Rodolphe Brisset noticed a major difference in his Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip when he returned to the trainer's Fair Grounds base in New Orleans in early January to resume training after a three-week “vacation” at WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky.
“He matured a lot physically and carried more weight. When he got back to Fair Grounds, he wasn't a 2-year-old anymore – he was a racehorse,” Brisset said this morning. “The transition from 2 to 3 is very important for a Thoroughbred, and I could see by the way he acted that he had grown up.”
Winter weather and a minor hiccup in Quip's training schedule led to Brisset and WinStar President Elliott Walden pinpointing the 38th annual showcase at Tampa Bay Downs, where Brisset keeps between 4-to-6 horses under the care of assistant Leigh Bentley.
As Quip continued to train to the race, Brisset, a former jockey who exercises his horses in the mornings, grew more encouraged. A week after the colt's regular jockey, Florent Geroux, worked him 5 furlongs on Feb. 18, Brisset was aboard for a 5-furlong breeze in 59.8 seconds at Fair Grounds that was the fastest of 38 posted works at the distance.
The next day, the trainer loaded Quip on a van headed to Oldsmar, where he galloped for a week before his final 4-furlong workout Monday, a strong move in 48 seconds. “We wanted to get him accustomed to the track, and I guess it was the right thing to do because we won the race,” Brisset said.
Quip did the rest, erasing doubts that had arisen from a seventh-place finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs with his 1-length victory from Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Flameaway in 1:44.72 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth.
“I don't think he was cranked all the way to the bottom, but he was fit enough to run that race and win it,” said the 34-year-old Brisset, who went out on his own last April after working as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott for 11 years.
“We walked him this morning and his legs were good and everything was in good shape. We'll probably keep him here for a few days” before sending him to Keeneland, Brisset added.
With 50 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points from Saturday's victory, the son of Distorted Humor-Princess Ash, by Indian Charlie, is all-but-assured a spot in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses on May 5 at Churchill Downs. Brisset said he will talk to Walden and representatives of Quip's other owners, China Horse Club International and SF Racing, to determine how best to get to Louisville.
Final preps that might fit Quip's schedule include the Grade II Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, both on April 7, and the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 14.
Flameaway, who finished a neck ahead of pace-setter World of Trouble, earned 20 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points for his runner-up effort, raising his total to 30 and prompting trainer Mark Casse, who finished fourth in last year's Kentucky Derby with Classic Empire (the subsequent Preakness runner-up), to think about a return trip to Louisville.
Casse said it's likely the John C. Oxley-owned colt will show up next in the Toyota Blue Grass.
“I was excited and happy with Flameaway's performance, and (jockey) Jose (Lezcano) said the farther they go, the better he'll do. He can go all day,” Casse said. “He got whacked around pretty good at the start and ran a little erratically down the lane, but he was running at the end and that's what you want.
“Of course we're looking at the (Kentucky) Derby, but you want him to run well and train well leading up to it. You want to believe he can run and run well, and I think he will prove that he belongs.”
Todd Pletcher, the trainer of fourth-place Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby finisher Vino Rosso, said that colt is likely to go next in the Wood Memorial.
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