Except for the thunder that rocked Louisville in the early morning hours, all was quiet on the Kentucky Derby front, with no workers. The biggest excitement was provided by Peace Rules, whose wild show coming off the track caused some scary moments for Bobby Frankel.
Frankel had originally planned on galloping Peace Rules and Empire Maker, but with the intermittent rain and sloppy track, he decided to just jog them. Empire Maker had a nice easy jog, followed several minutes later by Peace Rules, who apparently wanted to do a lot more. He was full of himself as he trotted past Frankel, who was watching from the trainer's stand.
There is no doubt that the chestnut son of Jules loves being a racehorse and loves being out on the racetrack. If there is a feel-good horse in this year's Derby it definitely is this little spitfire. This morning, however, he took his enthusiasm a step too far. Coming off the track, he was bouncing along with his neck arched. As soon as he turned and went through the gap, he began to jump and buck, and exercise rider Tony Graell sensed danger looming as they neared the paved surface.
Graell, afraid of being thrown and having the horse get loose in the backstretch, jumped off and quickly grabbed hold of the reins. But that seemed to confuse Peace Rules, and stir him up even more. He became wilder, lashing out with his hind legs, while still bucking.
"The worst thing he could have done is jump off him" Frankel said. When Peace Rules showed no signs of settling down, Frankel went over to help out. "Why did you jump off him?" he shouted to Graell as he approached the horse. "I didn't want him throwing me with all these cars around," Graell told him. Frankel then grabbed another section of the reins, and he and Graell pointed the colt in the direction of the barn. It was Peace Rules who was doing the pulling, with Frankel and Graell doing the steering. Once back in the familiar surroundings of his barn, he finally settled down.
Frankel then returned to the trainer's stand none the worse for wear. "He thought he was gonna dump him and get loose on the blacktop," he said. "At a normal racetrack, when they get loose they run back to the barn, but here, you got all these cars."
The rest of the morning was pretty much routine, except for the arrival by van of Calder horse Supah Blitz. Kafwain and Indian Express had spirited gallops over the slop. Kafwain was really on the muscle and obviously needed his last work. Indian Express is a magnificent presence out there, and looking at him, it's hard to believe where he came from and that he once sold for a meager $4,500. Could he actually be the kind of freak who can jump up with only four starts, three of them sprints, and win the Kentucky Derby? What he did in the Santa Anita Derby was pretty freaky in itself, so you never know.
Being we're at about the midway point, we'll give out a couple of early minor awards. The cool customer award goes to four horses -- Buddy Gil, Offlee Wild, Sir Cherokee, and Kafwain, all of whom are laid-back, easy-going horses who will not be rattled by anything on Derby Day. Looking to have your child get up and close and personal with a Derby horse? These are the four you'd choose. We'll also give the deception award to Empire Maker, who looks like he's loping along out there, when in fact he's motoring along at a rapid pace. And the photogenic award has to go to Ten Most Wanted, who is poetry in everything he does.
And now for the revealing of the mystery horse, who has gained enough respect from several prominent horseman to be put right at the top of their horses to fear list. The horse is Atswhatimtalknbout.
When you consider the risks betting this horse, think of yourself as Don Quixote, who was described as "either the wisest madman or the maddest wise man."
Here's what you do. First off, admit to having a bit of that madman in you. But acknowledge the wisdom in your madness. Two races back, you're lucky if you could have gotten 4-1 on this horse in the Derby. After a fourth-place finish, beaten 3 ¼ lengths, in the Santa Anita, you can now likely get around 15-1 on him, maybe higher. As those who fear him say, the horse does have the talent to win this race. And remember, he had been on antibiotics for a skin rash prior to the Santa Anita Derby.
So, this is how you approach the Derby. You say to yourself, sure there's a chance I'm betting a horse who is over the top, but there is also a chance I'm betting on a horse who had five races crammed in a short period of time and possibly needed to regress a little to recharge his batteries. I'm going in with my eyes wide open and will accept the financial consequences of my wager if the horse is indeed heading in the wrong direction. But if he isn't, and he is sitting on the race everyone thought he'd run in the Santa Anita Derby, then I will exit this year's Kentucky Derby as the wisest of the wise, and with more money in my pocket than I could have ever hoped for five weeks ago.
Be aware, however, that even his trainer, Ron Ellis, hasn't a clue what the horse is going to do. He doesn't even know if he's going to put blinkers on him or not. There is a lot of indecision, which means a lot of downside. But as one who is drawn to those who have been discarded by the majority, possibly prematurely, we definitely will tilt at windmills on Derby Day and bet Atswhatimtalknbout, if he continues to show progress next week and looks sharp in his next work. Why not? We've already proclaimed our madness. Now we just have to see if there is wisdom behind it.
Patrick Biancone has decided to keep Brancusi at Keeneland for his final work tomorrow. "It rained so much in Louisville, but it's dry here in Lexington," he said. "I realize the reporters want to see him, but I have to do what I think is best for the horse. We'll probably ship him to Churchill Downs on Wednesday, possibly Thursday, depending on the weather. The horse is doing well and is very happy."
Ten Cents a Shine will work Sunday morning at 5:15 and owner Ken Ramsey will be there to see it and make his decision. "He was going to work Saturday, but Wayne called and said he postponed because of the track," Ramsey said. "I had no intention of running him in the Derby and had already canceled half my hotel rooms. I was so disappointed in his Blue Grass, I didn't even go down afterward. I just wanted to find a hole to crawl into. Mike Smith said he refused to come in when he asked him and he pinned his ears and sulked. Then he worked 5 furlongs sensationally in :58 3/5. Wayne told me not to give up on him, that they did dental work on him, replacing his caps that had been cutting his tongue and mouth. But I hate excuses. I just gave up on him. If you got a bad horse you got a bad horse. I even told Wayne if he wanted to geld him to go right ahead.
"When he told me to keep an open mind about the Derby, I told him I'd rather run in a nonwinners of two allowance race. As much as I'd love to run in the Derby I don't want to clutter up the field and be embarrassed. Then Wayne told me that he had Stacey (Maker) on him and he was like a lamb and responded to everything she asked him to do. I told him I still don't think he deserves to run in the Derby. He said to come and watch him work at 5:15 and judge for myself. He had handicapped the race, and other than Empire Maker there are only four or five horses who can get the mile and a quarter, and he has two of them – Scrimshaw and Ten Cents a Shine. Wayne can be very compelling in his arguments, and if it was any other trainer I wouldn't even consider it, but he's pulled off so many miracles in the past. And he said to me, 'Trust me, I won't embarrass you. Just make sure you have thick skin, because you're going to get a lot of heat from the media.' I told him, 'Don't worry about that. I've already been where angels fear to tread.'"