CALIFORNIA CHROME – The morning-line favorite for the
Kentucky Derby, California Chrome, went trackside Thursday morning at 6:55 as hundreds of cameras clicked and video rolled. The handsome chestnut colt
stopped and took it all in, then did the same several times more as he
backtracked his way to the frontside and under the iconic Twin Spires
at Churchill Downs, before heading up the tunnel way to the paddock
to “school,” just as he had the day before.
Following his paddock tour, exercise rider Willy Delgado took the colt to the starting gate for a nice stand.
“Willy told me he did fine in the gate,” trainer Art Sherman said afterward. The 77-year-old conditioner had watched his charge go about his morning business from the second floor of the old clocker’s stand on the backstretch near the five-furlong gap.
“He’s usually fine in there, but sometimes he hesitates going in. He was fine today.”
Following the gate education, Delgado put the California-bred
in gear and had him gallop approximately a mile and one half
around the oval. California Chrome went through his exercise with
vigor, pulling strongly on the rider’s reins.
“He looked good out there,” Sherman said. “He’s feeling
good and he’s doing good. He’s coming up to this race right.”
California Chrome, who has shown he has front-running
speed in his bag of tools, drew post five in the 20-horse Derby field.
There are several other “speed” type horse drawn among the first 10
gate positions and Sherman was asked if he was concerned about his
horse possibly getting caught up in a sapping speed battle early on.
“No, not really,” he said. “My horse has speed; he’s really
fast. And if Victor wants to use it, he can. I’m not going to give him any instructions. That’s not my way. I know how that works. Victor knows
him; he has confidence in him, and I’ve got confidence in Victor.
He’s won four stakes on my horse and he’s won the Kentucky Derby.
“The key in a race like this with 20 horses in the field is the
first 70 yards. You want to get out and get yourself some position.
You don’t want to get bumped or knocked off stride. You don’t want
to get the wind knocked out of them. If that happens, then they can’t
get into that rhythm; they can’t get rolling properly.”
Sherman, who has been a man in demand since arriving in
Kentucky Monday, spend a quite night Wednesday by having dinner
at his hotel (The Brown) with his wife and two nieces who had come
in from California and Oregon.
“Back in the room and headed to bed by quarter to 10,” he said. Following training this morning, he was planning on getting to the Kentucky Derby Museum to see it and its famous Derby film, as well as visiting the grave of the 1955 Derby winner Swaps. Sherman was the exercise rider for that horse, called
by many the best California-bred of all time. He is buried in The
Garden behind the Derby Museum along with four other Derby winners.
The trainer said he plans to gallop California Chrome at 6
a.m. Friday morning given the early track closing at 8 a.m. on Oaks
Day. He also will hold an impromptu press conference at his Barn 20
at 7:30 a.m.
CANDY BOY – Trainer John Sadler told owner/breeder Lee
Searing that he liked the Churchill Downs racetrack “first thing” for
their horse Candy Boy, so at 5:45 Thursday morning when the track
opened, Searing was standing trackside near the Lukas gap as
exerciser rider Jelani Grant took the bay colt onto the pristine strip.
“John said he thinks this track is at its best very first thing
in the morning, so we decided to take advantage of it,” Searing said.
Rider and horse were among the very first to go about the
business of being fit, backtracking to the front side before turning and
beginning a strong and steady gallop of about a mile and one-half
around the oval. Sadler, as is his wont, drove over to the Churchill
grandstand to watch the move, then reported that he was pleased with
what he saw when he returned to Barn 43.
Searing, a California guy, has 15 runners at the track in
California with Sadler, including six 2-year-olds. In addition, he keeps
a broodmare band currently at nine in Kentucky.
“I just don’t like the choice of stallions in California, so I
do my breeding in Kentucky,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind having Cal-bred
horses, but I’m just not pleased with what is offered right now.”
Among his Kentucky broodmares is She’s an Eleven, dam
of Candy Boy, who is by the Argentinian import Candy Ride.
Searing presently has a yearling colt by Quality Road out of She’s an
Eleven and she’s in foal now to Candy Ride again.
CHITU/HOPPERUNITY – Bob Baffert announced Thursday morning that a hoof issue will prevent Hoppertunity from running in the Kentucky Derby.
Baffert’s remaining Derby contender, Chitu, had a routine gallop of 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Dana Barnes.
Baffert said that he and his staff first noticed what is
through to be a minor problem, a bruise, Wednesday morning, but
that the colt appeared to be fine after loosening up. When
Hoppertunity had the same problem Thursday morning, Baffert said
he and the owners decided to pull him from the Derby field and send
him to the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. for a
thorough examination by Dr. Larry Bramlage.
“We felt more comfortable withdrawing him and we’re
going to send him to get scanned,” Baffert said. “It’s pretty sure that
it’s the foot, but we want to make sure that it’s nothing else so we can
continue on with him to the Preakness.”
Hoppertunity drew post 11 in the Derby and was the 6-1
second choice behind California Chrome on the morning line.
“Unfortunately, the timing is horrible because we don’t
have enough time to work on the foot,” Baffert said. “It’s tough, this
close to the Derby. The horse is fine.”
Baffert said the colt would be sent to the hospital on
Thursday afternoon and he expects a report by Friday afternoon.
“It’s a head-scratcher. Dr. Bramlage and my vet looked at it
and we think it’s the foot, but we want to rule out anything else. He
warms out of it, but I didn’t feel comfortable the way he is. So he’s
Baffert said that the colt might have suffered the injury
when he breezed on wet track Monday morning.
“I explained to Dr. Bramlage the situation and he agreed
that if I didn’t feel good about it why take a chance, and let’s rule out
everything else but the foot,” Baffert said.
Hoppertunity took a while to develop as a 2-year-old, but
emerged during the winter into a leading contender in the Derby.
“It’s disappointing because I think he was very live,”
Baffert said. “He likes this track. He trained well over it. The distance
is his distance. I really felt he was going to be really live. I feel bad for
the owners; they came here with Lookin at Lucky and had bad luck
with the one-hole and now this.”
COMMANDING CURVE – Trainer Dallas Stewart is looking at the No. 17 post position (now No. 16) for Commanding Curve, a late runner, as favorable.
"With his running style and the way the speed's on the
inside, that should help us, hopefully, a little bit,'' Stewart said.
"Hopefully, he gets a clean break. Last time, he did not get a clean
In the Louisiana Derby, Commanding Curve rallied
to finish second after being bumped early and dropping back to last
place. He finished five lengths behind winner Vicar's In Trouble,
who led all the way.
"We need the speed to show up and be aggressive,'' Stewart
said. "And with ‘Vicar’ having the 1-hole, he'll be aggressive.''
On Thursday morning, Commanding Curve galloped under
exercise rider Emerson Chavez. Stewart said the colt might jog
"He might even jog race day, because he gets a little
cranked up in the stall. Not cranked up, but you've got to kind of
watch him, keep him settled, do a little something with him.''
DANCE WITH FATE – Dance With Fate galloped a little more than 1 .
miles after the Thursday morning renovation break with exercise rider
Issac Muniz aboard. Dance With Fate schooled in the paddock in
Thursday’s first race and is slated for a repeat visit in Friday’s fourth
“I was very pleased with how he went this morning,” trainer Peter Eurton said of Dance With Fate, who drew post position 12, but now will start from No. 11 with the withdrawal of Hoppertunity.
The Kentucky Derby will mark the first start on dirt for Dance With Fate since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
“I feel more confident than I did before the Breeders’ Cup,” Eurton said of the Florida-bred colt who had finished second in his dirt debut in the FrontRunner before the Breeders’ Cup.
“He had a few little issues in behind before the Breeders’ Cup. Now,
all is good.”
Eurton said that he and jockey Corey Nakatani have not had a strategy session yet.
“I’m a good listener,” Eurton said. “Corey just won on him
and we’ll see what he has to say and how things may pan out.”
DANZA /INTENSE HOLIDAY/VINCEREMOS/WE MISS
ARTIE – Trainer Todd Pletcher’s four Derby colts got some
exercise Thursday morning during the special Derby/Oaks training
period at 8:30 on a chilly May morning at Churchill Downs.
The sophomore aces galloped strongly for approximately a
mile and three-eighths under their regular exercise riders – Ezequiel
Perez (Danza), Isabelle Bourez (Intense Holiday), Nick Bush (We
Miss Artie) and Ovel Merida (Vinceremos). They all returned in
good order and now are just one training day away from the biggest
race of their careers.
Pletcher, as he often does, dealt with media questions
concerning the horses. He has come to understand that the media
part of his business – though not his favorite part – is a necessary
one. Whereas someone like the outgoing Bob Baffert is at ease and
even appears to enjoy his media sessions, Pletcher is more reserved
and less inclined to toot his own horn in front of the press. And
though he has had no formal media training, he has evolved into a
straightforward and mostly willing source for all sorts of media
“Yes, I realize it is part of the job,” he said at his Barn 34
Thursday morning. “I try my best to work with the media folks, but
sometimes it’s hard. I’ve got a lot of horses I’m responsible for (he
has approximately 150 horses in training currently) and a lot of times
I’m in my office dealing with horses in New York or New Jersey and
not able to jump right on media requests. I spend a lot of time dealing
with assistants, owners, people I need to work with to do my job and
it can get busy. On a real busy day my phone calls and texts and emails
will be in the hundreds. But I know media people have a job to
do, too, and I try my best.”
On one morning during this Derby week, Pletcher bounced
from one camera or microphone to another, giving insights,
answering questions and providing productive quotes. He gave
specific answers to specific questions, didn’t fall into cliches to any
extent and generally mixed an understanding tone into his basically
“When I first started a horse in the Derby in 2000, it was
different with media types then,” he recalled. “Back then it seemed
they’d come at me in groups – four from New York would come and
ask questions; then four from Kentucky would come and often ask
the same questions. Now it seems it’s a bit easier in that it mostly
happens in press conference style with everyone there at once. That
makes things easier.”
And has a media type ever thrown a question at him that he
“Well, I don’t think I’m the only one to have this one come
his way, but it did happen to me,” the trainer said. “I had a fellow ask
me if my Derby horse didn’t run well, would I bring him back next
year and try again. Not much you can do with that one.”
GENERAL A ROD/HARRY’S HOLIDAY/VICAR’S IN
TROUBLE – Having drawn the 1-hole for the Kentucky Derby,
Vicar's in Trouble will be breaking from a post position that hardly anyone would choose for a Derby contender. But Ken Ramsey, always the optimist, is focusing only on positive aspects of the Louisiana Derby winner's draw.
"Well, the 1-hole is the closest way home,'' Ken Ramsey
said. "We're going to save a little ground. He's got tactical speed. I
think he'll come out. Rosie (jockey Rosie Napravnik) has ridden him
in all of his races. She's knows what to do.
"In life, I'll tell you, you have to play the cards you're dealt.
So we've been dealt the 1-hole. We're going to play it. I'm not going
to fall on my sword just because we got the 1-hole. A lot of people
moaning and carrying on, but we're looking at it like the glass is half full.''
On Thursday morning, Vicar's in Trouble came onto the
track soon after it opened for a gallop under exercise rider Joel
Barrientos for trainer Mike Maker. Barrientos galloped Skychai
Racing, Terry Raymond and Jana Wagner's Harry's Holiday a
little later, and after the renovation break galloped Starlight Racing
and Skychai Racing's General a Rod.
Harry's Holiday drew No. 2, and General a Rod drew No.
8. Maker said that he doesn't think about possible trips for the horses
he's running in the Derby.
"There's no real reason,'' Maker said."You know as well as I
do that when those gates open, anything can happen. There are too
many scenarios to play out, let alone get in right. So I'm going to leave
it up to the jocks and go from there.''
Concerning whether Vicar's in Trouble got an unlucky
draw, Maker said: "There's no way to predict it. Maybe the five stalls
to the outside of him, they break slow. Who knows?
"If I could predict what was going to happen, I wouldn't have to train horses.''
MEDAL COUNT – Medal Count galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar during the Oaks and Derby training session, sticking with the same routine as the last two days.
“No problems,” trainer Dale Romans said afterward. “He did everything great.”
Romans, who practically grew up on the backside of
Churchill Downs and other Kentucky racetracks as the son of trainer
Jerry Romans, has a remarkable record in the Kentucky Derby.
While he still seeks to fulfill a lifelong dream with his first win in the
race, Romans has earned a check with three of his four starters:
Dullahan (third, 2012), Shackleford (fourth, 2011) and Paddy
O’Prado (third, 2010). His first Derby runner, Sharp Humor,
finished 19th in 2006.
“I feel better than I ever have about any of my chances
going into the Derby,” Romans said. “I think that we really fit well
with this group. I think he’s peaking at the right time. I think he’s got
all the parts that it takes to win a Derby.”
PABLO DEL MONTE – Pablo Del Monte, who was placed on the also-eligible list for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby after entries were taken Wednesday, became eligible to run in the first leg of the Triple Crown Thursday morning because of the scratch of Hoppertunity.
“It’s amazing to have the opportunity to run,” Ward said.
“I own 25 percent of the horse. With my 25 percent there is nothing
I’d love better, with a horse that I bred, than to run. But I have to go
with what my partners want to do, and respect it.”
Not expecting to draw into the 20-horse Derby field, Ward
and his partners were looking ahead to the second leg of the Triple
Crown, the Preakness Stakes (GI) on May 17.
“The original plan, when we weren’t in the race, was to go
to the Preakness because we didn’t think we’d have this decision to
make. We felt the spacing of five weeks between races was ideal and
that everything looked good,” said Ward, whose homebred finished
third in the Blue Grass (G1) on April 12. “But I’m hopeful they’ll
want to run in the Derby.”
Ward expected to learn of his partners’ decision later in the
day, and the Derby was confirmed.
“I think it (post 20) sort of helps me a little bit. Obviously, in a mile-and-
a-quarter race, it’s a factor, but when you’re speed and you’re on
the outside, it’s not like you’re in the 2-hole or the 5-hole,” Ward said.
“He can have a nice relaxed break on the outside where he can either
go to the lead or tuck in in the forefront of the race.”
The son of Giant’s Causeway galloped 1 3/8 miles at Churchill Downs Thursday morning with jockey Jeffrey Sanchez aboard.
RIDE ON CURLIN – Trainer Billy Gowan said he thinks the No.
19 (now No. 18) starting spot for Ride on Curlin is just fine.
"All the speed's on the inside,'' Gowan said."I think they'll
run out there, and I think we can just drop over. I'm hoping we can,
Calvin Borel, who has won the Derby three times, has the mount. At
the post draw, moderator John Asher, Churchill Downs Inc. Vice
President of Racing Communications, joked about an over-under bet
that Borel would get Ride On Curlin to the rail in the first 300 yards
of the race.
"That's his thing, Bo-rail,'' Gowan said."I'll take the under. He'll be there.''
Gowan said he won't do much game-planning for the race.
"Because it all changes when the race starts anyhow,'' he
said."I mean, you've got a fairly good idea. You know my favorite -
quote of Charlie Whittingham's? 'A good jockey doesn't need
instructions, and bad jockey can follow them.'
"You don't tell a jock anything, because anything you plan,
even in life, whatever you plan, it doesn't work out that same way
Ride On Curlin galloped Thursday under exercise rider
SAMRAAT – My Meadowview Farm’s Samraat schooled in the
gate and had a routine gallop Thursday morning.
Samraat drew post position six in the Kentucky Derby and
will be ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Trainer Rick Violette said the son of Noble Causeway
emerged as a Derby prospect during the winter with wins in the
Withers (GIII) and Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct.
“He always trained well and came out of Jim Crupi’s farm
in Florida. They liked him and they thought he had some talent,”
Violette said. “He’s a New York-bred and you’re hoping that he could
run a little bit. It was the Withers that gave us an indication that he
was better than just a good New York-bred. I think the Gotham
“In the Damon Runyon (restricted to New York-breds), he
won by almost 17 lengths. You knew you had a pretty nice horse, but
you weren’t sure what you beat. When you bounce into open
company and win a couple of real heart-wrenching, stretch-long duels,
you had a pretty good clue that he might be a nice horse.”
TAPITURE – Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tapiture came to the
track around 7:15 a.m. to school in the starting gate and enjoy an easy
gallop afterward with regular exercise rider Abel Flores up.
“We’re trying to keep him happy and loose,” trainer Steve
Asmussen said of the Southwest Stakes (GIII) winner.
Asked if he had found any explanation for Tapiture’s even
but unspectacular fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (GI) last
time out, the trainer replied: “Not a good one.”
It could be partially attributed, though, to a rough winter at
Oaklawn Park, where Tapiture was stabled from early February until
leaving for Churchill Downs in mid-April, forcing Asmussen to call a
few audibles with the colt’s schedule.
“I think his brilliant race in the Southwest was a product of
how well he was training in New Orleans and went to Hot Springs,”
Asmussen said. “But then the weather everywhere was pretty
interrupted and I think we got a little out of rhythm.
“How rough the trip was run in the Rebel, I think, made
him a little anxious. It’s a roughly run race and you’re disappointed
you didn’t win, but immediately your focus is on your well-being. Are
you OK? Where do we go from here?
“Then you try to get back on track for [the Kentucky
Derby]. You’re hoping for a better race in the Arkansas Derby and
you expected a better race in the Arkansas Derby, but with that being
said, how are you when you come out of it?
“I’ve been very pleased with who he is since he came back
to Churchill and I think a lot of that has to do with his experience
here all last fall. He’s a horse that spent a lot of time here, in this barn,
and has had a lot of success over this racetrack.”
Tapiture won the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill
Downs in November and, earlier last fall, nearly won the Iroquois
Stakes (GIII) as a maiden, finishing third, a half-length behind
Since arriving at Churchill, Tapiture has settled into familiar
surroundings and worked well over a track where he stabled and
started three times as a juvenile.
“I feel that he’s done better every single day since he’s been
here,” Asmussen said.
UNCLE SIGH – Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony
Robertson’s Uncle Sigh, who had an unofficial half-mile “mini
breeze” on Wednesday, jogged a mile the wrong way under Benito
Alvarado before visiting the starting gate Thursday morning.
“He’s kicking-the-walls-down good,” said trainer Gary
Contessa, who timed his New York-bred trainee in :52 3/5 for a
lung-opening half-mile Wednesday.
Uncle Sigh was wearing blinkers and the yellow hood
decorated with a purple heart that he will wear for the first time in the
Derby. The hood matches the colors of George “Chip” McEwen’s
Wounded Warrior Stables.
McEwen, who has owned horses for 17 years, renamed his
stable two years ago to bring attention to the plight to service people
wounded and killed in Afghanistan.
“It’s not about me. It’s about them and it’s about getting
them in the forefront of people’s minds again, because it’s easy to
forget that we’ve been at war since 2001 in Afghanistan – 13 years
we’ve been over there,” McEwen said. “Kids are getting shot over
there every day and nobody thinks about it.”
Wounded Warrior Stables donates 10 percent of its horses’
purse earnings and his pin-hooking business to various veteran
organizations, including the Seal Foundation, Green Beret
Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project and Retrieving Freedom.
McEwen, who owns a pharmaceutical business in South
Carolina, was returning from a trade show in Las Vegas two years ago
when he and the other passengers on a plane were asked to allow a
wounded war veteran to get off the plane first.
“So off comes his kid who’s 27 whose dad is walking him
with his arms underneath his. He’s walking him down the aisle. The
kid’s walking because he still had his arms and legs, but he didn’t have
his faculties because he was hit on the head by an IED. Behind him
was his wife and an 18-month-old baby. He had a 5-year-old girl and
his mother. Right then I realized that not only was he injured but the
whole dynamic of the family has changed forever. He went from
being the breadwinner to somebody having to have people take care
of him,” said McEwen, emotionally recalling the sad scene that
spurred him into action.
“Right then, I decided to do something different. What’s
going to happen to his 5-year-old and his 18-month-old? How are
they going to go to school? How are they going to get fed? Who’s
going to pay the bills?”
Wounded veterans Keith David, Scott Schroeder, Nate
Whiting, a Green Beret whose brother was killed in Iraq, and his
parents will be among Wounded Warrior Stables’ guests at Churchill
“We’re excited to have them here. It’s a special day for us
and this horse. Every horse owner’s dream is to get to the Derby,”
McEwen said. “We’re hoping for a miracle, like everybody else.”
WICKED STRONG – Trainer Jimmy Jerkens had Wicked Strong work three furlongs in :36.60 Thursday morning as part of his daily exercise program.
Known as a “blowout,” the colt was asked to accelerate
from his gallop by exercise rider Kelvin Pahal as they ran down the
Jerkens was unable to see the three-furlong move because
he didn’t have time to get to the front side of the track from the
stable area on the backside. Jerkens was delayed watching a
blacksmith replace a couple of nails on one of the colt’s rear shoes.
“I didn’t have a chance to go around so I watched him
come around the turn,” Jerkens said. “But he was good and into the
bridle, so I imagine he went OK. It wasn’t supposed to amount to
much, just something to stretch his legs and open up his lungs a little
bit because he’s had plenty of work. He’s dead-fit, but we still wanted
to do something to get him to take a deep breath.”
Jerkens hoped that Wicked Strong would draw a post
position somewhere in the middle of the field, but the colt landed in
the outside post, No. 20 at the draw Wednesday. Because of the
scratch of Hoppertunity, he will move one spot closer to the rail and
start from the 19th position. Jerkens said people in racing have told
him Wicked Strong, a closer, will be OK leaving the gate from an
“Edgar Prado thought it was a great post position,”
Jerkens said. “Edgar is a Hall of Famer and has ridden a million races,
big races, and he texted me right after saying, ‘perfect.’ I didn’t know
if he was being sarcastic so I had to call him back.
“He said, ‘I think it’s great, especially with a horse like him that
gets impatient in the gate. I think it’s perfect.’ He said, ‘You’ve got a
long run down the stretch, a very long run to the turn, you can size
the race up inside of you. I think you will be fine.’”
Jerkens said the colt’s rider, Rajiv Maragh, told him not to
worry about the post.
“I felt a lot better that the jock didn’t feel it was a big deal,”
Jerkens said. “The more they’re talking, the more they are convincing
me. The speed horses have to do what it looks like they’re going do
on paper for it to work for us. If they come in front of the stands in
one big ball, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Jerkens said his father, the legendary trainer H. Allen
Jerkens, hasn’t given him a lot of advice about how to approach his
“He said you have to try to treat it like any other race,”
Jimmy Jerkens said. “And he said, ‘Don’t let anybody or anything
sway your judgment. Don’t be pressured into doing something you
wouldn’t otherwise do just because it’s the Derby. A lot of people fall
into that trap where they keep second-guessing themselves.” He said,
‘You’ve got to get into a place where you can think by yourself. Just
treat your horses like it was any other race. Don’t train them any
different just because somebody might come up to you and say “So
and so went out there and did this with his horse.”
He said you’ve got to make sure you don’t fall prey to that.’ ”
WILDCAT RED – Honors Stable Corp.’s Wildcat Red galloped
1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Juan Belmonte Thursday morning at
“He’s doing great. He has a lot of energy,” trainer Jose
Garoffalo said two days before he’s scheduled to saddle his first
Kentucky Derby starter.
Wildcat Red never has been worse than second in seven
career starts, all at Gulfstream Park. He captured the Hutcheson
Stakes (GIII) and the Fountain of Youth (GII) before coming up a
head short of capturing the Florida Derby (GI) last time out.
By accomplished sprinter D’wildcat, Wildcat Red’s
credentials to win at 11/4 miles have been questioned.
“It’s not frustrating. I don’t pay too much attention to the
comments. You just do what you have to do,” Garoffalo said. “The
way he trains and the races he’s run, he’s proven he can go longer. I’m
not too worried about the comments. It’s like that in every sport;
there are a lot of opinions. After the wire we’ll see who is wrong or
Luis Saez, who was aboard for the Fountain of Youth, has
been named to ride Wildcat Red, who’ll be attempting to become the
seventh Florida-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the first since Silver Charm.