Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Stars Filling up Derby Dream Barn

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Stars Filling up Derby Dream Barn
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Brother Derek trainer Dan Hendricks talks with media, Friday at Churchill Downs.
Dan Hendricks clutched several carrots in his hand, as he watched Brother Derek get his morning bath following the colt's first gallop over the Churchill Downs strip. Just then, someone from a passing car on Longfield Avenue shouted, "Go, Brother, go!" For the first time, Derby electricity was in the air.

There is no doubt that Barn 42 will be the hub of activity, with top Derby contenders Brother Derek, Barbaro, and Sweetnorthernsaint stabled there, and Jazil and Flashy Bull moving in this afternoon.

Sweetnorthernsaint's trainer, Michael Trombetta, went over to Hendricks and introduced himself. "Your horse looks good," Hendricks told him. "You're probably needed back home. Why don't you send your horse back?"

Barn 42 has actually been a place for old acquaintances to reunite. Sweetnothernsaint's exercise rider, Ernesto Ferdinand, couldn't believe it when he saw Brother Derek's exercise rider, Luis Ortega, show up with the colt yesterday. Ferdinand was galloping horses in California when Ortega was a jockey, and the two became friends. This is the first time they've seen each other in 23 years.

Several years ago, Trombetta met Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, for the first time at Albany Airport when both were returning to Maryland from Saratoga.

"I told Michael this morning. 'Here we are years later at the Kentucky Derby with the right kind of horses. Never would have thought we'd meet again here, would you?'"

Trombetta also went over to Barn 41 to pay a visit to Steppenwolfer. "I owned and trained his dam (Wolfer)," he said. "I bought her in Ocala (OBS April 2-year-old sale) for $13,000 and earned over a quarter of a million dollars with her, placing in graded stakes. I then sold her as a broodmare and got very good money for her."

Hendricks sent Brother Derek out at 8:50 for a light jog and gallop under Ortgea. "I only get three days to gallop him if I work him Monday, so I have to do something, he's feeling so good," Hendricks said. "If I don't do something, we won't be able to handle him."

Because the son of Benchmark was feeling so good, he was given a light tranquilizer. "I'll pay for it tomorrow," Hendricks said. "At least Luis will."

This past week's workout drought will end with a deluge of works on Saturday. With rain in the forecast for Saturday night into Sunday, as many as 11 Derby horses could make the work tab tomorrow. Brother Derek, Private Vow, and Storm Treasure are scheduled to work on Monday.

Bob Baffert paid a brief visit to Churchill Downs, where he will saddle Record in tomorrow's Derby Trial Stakes before flying back to California. He will return on Tuesday, along with his two Santa Anita-based Derby hopefuls, Bob and John and Point Determined.

"I'm used to training a lot of horses," Baffert said. "I know I've won three Derbys shipping in early, but I've lost more than I've won. I brought Chilukki in here three or four days out and she set a track record. And I won the Clark Handicap (gr. II) coming in the night before."

Is Baffert afraid of anyone? "Yeah, myself," he replied. I'm afraid I'm gonna screw it up between now and then."

Barbaro made a splendid appearance coming off the van from Keeneland yesterday afternoon, and handled his first morning on the Churchill Downs track in fine fashion. The son of Dynaformer has the look of a true distance horse, and is extremely professional in everything he does.

Matz still cannot understand all the criticism about giving Barbaro a five-week layoff between the Florida Derby (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). "The plan all along was to come in here with a fresh horse, and that's just what we have," he said. "There just haven't been enough horses who have tried it to say that it can't be done. He's fit, and he's coming into the race in excellent shape."

This is an exceptional bunch of 3-year-olds from a physical standpoint and, from what has been seen so far, it is going to be tough trying to determine which ones are looking and doing the best. But it will be attempted nevertheless on Friday

Sweetnorthernsaint had another excellent gallop this morning, with his head and ears up, and going about his business in a professional manner. He gallops straight as an arrow, never moves his head, and always seems focused. As mentioned yesterday, this horse doesn't appear to have any flaws. The only concern from some of the speed gurus is that he may have run too fast last time out. But others feel he simply is the fastest horse and has not bottomed out.

If it's 7:50, you can bet Lawyer Ron will be standing outside his barn, ready to head to the track. The first time around this morning, he had a nice easy hold of the bit and was relaxed, with his neck slightly arched, head straight, and mouth closed. The second time around, however, he again was throwing his head around and had it cocked to the inside, with his mouth open. It seems as if this is just him. This is the way he gallops, and it has no bearing on his performance. It's difficult to criticize a horse who does nothing but win and seems to know exactly where he should be in a particular race. No two of his races are alike.

Physically, he is holding his flesh very well, and even Baffert commented as he galloped by, "He's a pretty healthy-looking horse."

As if things aren't confusing enough, Cause to Believe appears to be getting better each day. His coat is slick, he's acting super, and his gallop this morning was extremely strong. He was moving along at a good clip and had excellent extension to his stride. The more you see of him, the more you're inclined to toss out his Illinois Derby (gr. II). The son of Maria's Mon apparently did not get hold of that track, which played havoc on a number of top-class shippers this spring.

One horse out this morning after the break that hasn't been seen too often was Keyed Entry and, not to sound repetitious, he looks as good as anyone in the race. I don't know how well he fits into the scenario of this year's Derby, but he sure can't be faulted on his looks. He is one of those horses that you can't help but notice when he passes by. Just imagine how much more confusing it's going to be when Bob and John, Point Determined, and A. P. Warrior arrive next Tuesday. All three are reported to be doing excellently.

The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Jazil and Flashy Bull were scheduled to arrive as this is being written. Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) winner Deputy Glitters arrived from New York yesterday, but trainer Tom Albertrani is saddling Bernardini in Saturday's Withers Stakes (gr. II) and will not be here until Thursday.

Most Popular Stories