race in 1882.
Baffert said he never imagined in January that Midnight Interlude would take him to the Derby.
“Hell no,” he said. “We knew he could run and we liked him, but I was thinking he was more of a turf horse.”
That thinking changed when the colt won a maiden race in March and Baffert decided to try him in the Santa Anita Derby.
“The good ones develop really quickly,” Baffert said. “That's what I liked about this horse. It's just, boom, boom, boom. All of a sudden you've got this little 13-year-old throwing this 40-yard pass. You do, `hey that's what I want.' The good ones come around quick.”
THURSDAY: Arnold Zetcher's Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Midnight Interlude galloped once around the main track under exercise rider Dana Barnes during the training period reserved for Oaks and Derby horses.
Trainer Bob Baffert said the War Chant colt is doing well.
The three-time Derby winner and Hall of Fame member said that in this year when so many of the early favorites for the Derby failed to make it to Louisville and the prep races were laden with upsets, that there could be more surprises ahead.
“I just hope we don't get a sloppy racetrack and we have a good finish and have a chance for the best horse to win,” he said. “I think whoever wins this race could step up. This is where you could have a horse going for the Triple Crown. We have horses that are going to be improving horses that are getting good and getting right at the right time. I know that my horse would be able to handle (a race) two weeks later. He'll get better as he goes along.”
Baffert had not seen the colt during Derby week at the time, but he said he was interested in Mrs. John Magnier's Master of Hounds, who was the runner-up in the UAE Derby (GII).
“He went to Dubai and ran a very respectable race on the Tapeta,” Baffert said. “It's sort of tough flying in from Ireland. It can be done. When Arazi came over for the Breeders' Cup he did it, but Arazi came over with more of a resume. This horse is a grinder. He could maybe get there. You can't blame them for taking a chance.”
Baffert agrees with the feeling that this is a wide-open Derby.
“I think there are probably 10 horses that have a really good legitimate chance to win,” he said. “Pace is going to be factor, but at the end of the day, who can get the mile and a quarter? That's what you've got to look for. When you go down there, pedigree-wise, it's a mile and quarter.”
WEDNESDAY: Arnold Zetcher's Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Midnight Interlude jogged once around the main track during the training period reserved for Oaks and Derby horses.
The homebred War Chant colt breezed a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.80 over a sloppy track Tuesday morning. Trainer Bob Baffert said the colt is doing well.
Baffert has trained three Derby winners and dismisses talk that this is a below-average group of Derby horses.
“Everybody says that it's a bad field, but they're good horses,” he said. “My horse is a good horse. They're good horses, but there is so much parity that they are saying is a bad field. Everybody wants bad horses and one standout horse. I came in here with Point Given. He was supposed to romp and he ran fifth.”
Point Given went on to win the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell Invitational and Travers and was named the Horse of the year.
“I think there is probably 10 horses that have a really good legitimate chance to win,” Baffert said. “Pace is going to be factor, but at the end of the day, who can get the mile and a quarter? That's what you've got to look for. When you go down there, pedigree-wise, it's a mile and quarter.
In early April, it looked like Baffert might have three Derby horses, Midnight Interlude Jaycito and The Factor. A foot problem knocked Jaycito off the Derby trail and The Factor was removed from consideration after a poor performance in the Arkansas Derby (GI). That leaves Midnight Interlude, who didn't start as a 2-year-old broke his maiden on March 20 and won the Santa Anita Derby on April 9.
“My horse is a nice horse,” Baffert said. “He won the Santa Anita Derby, a Grade 1 race and he went in 1:48 and change. When a 3-year-old can go :48, that's a good horse. And he'll get the mile and a quarter, but he has to get the trip and he's still learning. He worked well here, so he's happy.
Baffert said the colt has good and not-so-good points to his makeup.
“He's got a little trait of every horse I've ever brought here,” Baffert said. “He has the temperament of War Emblem; he's a (jerk), who has his ears pinned all the time and wants to bite people. He's like Point Given, puts on weight the more you do with him; you've got to keep working on him. And he's got the competitive spirit of Silver Charm. Now, if I could get all of that stuff working together. But he's still figuring out racing. He's off and on.”
TUESDAY: Arnold Zetcher's Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Midnight Interlude walked the shedrow Tuesday morning, a day after working a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.80 over a sloppy track.
“All is well,” trainer Bob Baffert said.
MONDAY: Arnold Zetcher's Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Midnight Interlude worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.80 over a sloppy track.
Working in company with his 5-year-old stablemate Mythical Power, the War Chant colt delivered fractions of :12.40, :24.40, :36.40 and :48.20 under jockey Martin Garcia. Inside the sixteenth pole Midnight Interlude pulled ahead of Mythical Power, who was second-fastest at the distance in 1:01. Also, during the Oak/Derby training period, Baffert's Oaks filly, Plum Pretty, worked four furlongs in :48.80.
“The track was in pretty good shape today. We got enough rain,” Baffert said. “The last time I worked these horses it didn't rain enough and the track was sort of drying out heavy and mucky. I was really happy with the way they worked today because they went over it well.”
The Derby will be Midnight Interlude's fifth career start, all of them this year. He made his debut on Jan. 29 at Santa Anita, broke his maiden on March 20 in his third try and won the Santa Anita Derby by a head over Comma to the Top on April 9.
“Midnight Interlude has been improving every day since I've been here,” Baffert said. “He's still green. He's learning how to run. I worked him with his workmate and once he got in front of the workmate he wants to shut it down a little bit. He's figuring it out, though. He's doing a little catch-up.”
Baffert said that even though Midnight Interlude had the fast time and pulled away from his workmate near the wire he showed his inexperience.
“(The riders) had radios on them and I didn't want (Mythical Power) to do too much with him because he's running Friday,” Baffert said. “He just went five-eighths and the other horse kept going. That's why it made it look like that. But when he got in front of him, he wanted to shut it down. The workmate could have kept him going a little bit farther. He's a horse that needs a target. He's going to be running in the last part of it, but he does need a target but he sort of gets lost out there.
“In the Santa Anita Derby, when Comma to the Top just took off from him, he was completely lost for a few jumps and Victor (Espinoza) had to really get into him. Then all of a sudden he realized I've got to catch that horse. He's learning, but he only has four or five days to learn. But, believe me, he will have plenty of targets.”
Baffert nodded and shrugged his shoulders at a question about Midnight Interlude going into the Derby without a work over a dry, fast track at Churchill Downs.
“I can't do anything about it, so I just have to deal with it,” he said. “If it rains, at least he's been over a wet track. I know that one day when it was dry he galloped over it and he looked really good on the track. He's a horse that is coming along. He's learning as we go along, and we're learning more about him.
He was happy. He handled it very well. So far, so good.”
SUNDAY: Arnold Zetcher's Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Midnight Interlude galloped a mile and a half after the renovation break under exercise rider Dana Barnes. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said “just use ditto” to describe the colt's activities on Sunday morning. The routine of morning gallops will change Monday, though, when Midnight Interlude has his final pre-Derby breeze following the renovation break. Victor Espinoza has the mount in the Kentucky Derby.
Sire: Macho Uno
Dam: Ponche De Leona (Ponche)
Owner: Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team One Racing Stable
Breeder: John D. Rio and Carole A. Rio
Trainer: Kathy Ritvo
Jockey: Rajiv Maragh
Most Recent Sale Price: Private Purchase
Would we be talking about Pants On Fire if Mucho Macho Man's shoe didn't come off in the Louisiana Derby?
FRIDAY: Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team Racing's Mucho Macho Man galloped two miles under exercise rider Mike Herra on Friday morning.
Trainer Kathy Ritvo posed for pictures with groups of well-wishers outside Barn 41 after the morning activity, handing out green and yellow Mucho Macho Man bands.
“I'm having fun. I'm excited, very excited. It's not a high pressure week for me. The horse is doing good, and that's what I'm concerned with,” Ritvo said. “The high pressure week for me was waiting for a heart. This is fun.”
Ritvo, who underwent a heart transplant in 2008, has been the most interviewed trainer at Churchill Downs this week and is sure to be in great demand by national media outlets should Mucho Macho Man be victorious in the Derby.
“I can tell them about organ donation and my fabulous horse, Mucho Macho Man,” Ritvo said.
The 42-year-old South Florida-based trainer expressed pleasure with the son of Macho Uno's physical condition.
“I think he's actually even gaining weight in hard training,” Ritvo said. “I'm ready for war. I think he has a good chance. I think he has as good a chance as any. He's peaking right now. I couldn't ask him to be training any better.”
Rajiv Maragh, who was aboard for Mucho Macho Man's Risen Star Stakes (GII) triumph, has the mount.
THURSDAY: Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team Racing's Mucho Macho Man galloped two miles at Churchill Downs Thursday morning under exercise rider Mike Herra.
Dean Reeves, who owns 70 percent of the Risen Star Stakes (GII) winner with his wife Patti, like what he saw Thursday and he liked what he saw on a video tape of the son of Macho Uno's first start last year. Reeves recounted the fateful phone call her received from Tim Ritvo, his trainer at the time, last year.
“Tim called me to watch a horse on the internet that had raced at Calder. The winner of that race was Gourmet Dinner, and we had an opportunity to buy a percentage of Gourmet Dinner,” the contractor from Atlanta said. “So we were watching the race specifically for Gourmet Dinner, but I happened to like Mucho Macho Man. He caught my eye. I told Tim I liked both horses — Gourmet Dinner is a fabulous horse – but I told him I kind of liked the second-place horse. Tim said, 'You might be right.' ”
Reeves and his wife contacted Jim Culver of Dream Team Racing and worked out a deal to purchase controlling interest in Mucho Macho Man. Reeves has attended the Derby 22 consecutive years, but Saturday will mark his first Kentucky Derby as a participant.
“I think at the Trainer's Dinner (Tuesday), it really hit me that we're really here, that we'd really done it, that all the work and planning had come together, and we were a part of this thing,” he said “It's just mind-boggling and you've got to pinch yourself to wake up from this dream. We've been really blessed and we're enjoying the ride.”
Reeves said he got involved in owning horses when he met Bob Ades while vacationing in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2007. He purchased a horse a month later with Ades, who owned 1992 Derby starter Technology. Two years later, Reeves and his wife formed Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and hired Tim to train their horses upon the recommendation of Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey.
Kathy Ritvo took over the training of Mucho Macho Man after her husband became the VP of racing for MI Developments' East Coast tracks, including Gulfstream Park.
WEDNESDAY: Trainer Kathy Ritvo had a smile on her face when Mucho Macho Man returned to Barn 41 on Wednesday morning after a “strong” two-mile gallop under exercise rider Mike Herra.
The South Florida-based trainer was obviously pleased with her colt's preparation for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, but she has a much, much bigger reason to enjoy the whole experience.
“I'm so proud to be in the Derby, so blessed to be here, but just to get up every morning is amazing. It's amazing,” said Ritvo, who was near death 2 ½ years ago when she received a heart transplant that gave her a new appreciation for living life one precious day at a time.
Ritvo, who suffered from a degenerative heart disease that took the life of her brother, Lou, in 1996, will saddle her first Kentucky Derby starter, but the 41-year-old trainer has already won the most important race of her life.
“It's definitely prepared me better, because I don't worry as much. One day at a time, that's it. I think everything moves smoother when you don't worry about things,” the mother of two said. “I don't worry about it. I'm very serious about my job and what has to happen with the horse, but other than that, I don't worry about it. It's all good.”
Ritvo spent six months in the critical care unit of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami before receiving the transplant.
“It was definitely emotionally exhausting because it was hard to keep fighting it mentally,” she said. “When I was in the hospital, people would come into the room and ask, 'How are you doing?' I don't know how you answer a question like that. You're either waiting to die or waiting to live.”
Ritvo, whose Derby horse captured the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at Fair Grounds, is happy to be alive and live to inspire others.
“If I can give any hope, anytime I can say something, if they're sick and waiting for a transplant, I just want to tell them to hold on, because this is a good life,” said Ritvo, who takes eight anti-rejection pills at 7:30 a..m. and another eight at 7:30 p.m., as well as 15 vitamins during the day.
The Boston native doesn't know anything about the donor or the donor's family.
“I wrote a Thank You letter and sent it out and I didn't receive anything back yet. Maybe some day, but I respect their privacy. Maybe some day,” she said. “You never know the situation. I think if you think about it too much, it'll drive you crazy. I'm just grateful. It's going to happen at the right time, or it won't. I think it's going to happen at the right time.”
TUESDAY: Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team Racing's Mucho Macho Man never has run over a wet track, but the son of Macho Uno certainly seemed to relish the sloppy going at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning.
“Yeah, it doesn't bother him,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. “He's a cool horse.. He does everything so easily.”
Mucho Macho Man jogged a mile, stood quietly under exercise rider Mike Herra, and galloped a mile with long, confident strides. However, Mucho Macho Man was not rewarded with the customary morning bath on the grassy area behind Barn 41.
“Not today. We're trying to keep him as dry as possible. We just rubbed the dirt off him with warm water,” Ritvo said.
The Risen Star Stakes (GII) winner will have the opportunity Saturday to put Ritvo into the history books with a victory. No woman has saddled a Kentucky Derby winner.
“The way I grew up, I just feel like I'm a trainer, not a woman trainer. If it helps some of the girls who are looking into being a trainer and it gives them confidence, it's a great thing. They can do it,” said Ritvo, who began her training career at Suffolk Downs at age 18. “I definitely think about that. I think this horse is really consistent and he's training really well. He has a bunch of really good things going for him – his size; he's been training good; I think he likes the mud, if the forecast for rain on Derby Day holds up; he like a fast track; I think he likes the long stretch and the distance; I could talk forever,” she said.
MONDAY: Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team Racing's Mucho Macho Man galloped two miles at Churchill Downs Monday morning after the renovation break under regular exercise rider Mike Herra. The son of Mucho Macho Man, who breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40 Saturday morning, returned to the track after walking the shedrow on Sunday. Trainer Kathy Ritvo expressed complete satisfaction in her colt's preparation at Churchill for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
“He's pretty laid back and he's gotten used to everything. I'm sure there's nothing that compares to Derby Day, but we're going to try until we get there,” she said. “I'm honored to be here. I'm excited to be here. Everything's going good with the horse, so it couldn't be any better.”
Mucho Macho Man, who captured the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at Fair Grounds before losing a shoe during a close third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (GII), hasn't caused his trainer one anxious moment since arriving at Churchill Downs on April 18.
“I'm just blessed and fortunate that he's doing so well here. We haven't had anything to deal with. He loves the mud; he loves the track,” the South Florida-based trainer said. “He's been great around here. The weather has been for him. For me, I don't like the rain.”
SUNDAY: After working five furlongs in 1:00.40 Saturday morning, Mucho Macho Man walked the shedrow of Barn 41 on the Churchill Downs backstretch. “Everything's good. He came out of the work great,” said trainer Kathy Ritvo, who had moved up the work to Saturday because of the on-the-money forecasts for rain on Sunday morning. “I'm just glad he got to work on a fast track.”
James Culver, whose Dream Team Racing Stable purchased the Risen Star Stakes (GII) winner as a yearling on the recommendation of Ocala breeders John and Carole Rio, was on hand as the colt was standing quietly and obviously content as his long legs were being hosed in the grassy area behind Barn 41.South Florida-based Dream Team Racing Stable, managed by Culver and partner Kostas Hatzikoutelis, subsequently sold a 70-percent interest in Mucho Macho Man to Dean and Patti Reeves of Atlanta after finishing a strong second in his debut behind Gourmet Dinner at Calder Race Course last July. “It's hard to make a profit in this business. After his first race, I got 12 offers to buy him. The partners all wanted to stay in on him to some degree. No one wanted to get out completely. We figured out the most we could sell was 70 percent, and Mr. Reeves was willing to accept that, so we took a profit and sold him 70 percent,” said Culver, whose ownership group with Mucho Macho Man numbers 13 investors. People are going to sales paying $300,000 and $400,000 for yearlings, and they don't even know what they have,” he added. “But you see a race and a horse runs good, at least you know you have a horse that can run.”
Culver said his group has no regrets about taking a sizable profit on Mucho Macho Man, expressing satisfaction and appreciation that the Reeves agreed to the 70-30 deal while the other offers were all for 100 percent of the colt who would go on to become a prominent Kentucky Derby contender.
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