"I worked his daddy out of that barn," jockey Robby Albarado said the morning of April 29, pointing to barn 43 on the Churchill Downs backside.
Albarado was in barn 42, where Steppenwolfer occupies the end stall. A few minutes later, he would guide the son of Aptitude
through his final workout prior to Saturday's Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
In 2000, Albarado was asked by trainer Bobby Frankel to climb aboard Aptitude
for his final two Derby works. Aptitude
was ridden in the Derby by Alex Solis, while Albarado piloted Captain Steve for trainer Bob Baffert.
Eight days prior to the 2000 Derby, Albarado and Aptitude
, by A.P. Indy
, went six furlongs in 1:12 4/5, and then blew out four furlongs three days before the race in :47 1/5.
and Solis were wide in the turn for home, Kent Desormeaux and Fusaichi Pegasus
had the rail, and then moved out for the stretch drive. Fusaichi Pegasus
, the 2-1 favorite, won by 1 ½ lengths while Aptitude
, sent off at nearly 12-1, got second.
"Fusaichi was able to save ground," Albarado said. "When they straightened for home, Aptitude had to go around."
Albarado, of course, wanted to win on Captain Steve, but he felt a part of the Aptitude
team as well.
"Aptitude and Steppenwolfer have a very similar running style," the 32-year-old jockey said. "Distance is not a problem."
In fact, Albarado said, he and trainer Danny Peitz have been patiently awaiting the Derby for that very reason.
"We've been waiting and waiting for more ground," Albarado, the leading rider at the 2005 Churchill Downs meet, said. "We know there are plenty of speed horses in the field, and we know we will be coming from off the pace. Speed will come back to you going a mile and a quarter."
With a 20-horse field, there can be trouble weaving through horses, but Albarado said that is where handicapping comes into play. He wants to place himself in the right spot aboard the colt owned by Robert and Lawana Low.
"You have to be a handicapper as a jockey," he said. "I will try to get behind the right horses; follow the right horses. In the Derby, the field really stretches out down the lane. I just have to be in the right spot."
Albarado pointed to several recent Derbys as examples of how rubber-legged horses can get inside the eighth-pole of the Derby.
"Look at last year," Albarado said. "It looked like Afleet Alex or Closing Argument but Giacomo just kept coming. Look at Monarchos (in 2001), how he pulled away the final sixteenth."
Albarado was aboard Steppenwolfer before the colt ever started, at Saratoga last summer. "I worked him and he was just a big kid. When I saw him again at Oaklawn this winter, I couldn't believe how he had grown up."
Albarado has ridden Steppenwolfer four times, wins at Louisiana Downs and Oaklawn, a third in the Rebel (gr. III) and most recently a second in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II).
His last three starts, Steppenwolfer has run behind Lawyer Ron, who worked just before him Saturday morning.
"Our key is the mile and a quarter," Albarado said. "I think we have one of the few that wants to go that far."
Albarado felt it about Aptitude
. He hopes to prove it aboard his son.