Due to time constraints, today's notes are unedited.
BY MY STANDARDS – Allied Racing Stables By My Standards had his normal 1 ½-mile training session Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.
“Things are sort of out of our hands right now,” Allied Racing Stables’ Chester Thomas said. “We’re feeling good, we’re happy, we’re nervous, we’re all of the emotions. Above all, I’m just thrilled to be here. (Trainer) Bret (Calhoun) and his team deserve a shot to be in the Derby and I’m glad I get to be here with him.”
Calhoun was part of a memorable moment at the annual trainer’s dinner Tuesday evening when host Jill Byrne asked the question, “What level of firm will your hair be on Derby Day?”
Without hesitation, Calhoun responded, “With the weather forecast, I’m certain it will have a firm hold.”
By My Standards was scheduled to school in the paddock during Wednesday’s third race.
CODE OF HONOR –William S. Farish’s Code of Honor went to the track shortly before the 7 a.m. break and galloped 1 ½ miles under Brian Duggan before taking the scenic route back to the barn, which has been his routine all week.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is making his first appearance in the Kentucky Derby since winning the race in 2013 with Orb. When asked if there were any similarities between the two, McGaughey, said “Their running styles are a little bit similar. I think Code of Honor likes to stay towards the back like Orb did, but he’s more efficient. Orb was a blue collar, working class type horse. This horse gets over the ground easier and is quicker. Other than their running styles, there aren’t really any similarities.”
McGaughey said Code of Honor will continue with the same training schedule the rest of the week.
COUNTRY HOUSE/TACITUS – Juddmonte Farms’ Tacitus and Mrs. J. V. Shields Jr. et al.’s Country House have kept a holding pattern over the past couple days in their training toward the $3 million Kentucky Derby (GI), each galloping over the dirt for conditioner Bill Mott, who observed on a pony.
Hitting the track soon after the commencement of the special 7:30-7:45 a.m. Kentucky Derby/Oaks training session, they both appeared comfortable throughout their collective exercise, with exercise riders Marianne Scherer (Country House) and Juan Quintero (Tacitus) in the respective irons. Tacitus got an unexpected gallop-mate in Kentucky Oaks (GI) 2-1 morning-line favorite Bellafina, who tracked him while under a snug hold. Country House followed about one furlong astern.
“They both walked through the paddock and then galloped a mile and a half,” Mott said. “They both seem happy and all is well.”
While Tacitus, who drew well in post eight for the $3 million Kentucky Derby (GI), has produced an ample amount of buzz, stablemate Country House has been less heralded. Third in the Arkansas Derby (GI), fourth in the Louisiana Derby (GII) and second in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) in his past three starts, the son of 2010 beaten Derby favorite Lookin At Lucky has improved gradually since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in January—his lone victory from six tries.
“We ran him back three weeks into the Arkansas Derby after the Louisiana Derby and then three weeks back to here, but I think he’s a horse who can handle it,” Mott said. “Nothing seems to bother him and hopefully the light will really come on Derby Day. He’s been a little slower to come around and made some mistakes in his races, but I think he’s getting better and better each time.”
The chestnut Kentucky-bred homebred will break from the outside post 20, which Mott said will be of little issue, considering his one-run closing style. He acquires a new rider—his fifth—when Flavien Prat takes the reins.
CUTTING HUMOR/SPINOFF – Trainer Todd Pletcher made his first appearance at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning and so did his pair of Derby colts – Starlight Racing’s Cutting Humor and Wertheimer and Frere’s Spinoff. The Kentucky-bred colts went trackside and galloped during the special Oaks-Derby training period starting at 7:30.
“They both went 10 furlongs,” the seven-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner said. “They’re in good shape. They’ve settled in well and they went over the ground smoothly this morning. Knock on wood, our first morning went well.”
Cutting Humor, winner of the Sunland Derby (GIII) on March 24, drew post 10 for his go in Saturday’s 145th Kentucky Derby and he’ll be handled for the first time by Churchill Downs many-time riding champ Corey Lanerie. Stablemate Spinoff, second in the Louisiana Derby on March 23 in his most recent effort, gets Manny Franco in the boot as they’ll break from post 19 in the 20-horse field.
GAME WINNER/IMPROBABLE/ROADSTER – Given that his Kentucky Derby contingent features a divisional champion and two other Grade I-winning counterparts, no one is suggesting that trainer Bob Baffert is flying anywhere close to under the radar coming into this year’s 10-furlong classic. Still, with the Richard Mandella-trained Omaha Beach shouldering the expectations as the favorite on the morning line, the Hall of Famer is breathing a little bit easier than he was this time last year when he was readying Justify for his historic Triple Crown sweep.
“I think it’s nice to not come in here as the heavy favorite, you can just enjoy the week more,” Baffert said. “Last year we came in here with Justify and we knew it was my race to lose. So I felt a little extra pressure. There are a lot of good horses in here. I think they’re a pretty evenly matched group of horses. You don’t see anybody like really puffing off the screen here. When (2015 Triple Crown winner) American Pharoah came in here, we knew he was from on another planet.”
They may not go off as the betting choice, but Baffert’s trio continue to go about their routine without a hitch heading into Saturday. Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Roadster was one of the first ones onto the track during the special training period for Oaks and Derby runners at 7:30 a.m., galloping about a mile and a half under Humberto “Beto” Gomez and was joined during that time frame by stablemate and fellow top-level winner Improbable, who galloped under Jose Contreras.
As was the case on Tuesday, reigning juvenile male champion Game Winner emerged at 9 a.m. with Gomez in the irons for his gallop.
“(This year) reminds me a little bit of the Silver Charm derby (in 1997),” Baffert said. “You had a lot of good 3-year-olds in there and whoever gets the trip is going to win it.”
GRAY MAGICIAN –Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber’s UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician got his first feel for the local surface when galloping with a pony Wednesday during the special 7:30-7:45 Kentucky Derby/Oaks session. A bit lathered, he was ridden by Peter Miller’s assistant trainer Ashlie Campbell.
“He felt good,” Campbell said subsequently at Barn 39. “He was a little warm, but it was nothing to worry about with him. We just wanted to introduce him to the crowds. He galloped about a mile and a quarter.”
A dominant winner of a one-mile Del Mar maiden in November, he was then a game fourth behind well-regarded trio Gunmetal Gray, Sueno and Much Better in January’s Sham Stakes (GIII). After disliking the slop three weeks later in his third consecutive two-turn mile run, he then shipped to Maryland and cut back a bend to a one-turn mile in the $100,000 Miracle Wood, but ran into a buzz-saw named Alwaysmining, a horse expected to be one of the favorites in upcoming Preakness Stakes (GI).
The son of Graydar has carried his form over three very different surfaces in three vastly different jurisdictions and appears to be one of the few horses who will relish the added distance. Bred by Twin Creeks Farm, he is one of the top progeny of his young sire. Twin Creeks principal Randy Gullatt was on hand to see him up close.
“It is a very difficult business, breeding thoroughbred racehorses,” Gullatt said. “To see an offspring by a stallion we raced and are still a part of develop into a Derby contender is priceless. We all dream of this. It is what keeps us going.”
Graydar (Taylor Made Stallions), who won the Donn Handicap (G1) during his brief but brilliant career, is one of four Twin Creeks stallions, along with Constitution (WinStar Farm), Destin and Mission Impazible (both at Sequel Stallions New York).
HAIKAL – Shadwell Stable’s Haikal got his second feel for Churchill Downs Wednesday during the special Kentucky Derby/Oaks 7:30-7:45 a.m. training session. Leaving Barn 41, the son of Daaher jogged with a pony and then broke off into a gallop.
“He galloped a mile and a quarter today,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “We just want to keep him happy, sound and healthy right now.”
LONG RANGE TODDY – Willis Horton Racing LLC.’s Long Range Toddy returned to the track for the first time since completing his final Derby work Monday and galloped one mile under regular exercise rider Brooke Stillion.
On Tuesday, the Rebel Stakes (GII) winner drew post 18 of 20, but his jockey, Jon Court, was not discouraged and quickly pointed out that the last winner to come from the 18 hole was fellow Rebel Stakes winner American Pharoah, who then went on to become the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Court said. “In fact, I’m somewhat happy about it. All the speed is to the inside of us. I can come away from there and hopefully fold right in behind the speed. I just have to sit quiet and keep from getting hung too wide.”
Owner Willis Horton wasn’t thrilled with the post position, but says his horse has enough tactical speed to get himself into position. He’s just enjoying the ride with his homebred son of Take Charge Indy.
“It’s really an honor to have a horse as good as he is,” Horton said. “We think he has a big future and it’s a great honor to be in the Derby.”
MASTER FENCER – Katsumi and Yasuyo Yoshizawa’s Koichi Tsunoda-trained Master Fencer got his second feel for the Churchill Downs dirt Wednesday during the special Kentucky Derby/Oaks 7:30-7:45 a.m. training session, working an easy five furlongs in 1:05.20 with jockey Julien Leparoux in the saddle. The pair will join again Saturday when they break from post 15 in the 20-horse field.
“He went really well today,” Tsunoda said through a translator. “We are pleased with today’s work. He didn’t work too hard, since he had a (strong gallop) at Keeneland on Sunday before shipping to Churchill Downs. He seems to be handling the dirt just fine. Even with a gate boy, he’ll probably start slow, as usual. He has great closing speed, so I expect to see that turn of foot on Saturday.”
MAXIMUM SECURITY – Gary and Mary West’s Maximum Security got acquainted with the Churchill Downs track Wednesday morning while galloping a mile on his first day since arriving from his winter base at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Florida.
“He looked good; he’s acting good; he’s cooling out good,” trainer Jason Servis said.
Undefeated Maximum Security will be the second Kentucky Derby starter for Servis, who saddled Firenze Fire for an 11th-place finish last year.
The son of New Year’s Day began his career with a victory in a $16,000 claiming race for maidens at Gulfstream Park before going on to win two optional claiming allowance races and capture the Florida Derby (GI) by 3 ½ lengths, all at Gulfstream.
Maximum Security’s ascension from maiden claimer to Kentucky Derby contender hardly seemed plausible to his connections while he was preparing for his career.
“Nobody wanted to breed to the stallion. He was getting sold to Brazil. The mare went through the sale for $11,000, and I think his brother won cheap,” Servis said. “He was a late foal and was not breezing well at all at Monmouth last year. He never got into the bridle. When he got to Florida, he had a couple better breezes.
“We went over all the horses, Ben [Glass, the Wests’ stable manager] and I, and he said, ‘What about Maximum Security?’ I said, ‘He’s just average. He’s not showing much.’ He said, ‘Take him to Florida and run him where he can win. That’s what I did.”
Maximum Security romped in the 6 ½-furlong race by 9 ¾ lengths in front-running fashion.
“When I put him in, I thought he’d win. I wasn’t expecting a gallop like that. I thought he’d win a maiden $16,000, but I didn’t think he’d win by 10,” Servis said.
Maximum Security came right back to score under wraps by 6 ½ lengths after running six furlongs in 1:09.93. The homebred colt was ridden in his first two races by apprentice Romero Maragh, who would subsequently be sidelined with a serious back injury.
“Romero was adamant he was a stake horse. He’s an apprentice, but he’s a Maragh. The whole family is in racing. He said, ‘This is a stake horse,’ ” Servis said. “I had to take it with a grain of salt because he’s an apprentice. He was spot on.”
Maximum Security went on to win a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance by 18 ¼ lengths under Irad Ortiz Jr. before scoring a 3 ½-length victory in the Florida Derby under Luis Saez. In the Florida Derby, Maximum Security was allowed to set comfortably early fractions before drawing away in the stretch.
“I was surprised [about the fractions]. They went 45 [seconds for a half-mile] in the Fountain of Youth (GII). Gary said, ‘I bet they go slow this race.’ He was right. They went the half in :48.98,” Servis said. “I think after the Fountain of Youth, everybody was spooked.”
The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby was Maximum Security’s first stakes and first start around two turns.
“I know Gary. He’s breeding everything for the Derby. So, if I know he bred this horse, he’s thinking Derby. [Distance] never worried me.,” Servis said. “I didn’t ask them, because I know they’re not breeding turf sprinters.”
OMAHA BEACH – The Derby favorite Omaha Beach was under tack and ready to rock ‘n roll Wednesday morning when it came up to 7:30 and the special Derby-Oaks training session at Churchill Downs.
The Fox Hill Farm standard bearer, officially made the 4-1 morning line top choice for the Run for the Roses on Tuesday when he drew post 12 in the 20-horse field, had regular exercise rider Taylor Cambra aboard as they made their way trackside from Barn 28 alongside a big, white pony. Trainer Richard Mandella followed in trace.
Cambra took his charge from the five-furlong gap on the backside to the paddock gap on the frontside to stand for a bit, then proceeded to gallop the big colt strongly around the big oval.
“He went a mile and three-quarters,” said the tall reinsman as he flashed a big smile.
Was it his best gallop yet, someone asked?
“Absolutely,” came the resolute reply.
There was no argument about that from Mandella.
“Good as ever,” the Hall of Famer noted.
The Arkansas Derby (GI) winner returned to his barn, then had a nice bath just outside it as a substantial crowd looked on. Later, as he walked under the shedrow, he once again displayed the sweet disposition he has become noted for.
Throughout Derby Week, Mandella has been quick to make friends for racing -- as well as special memories -- when it comes to kids and his horse. On hand Wednesday were about a dozen local grade school/junior high kids there with adults to get a feel for Louisville’s most special event.
The trainer had all the kids bunch together at the mouth of his barn and when Omaha Beach swung by on his walk, he brought him over and dropped his big head right in the middle of the awed youngsters. Cell phone cameras clicked like crazy and the school kids giggled in delight. One young towhead lad got a special treat when the horse took a liking to him and began to gently nibble on his hair. You know he’ll never live that one down with his buddies, nor ever forget the special moment.
Mandella also noted that he’s expecting a crew of wounded veterans to be at the barn Thursday to take in the scene and bring a special camouflage blanket they’ve made in tribute to Omaha Beach and the special significance of his name in this, the 75th anniversary year of the bloodiest D-Day landing site on the French coast. The vets are involved with a unique group called Homes for Our Troops, which builds special houses for disabled veterans.
The trainer said he was likely to paddock Omaha Beach either Wednesday or Thursday – though possibly both -- in front of the race-day crowds. He has a paddock time today before the sixth race.
PLUS QUE PARFAIT – Flying comfortably under the radar, Imperial Racing’s $2.5 million UAE Derby (GII) winner Plus Que Parfait left Barn 9 at 7:30 this morning and put in another strong gallop under Tom Molloy, assistant trainer, with head conditioner Brendan Walsh watching on horseback.
“He went about a mile and a half,” Walsh said. “He’s a talented horse and he is going to get better. The distance won’t be an issue with him and he proved that when (winning over 1 3/16 miles) in Dubai. The nine-hole is perfect for him. Hopefully the speed goes inside of us and he can save some ground like he did in the UAE Derby.
“He has to answer a question this week of whether or not he’s come back (to form) from Dubai,” he continued. “He’s giving me every indication that he has, but as we’ve seen in previous years, it’s one thing to do it in the morning and it’s another to go out there and do it in a race.”
The son of Point of Entry is Walsh's first starter in the Derby. Two years ago, he started his first Kentucky Oaks filly in Lee Mauberret's Wicked Lick, who finished 13th. Yet to land a Grade I, Walsh has won 10 Grade III stakes and six Group IIs, including two editions of the Marathon (GII) on the Breeders' Cup undercard with Cary Street (2014) and Scuba (2016). Plus Que Parfait is his highest earner to date, with $1,590,400 in acquired prize money.
TAX – R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable’s Tax galloped a mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning.
“He’s getting over the track really well. He’s doing good. He’s nice and relaxed, so we’re happy with him,” trainer Danny Gargan said.
Gargan said the son of Arch would gallop into the race with a possible schooling session in the paddock during the week.
“He might go over one time. I’m not too worried about the paddock with him. He’s laid back. He likes people. He doesn’t get shook or rattled by people. He actually likes the crowd,” Gargan said. “I walk him past [trainer Bob] Baffert’s barn, where all the people are, and it doesn’t bother him.”
Like his Derby contender, Gargan isn’t getting rattled by his first Derby experience.
“It’s just another race, really. I’m enjoying it and having fun. We’re in the Derby. I was nervous in the Wood about the Derby because of the points,” Gargan said. “We’re here. It’s all up to him. He’s training good. I think if we get the right situation, he’s one of the horses that can win the race.”
Tax, who captured the Withers (GIII) at Aqueduct after stumbling at the start, earned his way into the Derby field when he finished second after an eventful trip in the Wood Memorial.
“He’s a fighter. He likes competition,” Gargan said.
VEKOMA – Randy Hill and Mike Gatsas’ Blue Grass (GII) winner Vekoma galloped a mile and a quarter and visited the starting gate under Cindy Hutter on the colt’s first day on the track at Churchill Downs.
“He galloped well and looked around a lot like you would fexpect with a new place,” trainer George Weaver said, adding that Vekoma would school in the paddock this afternoon with horses in the third race.
For Weaver, a Louisville native and graduate of Atherton High School, this will be his second shot at the Derby roses. In 2015, Tencendur finished 17th behind American Pharoah.
“The first Derby I went to was 1980, Genuine Risk. I remember that vividly,” Weaver said. “And I was big for Winning Colors (in 1988) and that was before I started working for Wayne (Lukas).”
Vekoma, a late May foal, won his lone two starts in 2018, closing the year with a victory in the one-mile Nashua (GIII) at Aqueduct in November. At that point, Weaver backed off to gear up for a 3-year-old campaign.
“He is a really good colt; very talented,” Weaver said. “His Fountain of Youth was good (a third off a three-month layoff), his Blue Grass was great and I hope Saturday is great.”
Javier Castellano, who was aboard for the first time in the Blue Grass, has the mount Saturday and will break from post position six.
WAR OF WILL – Mark Casse needed to do something to elevate his mood after watching his charge War of Will draw the dreaded No. 1 post for the 145th edition of the Kentucky Derby this Saturday. So when the Canadian Hall of Fame trainer returned to his room Tuesday, he decided to gather as much evidence as possible to convince him that the son of War Front wasn’t handed a doomsday sentence with his starting point.
"I went and I watched 20 Derbys last night from the one hole. I did. And I’ve decided it’s a good post,” Casse said after watching War of Will gallop under exercise rider Jose Vasquez Wednesday morning. “I mean it has won 9 percent of the time which is better’s than Bob (Baffert)’s 17 (with Roadster) which has never won – and I told him that too.”
Indeed, Casse has some positives that can be gleaned from War of Will’s post. Eight Kentucky Derby winners have started their journey from that inside spot and while none hasg prevailed since Ferdinand in 1986, Lookin At Lee did finish second in 2017 from that rail-skimming position.
Another tick in War of Will’s favor is he does have the speed needed to get himself in position early on and has proven himself to be one of the better gate horses Casse says he has conditioned.
“He has to break. The good news is, he’s probably one of the best breaking horses that I’ve ever trained,” Casse said. “If he doesn’t break, it’s on to the Preakness.”
The rain that is currently in the forecast for Saturday is also something Casse said “is not going to hurt our feelings” as War of Will broke his maiden over a sealed, sloppy Churchill Downs main track last Nov. 24. That maiden win was also the first time Gary Barber’s colt was paired with jockey Tyler Gaffalione and the duo has gone on to win three of their four outings together, including the Lecomte (GIII) and Risen Star Stakes (GII).
“He’s just a great rider. He has the utmost confidence in the horse and I have the utmost confidence in him,” Casse said of Gaffalione.
WIN WIN WIN – Live Oak Plantation’s Win Win Win jogged a mile, visited the starting gate and then galloped a mile under exercise rider Melanie Williams. Win Win Win is scheduled to school in the paddock with horses in Thursday’s second race.
For trainer Mike Trombetta, Win Win Win represents his second Kentucky Derby starter. He was here in 2006 with Sweetnorthernsaint who finished seventh as the favorite behind Barbaro.
“I am not really doing anything different (from the last time),” Trombetta said. “I am just trying to enjoy it. I remember it was a little overwhelming with a lot of stuff going on. He had been in Maryland and Illinois and then we get here and everybody wants to see him, even just getting a bath.”
Sweetnorthernsaint rebounded from a troubled trip in the Derby to finish second two weeks later in the Preakness (GI).
Julian Pimentel will get the leg up Saturday and break from post position 14.