Edited by Dick Downey.
BY MY STANDARDS – Louisiana Derby winner By My Standards had a routine 1 1/2-mile gallop Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs with trainer Bret Calhoun and team watching intently from the clocker stand.
“It’s getting to be that time,” Calhoun said. “Ready, or not, here we go.”
Also in attendance Tuesday at the clocker stand was jockey Gabriel Saez who watched training alongside agent Derek Ducoing from the rail.
“I’d prefer if we drew somewhere between post five and 12,” Saez said. “Any of the posts will work but I’d prefer somewhere in the middle. I think (By My Standards) will be able to handle any spot. He’s just doing so well right now.”
By My Standards drew post position three.
CODE OF HONOR – Code of Honor returned to the track Tuesday two days after completing his final work Sunday and jogged one mile under regular exercise rider Brian Duggan.
“He jogged the wrong way and then walked through the paddock,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “He’s going to school in the paddock later today so I took it feasy on him. He’s on his toes. So far so good.”
Monday afternoon, McGaughey took time to attend the street dedication outside CHurchill Downs for longtime Vice President of Communications, John Asher, who died unexpectedly last August. He was one of Asher’s favorite trainers, and he had nicknamed his grandson “little Shug” because he was born the same year as McGaughey won his first Kentucky Derby with Orb.
“It was another nice honor for John,” McGaughey said. “And, well deserved. He sure did mean a lot to this place.”
COUNTRY HOUSE/TACITUS – Trained by Bill Mott, Tacitus and Country House each visited the paddock and galloped a circuit of the Churchill Downs main track during the special 7:30-7:45 Kentucky Derby-Oaks training session Tuesday morning. The pair worked five furlongs in tandem two days prior in 1:00 flat.
Like sire Tapit, Tacitus exits an impressive victory in the Wood Memorial and is one of the favorites for Saturday’s 10-furlong affair at 10-1 odds. He will try to do better than his sire, who finished ninth behind Smarty Jones as the 6-1 third choice in 2004. A blue-blood, Tacitus is the first foal out of Juddmonte’s five-time grade I winner Close Hatches, who also came into Derby Week of her 3-year-old year off a big Aqueduct win. The eventual champion won the Gazelle four weeks before finishing seventh in the Kentucky Oaks.
Owned by the aforementioned global powerhouse stable of Saudi Arabia's Prince Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud, hopes have always been high for the gray, long-striding charge. Garrett O’Rourke, general manager of Juddmonte’s North American operations, has watched Tacitus grow.
“The satisfaction that Prince Khalid—indeed any owner-breeder gets from home breeding a top horse—is rooted in time, energy, history, despair, elation and just pure enjoyment that one can experience from the multi-generational involvement,” O’Rourke said. “It takes so much direction, foresight and guidance along the way that, when the work bears fruit, the satisfaction is like that of a proud parent when the child excels and you see yourself and your efforts in the achievement. I think that is the source of Prince Khalid’s pride in his families, as they are all his creations, not just with his financial backing, but with his innate horsemanship.”
While the best laid plans of horse and man do often go awry, few things have been able to halt Tacitus’ ascension leading into the toughest test of his career, including a roughly run Wood Memorial four weeks ago.
“Going into the first turn, a horse who came from the outside angled over and took out about four horses,” Mott said. “Tacitus was one of them and they turned us sideways momentarily, but he recovered really well. Once he got to the backside, he got a clear trip and was by himself. From there, he just had to time his run and try to run them down—and he did.”
The remainder of the week will likely be routine for the two, with at least one paddock schooling session. Both have shown marked professionalism in their preparation, thanks in no small part to visibly laid-back dispositions.
“I think we’re bringing horses that are really meant for a mile and a quarter and this type of race,” Mott concluded. “I think they fit the profile physically, mentally and hopefully ability-wise.”
CUTTING HUMOR/SPINOFF – The Todd Pletcher-trained Derby colt duo of Starlight Stable’s Cutting Humor and Wertheimer and Frere’s Spinoff arrived safely at Barn 40 Tuesday morning at about 9:30 after a flight from West Palm Beach Airport near their Florida training center.
Assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale reported that all was well with the pair, that they’d bedded down nicely.
Pletcher, who took a quick flight from Florida to New York Tuesday, will be back in Kentucky this evening and at the barn Wednesday morning.
GAME WINNER/IMPROBABLE/ROADSTER – When you’ve won five Kentucky Derbys, 15 Triple Crown races, and completed two sweeps of the American classics, it’s only natural that you get peppered about the few remaining pieces of history still out there for the taking.
The more Bob Baffert gets asked about his quest to equal Ben Jones’ all-time mark of six triumphs on the first Saturday in May, though, the more the Hall of Fame trainer keeps reminding all who will listen that getting ahead of himself has never been the secret to him getting ahead.
“I really don’t think about that. I think about enjoying the moment. I’m a day-to-day kind of guy,” Baffert said. “I always go into these races, expect the worst, hope for the best because if you get too excited, you have a letdown. This game will…you’ve got to be careful with it. I’m already prepared for a beating so if we win, it’s exciting.”
When it comes to their respective preparations for the 145th edition of the Run for the Roses, Baffert’s trio of contenders have done little to quell the notion that another victory on the first Saturday of May could be his. Game Winner, Roadster and Improbable all put in routine gallops that had their conditioner said he liked.
Roadster and Improbable both came onto the track during the 7:30 a.m. time slot reserved for Kentucky Oaks and Derby contenders and galloped under Humberto “Beto” Gomez and Jose Contreras, respectively with the latter also visiting the starting gate.
Schooling Improbable in the gate will be a regular part of the colt’s agenda this week, Baffert said, as the son of City Zip acted up severely at the start of the Arkansas Derby prior to his runner-up finish behind Omaha Beach in that race.
“Improbable was so lucky to even get in after his gate antics which could have been disastrous for him,” Baffert said. “It’s like one of those Final Four games where you get lucky and you win by a basket and then get in and win the whole thing.”
After going out at 6:30 a.m. to jog the previous two days, Game Winner took the track at 9 a.m. along with Oaks hopeful Flor de La Mar to visit the gate and put in his first gallop since arriving from California.
Game Winner finished just a nose behind Omaha Beach in the second division of the Rebel Stakes on March 16 his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill last November – and then was caught by his late-running comrade Roadster in late stretch of the Santa Anita Derby on April 6.
“I think they’ve all always been among the elite 3-year-olds this year,” Baffert said. “Game Winner is a champion, he’s right there and has never run a bad race. Roadster was a little bit late to the party but ends up winning a grade I. They are horses who all have different little styles but at the end of the day they are all top 3-year-olds.
“We’ve been spoiled the last few years with the horses we’ve brought here,” Baffert continued. “This week is going to be fun every day, that’s what makes the Derby so unique.”
GRAY MAGICIAN – UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday and got his first feel for the dirt track Tuesday morning. Leaving Barn 39 at 6:20 with assistant trainer Ashlie Campbell aboard, the son of Graydar jogged a lap.
Trainer Peter Miller is flying to Louisville from California on Wednesday and will be at training Thursday morning.
HAIKAL – Haikal got his first feel for Churchill Downs Tuesday morning after vanning from his Belmont Park base in New York and arriving the day prior. Leaving Barn 41, the son of Daaher galloped about 11/4 mile over the main track. The Withers winner is making his first start outside of Aqueduct.
“He just had an easy gallop,” said Neal McLaughlin, assistant to trainer and older brother Kiaran. “He was good today.”
Rajiv Maragh will be in the saddle atop the late-running homebred Saturday.
LONG RANGE TODDY – Long Range Toddy stayed in Barn 38 and walked the shedrow Tuesday one day after completing his major Derby work with a half mile breeze in :47.80.
One of the people watching Monday’s work closely was jockey Jon Court, who will be aboard Long Range Toddy for the third straight time Saturday. The two pulled a mild upset in the first division of the Rebel Stakes when they closed late to overtake favorite Improbable by a neck and then returned to finish sixth in the Arkansas Derby April 13 over a sloppy track.
When asked if he had learned anything from the Arkansas Derby, Court replied “I feel like I don’t need to push him as hard early as I did in the Arkansas Derby. I just need to sit quiet, maintain my position and try to save what I can for the stretch because ultimately that’s what’s most important. That’s what we had done in the Rebel.”
Post positions for the Kentucky Derby were to be drawn later Tuesday morning and Court said he was hoping for a post “somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what happens at the draw, we’ll deal with it,” Court said. “I’m just hoping for an efficient trip. That’s what I’m most concerned with.”
Long Range Toddy drew post position 18.
MASTER FENCER – Koichi Tsunoda-trained Master Fencer got his first feel for the Churchill Downs dirt Tuesday morning after shipping in from Keeneland on Monday evening. The maternal grandson of Deputy Minister jogged one lap with a pony and then galloped one lap, all with Julien Leparoux in the saddle.
“We are very fortunate to have one of the 20 stalls in the starting gate,” said Katsumi Yoshizawa through a translator. “I have always wanted to be here and be part of the Kentucky Derby. I really appreciate Churchill Downs for giving me such an opportunity.”
Tsunoda, a former jockey, was pleased with his charge’s gallop. He reported that the chestnut will likely do a bit of serious work Wednesday morning with Leparoux again in the saddle.
“I’ve known about the Kentucky Derby since I was young, but I didn’t expect to ever come as a trainer because there are not many opportunities,” Tsunoda said. “It’s a great honor and the horse is doing well. The quarantine is pretty strict in Japan and he was alone for a week before shipping. I was concerned about his conditioning, but he overcame everything and he’s getting used to all circumstances—from quarantine in Chicago to training at Keeneland and now training here.”
MAXIMUM SECURITY – Gary and Mary West’s undefeated Maximum Security arrived at Churchill Downs at 9:30 Monday morning from his South Florida training base.
OMAHA BEACH – The Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach put in another strong gallop Tuesday morning as trainer Richard Mandella looked on from alongside the five-furlong gap. Exercise rider Taylor Cambra was at the controls on the War Front colt as they both galloped and did a short session in the starting gate.
“He stood in the gate just fine,” Cambra said. “And out on the track he made me work today.”
That’s saying something for the 6-foot-1 former rodeo rider, but then Omaha Beach – owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms – has been a handful all along.
The big colt went through his exercises during the special Derby-Oaks training zone between 7:30-7:45 and he was – as he has been – “on it.” Galloping out in the middle of the Churchill Downs oval, the Arkansas Derby winner pulled hard and bowed his neck for a good portion of his mile and a half journey.
“I’m happy; he looked good,” said Hall of Famer Mandella back at Barn 28.
Omaha Beach has been in the primary care of one of the trainer’s key stablehands, Jose Barrera, who has worked for Mandella for 36 years. He’s one of a half-dozen employees in the California-based barn than have 30-plus years of regular work with the conditioner, and there are several others that have more than 20-plus years on the payroll. It is the trainer’s way – hire good people and keep them.
Barrera has traveled with many of the conditioner’s stable stars to stakes assignments across the country for years. He remembers going on the road with aces such as Siphon, Gentlemen, Puerto Madero, Best Pal and Beholder. He recalls that Siphon and Gentlemen could be “tough to handle,” but that the toughest of all was Beholder, the mighty champion mare “who was tougher than all the colts.”
But what about his current assignment – Omaha Beach?
“Oh, he’s easy,” Barrera said. “Just a sweet, kind horse that’s a pleasure to be around.”
Prior to the Derby Draw, Mandella said he’d be happy with whatever assignment they were given in the 20-horse field. “We’ll take what we get and find a reason to like it,” he said pragmatically. After his colt drew post 12 and rider Mike Smith said he “loved it,” Mandella didn’t have to say any more.
PLUS QUE PARFAIT – UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait left Barn 9 at 7:30 Tuesday morning and continued his steady progression toward the Kentucky Derby. The son of Point of Entry galloped 1 3/4 mile. Assistant trainer Tom Molloy was in the saddle. Trainer Brendan Walsh was pleased.
“He felt really good today,” Molloy said. "Today reminded me of Dubai before the UAE Derby. He had that same feeling."
Walsh added. “Everything is good. He likes the track here and continues to do well."
One of the few in Derby field with form over the Churchill Downs dirt, the chestnut ridgling was third in maiden company over a mile in September two starts prior to finishing a game second in the 1 1/16 miles Kentucky Jockey Club.
TAX – Tax galloped a mile and a half at Churchill Downs Tuesday the morning after arriving from New York.
Dean Reeves, who, along with his wife Patti, partnered with R.A. Hill Stable in joining Tax’s ownership group, was on hand to watch the Wood Memorial runner-up stretch his legs in preparation for a start in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Tax will be the second Derby starter for the Reeves, who co-owned 2011 third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man, who would go on to win the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Reeves recalled the “enormity” of his first Derby experience, but he doesn’t remember all the details of Mucho Macho Man’s 1 1/4-mile journey under the Twin Spires.
“That’s more of a blur, because you can’t see your horse and you can’t really hear the announcer. You’re trying to get an idea of where your horse is compared to everybody else. Everybody can find the one in the front. We really didn’t pick him up until the turn from home,” Reeves said. “You have that moment of letdown that you didn’t win. Then you realize, ‘The horse just finished third in the Kentucky Derby. That ain’t so bad.’”
The Reeves bought into Tax’s ownership group after trainer Danny Gargan claimed the son of Arch for $50,000 at Keeneland last October and a subsequent third-place finish in the Remsen at Aqueduct in December. The 3-year-old gelding proved to be a wise investment in his very first start for the Reeves when he captured the Withers on Feb. 2. The Reeves watched on a cellphone in the paddock at Gulfstream Park, where they had a horse running in the Swale.
“We’re in the paddock watching him run and he comes up the rail. We’re cheering away and realized we just won the Withers and have a horse with Derby potential,” Reeves said. “It was pretty cool.”
Tax went on to finish second in the Wood Memorial to earn enough points to qualify for the 20-horse Derby field.
“Junior Alvarado) had to move early on him, but we wanted to make sure we were first or second,” Reeves said.
VEKOMA – Blue Grass winner Vekoma arrived at Churchill Downs at 9:30 Tuesday morning following a flight from South Florida.
Vekoma drew post position 6 for trainer George Weaver, who will be sending out his second Kentucky Derby starter. The Louisville native saddled Tencendur, who finished 17th behind American Pharoah in 2015.
WAR OF WILL – Though the post-position draw put a damper on his trainer’s mood later in the morning, multiple graded stakes winner War of Will had another day of touting himself with his time over the Churchill Downs track.
With exercise rider Jose Vasquez in the irons, the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes winner visited the starting gate and put in another solid gallop. Trainer Mark Casse had tabbed the post-position draw as the last major hurdle to get over, a concern that became reality when War of Will landed in the 1 slot.
"The post is going to be big, not just for us but for a few people,” Casse said. “If we break running, we could be on the lead.”
WIN WIN WIN – Live Oak Plantation’s Win Win Win jogged a mile accompanied by a pony for trainer Mike Trombetta. Exercise rider Melanie Williams was aboard Win Win Win, who finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes (GII) in his most recent start.
In the Blue Grass, Win Win Win got up in the final jump to nose out Signalman for the runner-up spot and gain the 40 points needed to crack the top 20 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
“My thought process when they hit the wire was not on (the points),” Trombetta said. “Then it hit me right after that that he had made it.”
Following the Blue Grass, Win Win Win returned to his home base at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.
“He had a good 2 1/2 weeks there and breezed on Easter Sunday,” Trombetta said. “We came here mid-week last week and everything has gone well.”
Win Win Win finished his major preparation for Derby 145 with a half-mile work in company in :47.60 on Sunday.
Trombetta plans to have Win Win Win visit the starting gate Wednesday as part of his morning activity and a paddock schooling session is planned for Thursday’s second race.
BODEXPRESS – Bodexpress, the lone also-eligible for Kentucky Derby 145 and needing one defection to make the main body of the race, arrived at Churchill Downs at 9:30 Tuesday morning