AUDIBLE, MAGNUM MOON, NOBLE INDY, VINO ROSSO – There were no missed beats at the Todd Pletcher barn Thursday morning. There rarely are for one of the nation’s best horsemen, even as things heat up two days in front of his four-pronged attack on the world’s foremost horse race – Kentucky Derby 144.
Pletcher sent his quartet of stakes-winning colts to the track at 7:30 to take advantage of the 15-minute “Kentucky Derby/Kentucky Oaks horses only” session that Churchill Downs puts in place in the week ahead of their two racing jewels. They all went about their business in professional fashion, going for good gallops of between a mile and a quarter to a mile and three-eighths.
The foursome had their regular exercise riders attached – Amelia Green on Florida Derby (GI) winner Audible; Nick Bush on Arkansas Derby (GI) kingpin Magnum Moon; Carlos Cano on Louisiana Derby (GII) hero Noble Indy, and Adele Bellinger on Wood Memorial (GII) star Vino Rosso.
Green, who has worked for Pletcher only since last September, was asked what she likes best about her charge Audible.
“He’s so easy to work with; so relaxed,” the native of Nottingham, England, offered. “He’s the kind of horse that will do just what you want him to do. He’s a pleasure.”
Green had come to the racetrack at 17 via the British Racing School, followed by four years working with the English training legend Henry Cecil. She subsequently transitioned to U.S. racing by working for four years with the Southern California-based trainer George Papaprodromou, finishing up as his assistant, before signing on with the Pletcher crew last year.
Meanwhile, Pletcher said he was happy with Thursday morning’s latest chapter of his Derby 144 book.
“They all got around there fine and came home safe and sound,” he said. He noted further that they’d all go to the track for exercise Friday during the adjusted Oaks/Derby training period between 5:45 and 6 a.m.
He also said he would not paddock school his horses Thursday afternoon, though he’d had all four of them do so the day before. Following that afternoon paddock session, the trainer had walked over to the Kentucky Derby Museum and worked with their staff on an exhibit they’ve assembled of the many trophies and treasurers of his former boss, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Pletcher said he also took time to catch the updated Kentucky Derby film the Museum plays every hour.
“I liked the ending a lot,” he said.
The ending now features the run through the stretch of the 2017 Kentucky Derby won by Pletcher’s charge Always Dreaming.
BLENDED CITIZEN – The Kentucky Derby’s lone also-eligible continued to train-like-he-is-going-to-run Thursday morning, going out with the Derby/Oaks horses at 7:30 with exercise rider Jonny Garcia in the tack. The pair went in a gallop for about a mile and three-eighths.
If Blended Citizen is to compete in Derby 144, there has to be a withdrawal of one of the current 20 horses entered for the race. And it has to happen before 9 a.m. Friday.
BOLT D’ORO – Ruis Racing LLC’s Bolt d’Oro galloped 1 ½ miles and jogged 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Jose Velazquez at Churchill Downs Thursday morning.
“He galloped a mile and a half and then he jogged to the starting gate and turned around. He didn’t stand in it. Then he jogged one and a half,” trainer/owner Mick Ruis said.
Wednesday night, Ruis was an invited guest at the Invicta Wresting Club for youth in New Albany, Indiana. Ruis was a gold medalist while wrestling in the Junior Pan Am Games as a freshman in high school.
“It was great just to see those kids in there. They’re sweating; they’re hurting; they’re bumping their heads together; they’re building their character,” Ruis said. “When they go out in the real world…they’ll make it out in the world.”
Rios has pledged a $10,000 donation to the club with the promise of a $50,000 donation should Bolt d’Oro win the Derby.
“So I got a bunch of guys rooting for Bolt to win,” he said.
Bolt d’Oro finished second behind Justify, the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Derby, in the Santa Anita Derby last time out, but Ruis expects his trainee to be at his peak for a rematch in the Derby.
“He wasn’t going to catch Justify with the fractions he had there. Mike (Smith, Justify’s jockey) saw him coming on the outside, so he put him on the outside. Javy (Castellano) had to take him to the inside,” Ruis said. “He wouldn’t beat Justify that day, but I’ll tell you what, he came out of that race really good. He cooled out in the testing barn after the race. He’s never trained better any time we’ve had him in the barn.”
BRAVAZO – Calumet Farm’s Risen Star (GII) winner Bravazo went to the track during the special 7:30 a.m. training time and galloped an easy 1 ½ miles with regular rider Danielle Rosier aboard.
“It was just a routine gallop,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “Not much more we can do now.”
Bravazo, who is attempting to give Lukas his fifth Kentucky Derby victory and first since 1999, is scheduled to school during Thursday’s first race.
Lukas, who is tied for second with Bob Baffert and Herbert Thompson with four Derby wins each, won his first Derby 30 years ago with Winning Colors. He also won in 1995 with Thunder Gulch, 1996 with Grindstone and 1999 with Charismatic.
Luis Contreras has the Derby mount.
COMBATANT – Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton’s Combatant has proven to be a fighter on the track, but his name is being used to bring awareness to an organization dedicated to helping disabled military veterans once their time on the battlefield is over. Combatant will wear a camouflage blanket for the walk over for the Kentucky Derby to promote Home For Our Troops.
Homes For Our Troops is a privately funded 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that builds and donates specially adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post – 9/11 veterans, to enable them to rebuild their lives. Most of these veterans have sustained injuries including multiple-limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury.
On Thursday morning, Combatant’s connections were wearing specially made T-shirts and the colt had a special visitor on hand to observe his 1 ½-mile gallop under Angel Garcia at 7:30. Chris Gordon, whose only other trip to Kentucky was for basic training at Fort Knox, made the trip from Florida to cheer on Combatant in the Derby. He is a recent recipient of a house from Home For Our Troops and will be joined Oaks and Derby Day by three other veterans and their spouses.
“This is big time,” Gordon said. “This is great exposure for our organization.”
ENTICED – Godolphin LLC’s Enticed schooled in the Churchill Downs paddock before galloping 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Jason Gracia Thursday morning.
“He’s doing great. All systems go,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “It’s a tough race. I hope things go our way. Everybody has to break well. There seems like there’s a lot of pace. We’ll see what happens.”
Enticed, who closely stalked the early pace while finishing second in the Wood Memorial (GII) last time, is expected by his trainer to be placed in mid-pack when the 20-horse field enters the backstretch.
“The best-case scenario would be if three or four of them go real fast early and we can drop back to 12th or so and make a run, and obviously get there,” McLaughlin said.
FIRENZE FIRE – Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire open-galloped a mile Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.
“He did a mile in 2:07. I was really happy with it. He never took a breath. He hardly drank any water,” trainer Jason Servis said.
Servis admits that the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Derby is somewhat of a concern.
“Do I wish the race was a mile? Yes. But it’s a mile and a quarter, so it is what it is,” Servis said.
FLAMEAWAY – During the 7:30-7:45 training period for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, John Oxley’s Flameaway jogged a mile with regular rider Chris Garraway, ponied by trainer Mark Casse’s assistant Nick Tomlinson, and galloped a mile on his own.
Casse said that he and his team did not realize Flameaway was a special horse until three months ago.
“That took a while, honestly,” he said. “Early on, we thought he was just a nice horse. He’s a horse that really developed.”
Flameaway won the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Dows in February, and has since run second in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (GII) and the Toyota Blue Grass (GII) April 7.
“He’s a horse that in the beginning was just average, and as he’s gotten older he’s gotten better and better.”
FREE DROP BILLY, PROMISES FULFILLED – Albaugh Family Stables’ Free Drop Billy and Bob Baron’s Promises Fulfilled continued their regular 1 ½-mile gallops Thursday at 7:30 a.m. for trainer Dale Romans.
“We’re ready,” Romans said. “This is a great week for everyone in the community. We have a lot of friends that celebrate the Derby with us and it will be a great day for my family and closest friends.”
GOOD MAGIC – The 2017 Eclipse Award-winning Champion 2-Year-Old Male Good Magic, owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds & Stonestreet Stables LLC, had another day of galloping about 1 3/8 miles Thursday morning under exercise rider Walter Malasquez.
“He went super again and couldn’t be doing any better,” said trainer Chad Brown.
Brown, who won his first Triple Crown race last year with Cloud Computing in the Preakness Stakes (GI), believes he has the Curlin colt right where he needs to be. What exactly will he be looking for the next 48 hours?
“Just that he’s maintaining where he’s at and continues to move efficiently,” Brown said. “That he’s very sound, very happy, eating well, just the basics. We’re trying to guide him into Saturday right on point.”
Not surprisingly, Brown will be represented by several of his barn’s most talented runners in this weekend’s major stakes, including, on Friday, Backyard Heaven in the Alysheba Stakes presented by Sentient Jet (GII), undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) heroine Rushing Fall and Alteaa (FR) in the Edgewood Stakes presented by Forcht Bank (GIII), and, on Saturday, Lewis Bay in the Humana Distaff (GI), Dream Away in the Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (GII), emerging 3-year-old Mask in the Pat Day Mile presented by LG and E and KU (GIII), and Arlington Million (GI) winner Beach Patrol and Kurilov (CHI) in the Old Forester Turf Classic (GI).
HOFBURG – Juddmonte Farms Inc.’s homebred Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Hofburg had an uneventful gallop of about 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Penny Gardiner this morning. It was a more typical gallop for the professional-acting Tapit colt, who the day before had gotten a bit aggressive in the stretch when fellow Derby entrant Flameaway moved up beside him.
“It was an unwanted bit of company,” Gardiner said. “When my horse feels a horse at his hip he wants to go. But today he was so relaxed and in a rhythm. He was perfect. I am so happy with how he’s doing and can’t see how he could be doing any better.”
Hofburg has three career starts and only two this year. The lack of experience will be a concern for many horseplayers, but Gardiner insists Hofburg is wise beyond his starts.
“You’d never know he’s only started three times,” she said. “He’s the most professional horse and nothing fazes him – inside, outside – nothing bothers him. He’s got such a good mind. He proved that in the Florida Derby because he got a ton of dirt on him that day and didn’t mind, ran into it, got in the clear, and went right on.
“I just don’t think experience will be an issue with him. He’s so smart and so game and I think Irad [Ortiz Jr.] will be able to put him anywhere. He’s willing and just waits for you to tell him what to do.”
INSTILLED REGARD – OXO Equine LLC’s Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Kentucky Derby (GI) contender Instilled Regard left Barn 41 at 7:30 a.m. with exercise rider Edgar Rodriguez aboard. Accompanied by a pony, he was followed closely by Hall of Fame trainer Hollendorfer and traveling assistant Christina Jelm.
The Lecomte Stakes (GIII) winner jogged to the paddock, where he schooled a couple turns around its oval walking ring. Leaving the paddock through the tunnel, he then jogged to the gate, where he stood before backing out, galloping 1 5/8 miles and returning to Barn 41 through the six-furlong gap.
The son of Arch and grandson of recently announced National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame electee Heavenly Prize exits a two fourth-place finishes in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) and Santa Anita Derby (GI), respectively.
“He’s handling the track well and he’s settled in well. Nothing seems to be bothering him at this point in time,” Hollendorfer said. “We have no excuse walking over. He’s been doing quite well. His last couple races weren’t quite up to par, but there were different factors in those two races.
“Oddly enough, and I’m not making excuses, but the first time he ran (at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, winning the Lecomte on Jan. 13) it was 37 degrees (Fahrenheit) and when he came back (for the Risen Star over the same track Feb. 17) it was 80 degrees. I don’t know if that was a factor or not. It’s quite warm here, but has cooled down a little, so I think if it cools down here a little bit more, that might help my horse a little bit.
“The pace was slow in the Santa Anita Derby (on April 7) and we were far back, and I’m not criticizing the rider or the way the race came up, but that just was a fact,” Hollendorfer continued. “They went three-quarters (of a mile) in almost 1:13, so it was hard to close ground and the horses that were up in front of the race (Justify and Bolt d’Oro) finished better than the ones trying to close.”
Instilled Regard drew post 15 and was given morning-line odds of 50-1. In last year’s Kentucky Derby, Hollendorfer faced a similar assignments when pupil Battle of Midway broke from barrier 11 at odds of 40-1 before a third-place finish behind Always Dreaming and Lookin At Lee.
“The race last year was more devoid of speed than this one,” Hollendorfer said. “There’s quite a lot of speed signed on in this race, so it’ll be interesting to see what develops up front. As far as my horse in concerned, it might help him tactically. We’re happy to be drawn outside, so our rider can look and see what’s going on inside of him. Drayden is riding well, so we’re happy to have him.”
Drayden Van Dyke, 23, rides the Kentucky-bred for the first time since the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (GI) on Dec. 9, where the pair crossed the wire third by three-quarters of a length after a physical stretch battle. They were then elevated from to second. Solomini, who also races in the Kentucky Derby, was demoted to third, while McKinzie was elevated to victory.
“I was glad to be the first horse to draw a post, so the pressure was off early,” Van Dyke said. “Of course, I have never ridden the Derby, but the (15-hole) is a nice place to be because I have a little space to the left side. I have Magnum Moon (post 16) on my outside and Mendelssohn (post 14) on my inside and they both have speed, so I have horses to follow and hopefully find a good spot. The pace is going to be key. If they’re rolling, I’ll be coming with a big kick. If they’re going slower, I’ll want to be closer, so they don’t kick away from me.”
“I think the distance is key for him,” Van Dyke concluded. “He wants to go that far and hopefully he gets a good trip and they let him run his race. He looks great and has an awesome mind on him. He’s like an older horse and that’s what you want in a race like this. Nothing bothers him.”
JUSTIFY, SOLOMINI – Undefeated Kentucky Derby favorite Justify – owned by China Horse Club International Ltd., Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm LLC – galloped 1 1/2 miles at 7:30 a.m. during the Derby training session under regular exercise rider Humberto Gomez.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has been aboard Justify for his last two wins and has the Derby mount, assessed the gallop from the five-eighths gap with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
He looks amazing,” Smith said. “I don’t look as good as him but I feel good. He’s just athletic, getting over the ground and didn’t seem to struggle with it, looks happy, switching leads good. That’s all you can look for and you don’t know until they run but he sure looks the part.”
Fellow Southern California-based jockey Drayden Van Dyke, who rode Justify in his debut win and continues to get on him for timed workouts, also was on hand, bouncing around the barn area with Smith. The Louisville native breezed Justify seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Saturday, a move he described as “effortless.”
“Just like in the gallops here, he goes amazing,” Van Dyke said. “He’s just a horse that keeps finding more and more. I’ve never gotten to the bottom of him in the mornings so it’s looking good for him.”
Later in the Derby training session, Solomini – owned by Zayat Stables LLC, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor & Derrick Smith – galloped 1 1/2 miles, also with Gomez aboard.
“He looked more relaxed today, for sure,” said Zayat Stables racing manager Justin Zayat. “It’s the same-old Solomini. He’s holding his weight, holding his energy. All systems go.”
LONE SAILOR – G M B Racing’s Lone Sailor galloped 1 ½ miles at 5:30 a.m. Thursday with exercise rider Maurice Sanchez aboard for trainer Tom Amoss.
The Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up’s owner, Gayle Benson, also owns the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans.
“To tell you how much this means to Mrs. Benson, she called the commissioner of the NBA after the Louisiana Derby to make sure the Pelicans would not have a playoff game on Derby Day,” Amoss said. “And, after sweeping the first round, they play on Friday and Sunday.”
MENDELSSOHN – Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith’s Kentucky Derby (GI) contender Mendelssohn had his first feel of the Churchill Downs racing surface on Thursday morning. Leaving Barn 17 at 7:45 a.m., the Aidan O’Brien trainee was the third of a single-filed Coolmore quartet, led by American Turf (GII) entrant Threeandfourpence and Pat Day Mile (GIII) entrant Seahenge and trailed by Old Forester Turf Classic (GI) entrant Deauville.
The four O’Brien pupils entered the main track at the five-eighths gap and proceeded to walk and jog a clockwise 1¼ miles. They then reversed course and cantered one mile before exiting through the six-furlong gap and taking the scenic route back to Barn 17. Exercise rider Dean Gallagher was aboard Mendelssohn.
“He did a very gentle exercise around the track,” said Pat Keating, O’Brien’s head traveling lad. “They’re all doing well and all shipped in good. We just wanted to get him out there and stretch his legs. We’re very happy with him and there were no problems. We couldn’t be happier with how he’s doing, so we just need some good luck on Saturday.”
Although not at his home base of County Tipperary, Ireland’s Ballydoyle, the son of Scat Daddy appeared comfortable, which likely stems from usual travel-mates Threeandfourpence and Seahenge. The trio of 3-year-olds will be running on the same card for the third consecutive time. All three raced in the UAE Derby at Dubai’s Meydan and Patton Stakes (Listed) at Ireland’s Dundalk in their previous two efforts.
“He’s a very good horse,” Keating concluded. “He’s a good traveler and handles it perfect; very straight forward. He handles it a lot better than I do.”
O'Brien is expected to be present on track Friday morning.
MY BOY JACK – It was one of the quiet mornings that occur weekly at trainer Keith Desormeaux’s Barn 25 on Thursday and Kentucky Derby entrant My Boy Jack did what all his stablemates did, namely walk the shedrow. He was led on a shank by assistant trainer Julie Clark.
Desormeaux declares every Thursday and Sunday as “no training” days at his barn, giving both man and beast a chance to do some relaxing. The horses get walked, their stalls get cleaned and they get fed, but that’s the extent of it. The routine surely seems to work, both for all involved as well as at the counting house. The native Louisianan’s barn has chalked up north (and mostly well north) of $1 million in purses for the past five years and, with only four months in the books so far in 2018, they’ve surpassed the million mark again.
Clark said “Jack” would school in the paddock during the races Thursday afternoon, just as he had Wednesday. My Boy Jack already has 10 starts under his belt, the most by any of this year’s Derby runners. His record reads 10- 3-3-2 with earnings of $645,145 heading into the mile and a quarter classic. The bargain $20,000 yearling purchase has a trio of partners – Don’t Tell My Wife Stables, Monomoy Stables and West Point Thoroughbreds. He’ll also have his regular rider Saturday -- Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s brother.