“I don’t know how he’s going to behave in front of 160,000 people, but I’m really impressed how well he’s done,” said Motion, noting his colt’s improved behavior since arriving at Churchill Downs. “We just walked the paddock 10 minutes now and he’s like an old jumper. He’s really switched off.”
Adriano, who reared up a few times while being saddled before his ninth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth in his only start on a conventional dirt track, has given his trainer a reason to be optimistic for his start in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
“I’ve seen the good horses walking in the paddock and they have their heads between their legs, and that’s what you want,” said Motion, who reported that his Lane’s End Stakes (GII) winner would school in the paddock in the afternoon once more on Thursday. “You can’t have a horse walking out there all buzzed up, because they have another 10 minutes on the track to deal with before they run.”
While returning to Barn 42 after Adriano’s gallop, a horse that had dumped his rider ran loose and came dangerously close to Motion and his Derby candidate. Motion, atop his stable pony, saw the horse out of the corner of his eye and instantly led his mount and the accompanying Adriano to safety into the shedrow of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas’ barn.
“Wayne asked me if I needed a stall,” said Motion, making light of a potentially serious incident. “Hopefully, some of (Lukas’ Derby luck) will rub off on him.”
Motion, who saddled the obstreperous Chilito for an 11th-place finish in the 1998 Kentucky Derby, is pleased to be back in the Derby picture with Courtlandt Farms’ Adriano.
“It’s very exciting. You kind of have to pinch yourself when you’re part of these days, like the Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Derby. This is what we all want to be apart of, so when you get here, you’ve got to pinch yourself a little bit.”
ANAK NAKAL/COOL COAL MAN – Trainer Nick Zito sent Anak Nakal to the racetrack before the renovation break for an easy 1½-mile gallop under exercise rider Heather Stark Wednesday morning. Stablemate Cool Coal Man also had an easy 1½-mile gallop under Megan Smillie after the break.
“They were both aggressive,” Zito said. “That’s what you want to see.”
The Hall of Fame trainer explained how Four Roses Thoroughbreds’ Anak Nakal and Robert LaPenta’s Cool Coal Man were named.
“Mr. LaPenta was running out of names. It was hard for him to name because every name he put in (was rejected). So I told Timmy (Poole), my assistant, ‘Put down Cool Coal Man, because he’s kind of a cool horse and he’s by Mineshaft,’ ” Zito said.
“Anak Nakal, the owner named him ‘Devious Child’ in Indonesian, believe it or not. I guess he’s been a handful since he’s a baby. He plays a lot.”
BIG BROWN – Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. was laughing and smiling Wednesday morning while talking about his unbeaten colt, who could go off as the favorite Saturday in the 134th Kentucky Derby.
Dutrow sent the colt to the track at 7 a.m. Wednesday for some schooling in the starting gate and light exercise.
“We put him in the gate and he was very good,” Dutrow said. “He just galloped around there one time and we couldn’t be happier with things at this point.”
Big Brown is scheduled for his final timed workout before the Derby Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. when the track reopens after the surface is groomed. His regular exercise rider, Michelle Nevin, will be aboard for the work.
“I’m going to breeze him three-eighths first after the break and I’d like him to go anywhere between :36 and :37,” Dutrow said. “The track seems pretty fast and he’s really smooth, so you don’t really know how fast you’re going with him. I’d like to nail it on the head if he could. I think that’s kind of important for us. I don’t want him to go too fast.”
Dutrow said he wouldn’t describe the short work two days before the race as a “wake-up call” but more of a step toward the goal.
“It’s to let him know we’re zeroing in,” Dutrow said. “He knows we shipped here. He knows we put him in the gate. We’re going to school him in the paddock (Thursday). He knows we’re going to get a little three-eighths. We’re rounding everything up to where it’s coming to a head. He knows it. He’s not stupid.”
Dutrow said Big Brown has made an easy transition to the racing surface at Churchill Downs. He was shipped from Florida to Kentucky on Monday.
“It seems like he was born for this track,” Dutrow said and explained that he reached that conclusion by watching the horse and talking with Nevin. “It’s all good, babe.”
BIG TRUCK/TALE OF EKATI – Big Truck returned to the track for a 1½-mile gallop under Kristen Troxell Wednesday morning after walking under the shedrow on Tuesday. It was stablemate Tale of Ekati’s turn to walk under the shedrow of Barn 48 after working a half-mile in :49.40 on Tuesday morning.
Trainer Barclay Tagg, who saddled the New York-bred gelding, Funny Cide, for a victory in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, knows what it takes to win the Run for the Roses.
“You have to have a horse that’s peaking physically growth-wise and everything else. Sometimes in the spring – they’re two-year-olds turning three in the spring – they go through growth spurts and things like that, so you’ve just got to be lucky that it’s all happening on the right day, which is the first Saturday in May,” he said. “You have to have (purse) money behind them, you have to have soundness and everything else going for you. It’s very difficult.”
Tagg said Eric Fein’s Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) winner, Big Truck, and Charles Fipke’s Wood Memorial (GI) victor, Tale of Ekati, have earned their spots in the starting gate for the Derby.
“I don’t know if they’re good enough to win the race, but they’re both very nice horses,” he said. “They’ve both won a prep. Funny Cide didn’t win a prep. He ran in three preps and didn’t win any of them. These horses each won a major prep. They certainly stamped their ticket to be here.”
Tagg, though, won’t put his colts in the same company as Funny Cide, yet.
“He was a monster. These horses are a little more laid back than he was. He was explosive,” he said. “I had more confidence in that race and in that horse than probably any other race I’ve run in.”
BOB BLACK JACK – The Santa Anita Derby (GI) runner-up went to the track at 7:45 Wednesday morning as bright sunshine and just a nip of cool air set the scene in Louisville at Churchill Downs coming up to Saturday’s 134th Kentucky Derby.
Irishman Joe Deegan sat in the saddle for the California-bred colt’s performance, which consisted of a tour of the paddock and a one-mile gallop around the one-mile oval.
“I like this horse,” said the veteran exercise rider Deegan. “I think he’s got a lot of class. He’s got a great temperament.”
The son of the Bertrando sire Stormy Jack, who as a mere $4,500 yearling purchase is now eligible to become one of the great bargains of all time, is owned by Tim Kasparoff and Jeff Harmon and is trained by Tim’s brother James Kasparoff. In seven lifetime starts he’s won three times and run second twice and has banked $442,925.
Most folks would tell you that Bob Black Jack is “bred short” (his daddy was a late-running sprinter and his dam is by a speed sire), but James Kasparoff won’t buy into that.
“I noticed pretty early on that he wasn’t just a sprinter,” the trainer said. “Oh, he can run short; he’s got natural speed. But I think it was his attitude that made me think he could be a route horse. If you let him, he’d just go stand in the paddock, or out on the track, all day long. He’s so mellow. He’s a great horse to work with. Most sprinters are wound up tight. They’re usually on the muscle and a handful to deal with. But not him. He’s not that way at all. He’s very professional.”
Asked if he would paddock Bob Black Jack in the afternoon prior to the Kentucky Derby, James Kasparoff said he didn’t feel it was necessary.
“No, not with him,” he noted. “He doesn’t need it. I might just try to take him over there late in the morning on Oaks Day if they’ll let me. I’d just like to give him a little feel for it. That’s all he needs.”
COLONEL JOHN – With an entourage following him, the Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner walked to the track at 8:40 a.m. to gallop about 1¾ miles.
Before and after the trip to the track, officials of WinStar Farm, which bred and owns the colt, handled out Colonel John pins and the 28-page booklet, “Official Field Guide Kentucky Derby 134.”
Trainer Eoin Harty said everything is going according to plan with the Tiznow colt. “I’m very happy with my horse,” Harty said. “He’s training very well. He had a great gallop this morning. He exudes confidence and he gives me confidence.”
Harty said the colt’s confidence is evident through his body language.
“It’s the way he moves and the way he carries himself out there,” Harty said. “He doesn’t seem to get bothered or rattled by anything. He’s certainly traveling very well and he seems to get stronger the further he gallops. These are all positive signs and you’ve got to hang your hat on every positive sign like that.”
Harty said Colonel John has not shown him that he is making a significant step forward entering the race, and doesn’t need to.
“I don’t see him moving up because he’s always moved that way,” Harty said. “He’s always shown me that he’s had that level of talent I certainly don’t see anything to change my mind right now.”
Veteran jockey Corey Nakatani, who rode the colt in the Santa Anita Derby, will be aboard in the Kentucky Derby.
COURT VISION/Z HUMOR – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s Kentucky Derby prospects visited the track for some exercise in what was a routine morning gallop a few days before a race.
“They went through the paddock and each of them had a good gallop, a mile and a half,” Mott said. “It went well. Z Humor was quite strong into the bridle and Court Vision was just normal, a regular gallop.”
Both horses will have equipment changes for the Derby. Court Vision will wear blinkers in a race for the first time, while Z Humor will run without blinkers for the first time after wearing them in five consecutive races. Z Humor, owned by Zayat Stables, is winless in three races this year and Mott has decided to try something different.
“It looked like maybe in the Illinois Derby that he was a little bit anxious with the blinkers on,” Mott said. “He did finally settle in and they were kind of on a little bit of a conveyor belt sort of racetrack that day.
“We’re been doing the normal training with him and he’s been doing well.”
COWBOY CAL / MONBA – The two Todd Pletcher-trained starters in the Kentucky Derby – Stonerside Stable’s Cowboy Cal and Starlight Stable, Don Lucarelli and Paul Saylor’s Monba – completed the Keeneland phase of their conditioning Wednesday morning by galloping a mile and a quarter each prior to shipping and bedding down safely at Barn 34 at Churchill Downs.
The 40-year-old conditioner, who has won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top trainer the last four years running, reported that all was well with his two graded stakes winners.
“They’re both doing very well coming up to Saturday,” he offered. “They have been moving forward in their training at Keeneland and this past week was a good one for both of them. We just want to keep them on track these next few days and hope they continue to progress.”
And as far as optimal post positions for them in the Run for the Roses.
“I’d want for them just what I’d want for any horse I’d run in the Derby,” Pletcher said. “I just don’t want to be too far down inside, or too far outside. Other than that, we’ll be fine.”
Monba, the winner of the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12, will be handled by Ramon Dominguez in the $2 million guaranteed Derby. Blue Grass runner-up Cowboy Cal will have John Velazquez aboard for the 10-furlong race.
DENIS OF CORK – It was back to the track Wednesday morning for Southwest Stakes (GIII) winner Denis of Cork, who jogged two miles under trainer David Carroll shortly after 6:30 a.m.
“He went to the paddock this morning and then jogged twice around,” Carroll said. “Tomorrow he will go out at 8:30.”
After his morning exercise, Denis of Cork had a leisurely stroll through the stable area back to Barn 47.
“It gets to be a little bit of an obstacle course, but that is to be expected this week,” Carroll said. “I do it with all of my horses. It gives them a chance to relax on the way back to the barn. I like my horses to go to the track relaxed.”
Carroll was the exercise rider for Easy Goer when he was here for the 1989 Derby and trainer Shug McGaughey does the same thing with his horses, giving them plenty of time in the mornings walking through the stable area.
“I didn’t get that from Shug. Actually it’s more a European thing,” Carroll said. “We spend so much time out before we actually exercise and it’s a long walk home. A set will last an hour or an hour and a half and here it’s boom, boom, boom because of time restraints at the track you only have so many hours a day.
“You have to get x-amount of horses out and they get rushed in and rushed out. These horses, you’ve got to take your time with them. If they are relaxed going on and off the track, it is better for them.”
Owned by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren Jr., Denis of Cork will be ridden in Derby 134 by Calvin Borel. Borel won the Derby on his fifth try last year with Street Sense. For William Warren, it will be his second Derby starter as his Knockadoon ran seventh behind Thunder Gulch in the 1995 Run for the Roses.
EIGHT BELLES – Trainer Larry Jones took Fox Hill Farms’ (Rick Porter) big filly Eight Belles to the starting gate before galloping her at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.
Eight Belles drew the far outside post position 12 in the Kentucky Oaks and was installed the 5-to-2 morning line favorite, but is expected to run instead in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
“We came so close last year with Hard Spun,” Porter said this morning. “We do think she belongs [in the Derby] and we have a chance to make history.”
Only three fillies in the 133-year history of the Kentucky Derby have won the race.
“You dream big and I think she fits numbers-wise (assessments of various handicapping sheets). If you don’t run, you can’t win. Right now, you don’t know how good Big Brown is, and no one is sure how good Eight Belles is either.”
Eight Belles is named for the Maine home of the late artist N.C. Wyeth, which is called “Eight Bells.” Porter, a friend of the Wyeth family, feminized the name for his filly. He has named several of his horses over the years in homage to the family. Porter and Jones will be sixth in line for determining Eight Belles’ post position in the Derby at this afternoon’s draw. That’s good news for the team, since they have been saying all week that an undesirable post position could deter them from running in the race and keep her in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks instead.
GAYEGO – The Arkansas Derby (Gr. II) winner Gayego went trackside with exercise rider Jody Pieper attached at 7 a.m. Wednesday. By the time they had returned to Barn 33, the son of Gilded Time and his partner had stood in the gate and galloped a strong 10 furlongs in the middle of the track.
The dark colt owned by the Cubanacan Stables of Carlos Juelle and Dr. Jose Prieto continues to impress with his looks and attitude as he moves forward to his date on Saturday in the Kentucky Derby.
His trainer, Paulo Lobo, was at Churchill Downs watching his horse after having flown in from his California base on Tuesday. And what did he think of Gayego’s trip to the gate? “Perfect.” And his gallop? “Just what we wanted.”
Lobo, a 39-year-old Brazilian who now lives in Pasadena and runs his stable primarily on the Southern California circuit, noted that he is excited about his first Kentucky Derby experience, but also relieved to be near the end of his part in the journey.
“I’ll give him (Gayego) the day off tomorrow; he’ll just walk,” the trainer said. “He’s almost there.
“My part is nearing the finish. He’s as good as he can be for this and he’s coming up to it as well as we could have wanted. On Saturday I won’t give Mike Smith (his jockey) any instructions. That’s the nice part of having a rider like him. He knows the horse and he knows what to do. When the race comes, I just say: ‘Mike, I’ve done my job, now you go do yours.’ ”
Asked to compare the Derby experience with the one he had here in 2002 when he won the Kentucky Oaks with the outsider Farda Amiga, Lobo noted the key was in the vast difference in media participation and awareness.
“When I won the Oaks it was very special and many people knew because of the breeding side,” he said. “I train for breeders and to win an Oaks race like this one with our filly was exceptional. But the Derby – everyone knows about the Derby. From South America and all around the world everyone knows of the Derby. All the media, all the attention, it is amazing.”
PYRO/Z FORTUNE – The cool, crisp Louisville temperatures have been an elixir for Louisiana Derby (GII) winner Pyro, who returned to the track Wednesday morning along with stablemate Z Fortune, two days after their final Derby 134 workouts. Both horses galloped 1 1/8 miles.
“The weather has been excellent and the horses feel good,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “The draw will be extremely interesting this evening and then the debate will begin.”
Z Fortune will select fourth in this afternoon’s post position draw ceremony, while Pyro will have the No. 5 selection.
Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Pyro and Zayat Stables’ Z Fortune both schooled in the paddock Tuesday afternoon along with horses in the day’s sixth race.
“Both of them handled the paddock well and felt good,” Asmussen said. ‘Curious’ would be the word for both, I’d say, because it was Z Fortune’s first time to this paddock and the first time Pyro had been there in a long while.”
Last year, Asmussen was in what may have seemed a more enviable role with one of the favorites, the unbeaten Curlin. But the trainer said that Curlin’s light, three-race career workload prior to Derby 133 was a variable that, thankfully, isn’t a topic in ’08. He knows this year that his duo of Z Fortune and Pyro is battle-tested and experienced.
“There are a lot less questions in terms of how they’ll handle it,” Asmussen said.
Both horses will school again in the paddock during the race week, but Asmussen was non-committal on a particular day. Shaun Bridgmohan will guide Pyro in Saturday’s “Run for the Roses,” while jockey Robby Albarado will have the call on Arkansas Derby (GII) runner-up Z Fortune.
RECAPTURETHEGLORY – The Illinois Derby (GII) winner continued to flourish in his Derby Week gallops, dragging exercise rider and assistant trainer Lara Van Deren over their two-mile journey Wednesday morning. Van Deren reported afterward that it was the strongest the colt has felt all week and that she was “ready for a nap.”
Trainer Louie Roussel III feels good on a bad day; that’s just his personality. But Wednesday, Roussel beamed.
“The last couple of days he’s been just spectacular,” the New Orleans native said. “He’s gotten just a tad bit better every day the last few days.”
Roussel said the track has tightened since they arrived a few weeks ago and that Recapturetheglory has appreciated the firmer footing.
Recapturetheglory will select 19th in the post position draw process, meaning he likely could be left with post position No. 1 or No. 20, the least popular selections historically. In 1988, Roussel and co-owner Ronny Lamarque drew the rail with their eventual Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Risen Star. After a troubled trip in the Derby 20 years ago, it will be interesting to see if Roussel goes inside or outside as his options unfold.
“When you come here with a longshot, there’s no pressure,” he said. “I’m a longshot. Put two dollars on me. I’ll be 50-to-1 – you’ll get your two dollars’ worth.”
Jockey E.T. Baird makes his Kentucky Derby debut when he partners with Recapturetheglory in Saturday’s main event.
SMOOTH AIR– Mount Joy Stable’s homebred Smooth Air galloped 1 ¾ miles Wednesday morning under exercise rider Susie Milne, looking good for his trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. and owner Brian Burns and his family. The colt schooled in the paddock at Churchill Downs on Tuesday, where he was quite a handful.
“He thought he was going to run,” said Stutts. “I haven’t schooled him since before his first (debut) race; I didn’t have to. He’s not a nervous horse, but he was full of himself yesterday.”
Stutts plans to send Smooth Air to the track Thursday for “a combination of a two-minute lick and a breeze. She’ll let him go at the five and a half and in the stretch give him his head and blow him out,” he said. Smooth Air had missed a scheduled work on Sunday because of incurring a low-grade fever on Thursday and Friday. He’s been back galloping since Monday.
The Smooth Air team has been riding various waves of emotion this week, as can be expected when participating in the Kentucky Derby for the first time. Stutts, 70, and his wife Dianne attended the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners’ and Breeders Derby Trainers Dinner Tuesday night and, while Stutts himself was a hit with his on-stage interview, it was Dianne who was presented with roses by the emcees at the end of the evening as the “lady most deserving of them.” The crew hopes it’s a sign of things to come on Saturday.
The Burns family – Brian and Jan, with grown children Dan and Brittany (sister Jamie is on her way) – were at the barn Wednesday. Racing is a family affair for the Burns, from the mating selections of their Thoroughbreds to the naming of the racehorses to their overall desire to share their love for the sport with others. The family arranged for two children with life-threatening medical conditions, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, to come to Churchill Downs this Wednesday for a visit with their Kentucky Derby contender.
That’s two more wishes come true because of a horse named Smooth Air.
VISIONAIRE – Asked how often he is reminded of Barbaro, his 2006 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner, trainer Michael Matz gave an example of the colt’s lasting popularity.
“Yesterday, a guy who never called me in my life called me and said it was Barbaro’s birthday,” Matz said. “That horse touched so many peoples’ lives. It’s just amazing.”
Now Matz is back in the Derby with Gotham (GIII) winner Visionaire, who is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI). The colt arrived at Churchill Downs last Saturday and worked a half-mile in :48.40 on Monday for the 11th fastest of 44 moves at the distance. On Wednesday, he jogged twice around the Churchill oval.
“He’s doing fine,” Matz said about Visionaire. “He’s coming into the race the right way, and we’ll find out if he’s good enough.”
Visionaire drew the outside post position in both the Gotham and the Toyota Blue Grass, and on Wednesday morning Matz said he didn’t really think the Grand Slam colt’s post position in the Derby would matter, but that he’d “like to not draw the outside again.” The possibility of being stuck on the outside seemed to be a moot point around 11 a.m. when Visionaire’s name was chosen first in the draw selection, enabling his connections to be the first to pick one of 20 post positions for the race.
“He’s a horse that comes from off the pace,” Matz said about Visionaire. “Hopefully they’ll be enough pace in the race and horses will be coming back. We just hope he can get a mile and a quarter and he can pick the pieces up at the end of the race.”
Visionaire will be the second Derby mount for jockey Jose Lezcano, who has ridden the colt in his past four races. Lezcano first rode in the Derby in 2006 when he piloted Deputy Glitters to finish eighth behind Barbaro.