Lawyer Ron BriefingJockey John McKee shares a chat with Bonnie Holthus back at their barn after Lawyer Ron took a tour of the track Tuesday morning. Bonnie is the wife of trainer Bob Holthus, or "Mr. Bob" - as he's called at his base at Oaklawn Park.McKee notes how relaxed the colt was.Bonnie interjects."He couldn't have been relaxed, he ate this hat," she says. Bonnie shows off a baseball cap Lawyer Ron had grabbed off of her head earlier."You're lucky it wasn't your arm," McKee said."You can ask the security guard, he held it for two and a half minutes," Bonnie says. "We couldn't get it out. We finally pried it from him. He wanted that hat. If we go by and show it to him now, he'll get all excited."McKee turns his thoughts to the Arkansas Derby, where Lawyer Ron made an early move for the lead, shooting through a hole as the field was on the backstretch. "He got real aggressive with me," McKee says. "I don't think a lot of people saw this, but there was a 'plan A' and a 'plan B.' We got stuck on the rail. If they had dropped down on me, I had a way out. 'Plan A' was to lay off the speed. When it got kind of tight in there, I just kind of ask him and he accelerated. I was in no trouble at all. I would have had a way out and around them. The plan was to rate him a little bit, but that didn't work, so we had to go to 'plan B' pretty quick."Lawyer Ron won the Arkansas Derby by 2 ½ lengths."He came back to me," McKee says. "We got to the lead, and he put his ears up. I had a lot of horse finishing up and that's what impressed me the most."The final eighth?"I put my stick away; I was that confident," he says.There are a lot of confident people around Holthus' barn these days.
$1,000 Juleps Moving FastIf you're one of those high rollers planning on cashing out on one of those $1,000 Woodford Reserve Mint Juleps on Derby day, you might want to call ahead. So far, about 25 of the costly cocktails are already spoken for, having been pre-ordered through Levy Catering. A limited number of 50 will be available.The juleps come in a numbered, gold-plated cup with a sterling silver straw, Woodford Reserve bourbon, ice from the Arctic Circle, special sugar, and mint from Morocco. Those calling ahead are asking for their lucky numbers, according to Rick Bubenhofer, director of public relations for Brown-Forman, the maker of "official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.""The people ordering are saying, 'I've got to have my lucky number; give me No. 9, or whatever,'" Bubenhofer said.Bubenhofer is one of "key masters" to the operation. A jug of water from the Arctic is currently sitting in his office, waiting to be re-frozen for Saturday's treats. By his estimate, it's about five gallons of water -- more than enough for ice to make 50 drinks. He said they've calculated that in sipping the $1,000 drink, you should have 20 "very nice" sips, which comes out to $50 a swig. And you get to keep the glass.The good news is that all - not a portion - of the proceeds as previously reported, go to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
11:00 a.m.Jacob Romans is a pretty good handicapper. Outside of Barn 5, he works hard to pull his "brick" from his pocket and he shows off a wad of bills. Some of them are "hundies." Jacob is gearing up for a showdown today at 2 p.m. on TVG with analyst and handicapper Simon Bray.Did I mention that Jacob is 10-years old? The fourth grader is the son of trainer Dale Romans. Dale has trained a Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner (Roses in May) and a turf champion (Kitten's Joy). The trainer will send out out Sharp Humor in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.This isn't Jacob's first appearance on TVG. Last year he "whupped his butt" on the program. Also, Jacob talked trash with Bray after the TVG announcer picked against Rosie in the World Cup.Jacob hasn't forgotten.Jacob loves Derby week. Not only are the public schools closed on Oaks day, Friday, he's already planning on not darkening the door of Schaffner Elementary on Thursday. "My teacher is real cool about that stuff," he said. "She asks me who to bet on."
Killing time in the late morning, Jacob tosses a ball with John and Brad Hennigan. The brothers are independent filmmakers who are using Thoroughbred racing as their latest canvas.The sons of long-time New York Racing Association steward John Hennigan, the brothers grew up watching the greats at the NYRA tracks in the '70s and '80s. They both had summer jobs at Saratoga, from walking hots to hawking ice cream."The last three years, we watched the Derby and the great stories," John continues. "Funny Cide, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones: why wasn't somebody doing this. Our film would basically be 'Hoop Dreams' at the racetrack."The brothers started following the 2-year-old scene in July at Saratoga and Del Mar, scouting 2-year-old prep races for horses that might make the Derby. Their focus is on the backstory of making the race and the people themselves."The race, the Kentucky Derby, is the structure, but the film is about the people at the racetrack," John says. "Like any documentary, it's all about the people, and that is what is going to bring in a housewife from Kansas City to enjoy horse racing. Our goal is to make horse racing cool again. We're using the most visible goal as the end all, but it's really about the resiliency of horse people and the eclectic cast of characters."The current participants are Bob and Bonnie Holthus with Lawyer Ron; trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, Romans, Dan Hendricks with Brother Derek.Their ultimate goal is to take the finished product to the Sundance film festival in September.
9:33 a.m.Four-time Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas is nowhere to be found. Lukas is always good for a Derby opinion whether he had five starters, like he did one year, or no starters, like this year. Lukas has left the building.Leigh Bentley, who has worked with Lukas for five years and has been his assistant for a few years now, tells us why."He's got some muscle cramps in his leg," Bentley says. "It's right in here behind his knee."She gives a visual aid, bending over and running her hand up the back of her leg from about the mid-calf area to just below the hip. "He's pulled that muscle and it's still aggrevating him a good bit."He missed yesterday; he came in this morning but went home early," she said. "Actually he was going to ride out this morning (with his work horses). He'll ride out tomorrow.""He wanted to be here this morning, but we made him not do it. He'll be back tomorrow. Believe me."If we know anything, it's never to count out D. Wayne Lukas.
9:10 a.m.Jockey agent Steve Bass scurries by the Lukas barn. His client is the nation's leading rider, apprentice Julien Leparoux. Fresh off a runaway, record-breaking meet at Turfway, the 22-year-old Frenchman tied for the jock's title at Keeneland.Bass, a former rider and Louisville native, has his sites set on the Twin Spires."He's won two already," Bass says. "He won one opening day for Bill Mott and one the next day for Rusty Arnold."Leparoux took quite a tumble last Friday on Keeneland's closing day, flipping off a 2-year-old at the sixteenth pole and bouncing off the Fontana safety rail and onto the front page of the sports section of the next day's Herald-Leader. The dramatic image was picked up and appears in this week's issue of The Blood-Horse."He was just a little body sore that next day," Bass said nonchalantly of his rider. "He was back riding. He didn't complain. He has a little raspberry on his hip where he might have burned it a little bit like when he hit the rail. He's lucky he didn't have a broken hip."Bass is trying to keep an eye on the young rider as he guides him through the formative days of his career. "I came out here yesterday morning and several agents were attacking him," Bass said.The days of the contract rider are long over.
Soft-spoken trainer Frankie Brothers, who saw his Derby dreams for this year go down when First Samurai came out of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes with brusised ribs, watched the media scrum around the Bob Holthus/Lawyer Ron barn located just behind the media/recreation center."It's always interesting," he said of the swirl of attention on the backside. He's seen the eye of the storm before. He sent out Derby favorite Hansel in 1991Aboard his pony, he got reflective. "It hurts," he said of not making the Derby. "It just wasn't in the cards; that's part of the game. The Derby is what makes this game go around."There's always next year, Frank,"If you can't say that, then you shouldn't be here."
Barn of the Stars
7 a.m.Barn 42 is where it's at this year. It's the temporary home for trainers Dan Hendricks with probable favorite Brother Derek; Kiaran McLaughlin who has Jazil and Flashy Bull, who just made it in the field with Mister Treister's defection; Michael Matz, who has Barbaro bedded down; Danny Peitz with Steppenwolfer, and Marylander Michael Trombetta, who has Sweetnorthernsaint and another horse.McLaughlin gets a shout out: "You've got your mojo working; you got another one in."The trainer responds, "I hope we didn't leave the best one back in New York...Like Now."McLaughlin started last summer with 30-35 2-year-olds. Two are in the Derby. Not bad. Peitz bought one 2-year-old last year. Trombetta, who has 35 or so in training in Maryland and another dozen at Delaware Park, is in Louisville with his first Derby starter, but he's been here before. He ran a horse on the undercard Oaks day several years ago. Ran fifth, he said.He's enjoying the Derby experience and soaking it in. He had dinner last night at John E's and will be on hand for the traditional Trainer's dinner tonight. He's well organized, taking care of business before he vanned to Louisville."One owner is here and one comes in before the race," he said. "We got all the ticket stuff out of the way early. I took down all the orders, sent them in, had them FexEx'd. It's done. I wanted that out of the way before I put my horse on the road.""There's some nice horses in this barn," he said. "I'm scoping 'em out, but I'm more worried about myself."
6:05 a.m.Driving on I-64 West toward Louisville, the Toyota nearly hydroplanes while traveling 70 miles per hour. Lightning dances outside, giving bright glimpses of light in the gloom. Just after crossing the Jefferson County line, the CD player blasts Steely Dan's "Glamour Profession."Uh-huh.
Derby Classifieds: Seeking Honest TrainerWe've covered enough Derbys to know it's nearly impossible to find an honest trainer near Churchill Downs Derby week. Regardless of the time of the workout, or the kind of workout their prized possession does, a steady stream of the obvious comes out: "that's exactly what we wanted;" "I couldn't be more pleased with his work;" or one of my personal favorites, "I wouldn't trade places with anyone."Monday, there was one moth a little closer to the flame.Maybe not an "honest" trainer, but at least one with a refreshing sense of humor.Dan Hendricks, trainer of probable favorite Brother Derek and a Derby week rookie, was questioned thoroughly following his half-mile work late Monday morning. When asked if the :49 1/5 time posted was "exactly what he wanted" from a member of the media, Hendricks quickly responded "NO." Given the proper amount of pause for effect, he added, "I was looking for :49."
Here Kitty, KittyTrainer Danny Peitz of Steppenwolfer fame has a pair of barn cats that travel around with him and are currently bedded down in Barn 42. Like Funny Cide, the two are registered New York-breds, as Peitz said they were foaled at Belmont Park last summer.I knew there was something I liked about this guy.We've also discovered he's a big New York Mets fan. His Metropolitans have sprinted out to an early lead in the National League East this spring. His Steppenwolfer won't come Saturday. Robert and Lawana Low's 3-year-old is a confirmed closer.
Tuesday Run DownDerby week is "news week" for the Thoroughbred industry. Any organization worth their salt that has a fax machine is grinding out a release or holding a press conference. Tuesday offers a full slate, with two more than worthy.First up, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher holds court on the backstretch at 10:00 a.m. Under a tent near the media center, Fletcher is slated to hand out the first check from the state's breeder incentive program. At noon, in the main pressbox high above Churchill Downs, the NTRA has sent out a release that NTRA/Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr., board chairman Bill Farish, and Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton will have a "major" announcement regarding this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships that happen to be held at Churchill Downs.And there's more...and all before lunch. In between press briefings, they'll draw the field for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). With much less fanfare than the Derby, the Oaks is drawn at the racing office on the backside.
You Always Hear About a Jockey's Hands...If you are in downtown Louisville Wednesday morning, make sure you stop by the Galt House Hotel and Suites around 10:30 a.m. There you can see some historic performers make history. Jockeys Ira Hanford and Johnny Sellers will lend their handprints to the hotel's "Gallop to Glory" tribute which is located at the main entrance.So far, 17 Derby winning jocks have put their handprints on display. Hanford, who rode Bold Venture to victory in 1936, is the oldest living winning jockey of the Derby. Sellers won the Run for the Roses in 1961 aboard Carry Back.