Wednesday Morning Line at Churchill Downs
Sinister Thoughts...Trainer Bob Baffert chats about Sinister Minister with NBC's talented talent team of Tom Hammond, Donna Brothers, and Mike Battaglia. The "Minister" ran off with Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) by a pole while being just a shade off the rail. He also hit the pole, or inner fence, twice in previous start in the California Derby at Golden Gate.At Keeneland, Baffert instructed jockey Garrett Gomez to keep his stick in his left hand."At Golden Gate, I think he shied away from the gate," Baffert said. "It's not that he was going over the fence, it was that he just didn't see it. He's not stupid or crazy. He's just scared. I don't know what it is."Baffert's not worried about the crowd come Derby day, but he is concerned about "those soldiers they have on the inside? They're going to be getting their guns out...Sinister Minister is owned by the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa. On a more serious note, Baffert says:"We have three legitimate horses (the others being Bob and John and Point Determined) and I feel like I'm in the position where I could win. Whether we're good enough, we'll find out. "It also depends on the jockeys," he says. "I've seen some of the older guys panic. You never know. There'll be a lot of those guys moving early."I know if I was a jockey, I wouldn't be able to handle it. I'd scratch myself at the gate."
Big Red ReturnsDorothy Ours is on the prowl around Churchill Downs promoting her book Man o' War: A Legend Like Lightning. This is her first trip to the Kentucky Derby.Man o' War didn't run in the Derby but won every start he ever made, except one.It took her 11 years to write the book, though it wasn't a full-time gig. She says she did her first "major burst" of research in the fall of '94.The 44-year-old author now lives in New Jersey. While working on the book, the Virginia native worked for several years at Racing Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.Scrolling through volumes of library microfilms of the news reports of Man o' War of that era convinced her there was enough that had been "lost in time" about the star. "People assumed we knew all about Man o' War," she says. When she started, she wasn't looking to "tear down" Man o' War, but discover the "real horse and not the myth. There is a lot of debris that builds up over the years, and I wanted to see the beauty. That's what I was trying to find with the project."The book is published by St. Martin's Press. I got to thumb through the book and the photos alone are worth more than the $24.95 price tag. Man o' War was dubbed the "Horse of the Century" by The Blood-Horse and is the featured cover boy of "Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century."
Drawing An Inside Straight
11:35 a.m.At the racing office for the draw for the order of post position draw later today at Fourth Street Live! The atmosphere is almost party like. There are a few nervous faces, but overall most people are in a jovial mood.No one is more jovial than Dottie Ingordo, wife of trainer John Shirreffs, as their horse, A. P. Warrior gets the first selection. Shirreffs won the Derby last year with Jerry and Ann Moss' Giacomo.Dottie gets a high five. And an "I'm outta here."There's a spring in her step as she bounds out of the racing office. A call to John back at Barn 45, and she says he's "dancing in the streets over there."Any idea on what number they'll choose later today?"I don't what we'll do, but No. 10 was lucky last year. Sunday Silence was No. 10. I don't know....Less than pleased is Kiaran McLaughlin. His two Derby horses get selection numbers 18 and 20. When Jazil gets the "No. 20" call from racing secretary Doug Bredar, he slams his fist down on the racing office desk.Lawyer Ron gets the No. 15 pill. Trainer Bob Holthus' wife, Bonnie takes it in stride. "Smarty Jones was No. 15," she says. "Let's try to make Arkansas proud."At this stage of the game, both Smarty and Lawyer Ron were the Arkansas Derby-winning travelers.
Let's Not Do That Again
11:25 a.m.Awaiting the Derby draw for the order of post position at the racing office across the street from Barn 5, the trainers and connections converge.Leaning up against the office desk is Elliott Walden, former trainer and now vice president at WinStar Farm. They own Derby contender Bluegrass Cat and just bought into entrant Sharp Humor.Back in 1998, Walden was the trainer of Victory Gallop. That was the infamous year when the post position draw got confused and had to be redrawn...all on national TV.When they were pulled the first time, Walden says he recalls drawing 14. While they were trying to determine if they should re-draw the race, Walden chanted to himself, "redraw the race; redraw the race."The decision was made to redraw. He drew 18.Victory Gallop ran second to Real Quiet in the Derby, and then the Preakness. He got revenge, stopping Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid by a nose in the Belmont.
9:45 a.m.Sportswriter Dave Kindred saw his first Kentucky Derby in 1966. He's missed only two. The former Louisville Courier-Journal columnist now writes for The Sporting News."The first one was Kauai King," he says. "That was a good one. (Jockey) Don Brumfield said 'I'm the happiest hillbilly hardboot you've ever seen.' All the sportswriters kind of looked at each other and said 'What's he saying.'"I always looked at the race differently. I looked at it as a spectacle rather than a horse race." What about this year, Dave?"I like Lawyer Ron only because Jerry Bailey told me. If Jerry Bailey likes him, then I like him."
Blanc and Blue
9:30 a.m.Jockey Brice Blanc chats with his agent Steve Rieser. Blanc rode With a City to victory in the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) back in March. The 3-year-old is now deceased, having died a week or so after running in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II). He was being pointed toward the Run for Roses and Blanc would have likely had the mount."It's exciting to run in the Derby," Blanc says. "Especially with a horse that won one of the big preps. You know you might have a chance. Most of the 3-year-olds peak at different parts of their career. We were all disappointed in the Arkansas Derby, but maybe something started bothering him then."Blanc has ridden in a pair of Derbys, but hasn't had much luck. He finished 18th with Ronton in 2000 and 17th aboard Sort It Out in 2005."It's a little different when you're 50-1 or 3-5. I haven't ridden the 3-5 shot yet. But it's exciting. With 20 horses in the gate, you never know. You've got to be in it to win it."
9:15 a.m.Outside his barn, trainer Bob Baffert pushes a red stroller out of the horse path. "That would be Bob," his wife, Jill says. "Horse trainer...baby walker."Son Bode is 16-months old. He teeters, totters, but doesn't fall down as he walks over the uneven ground between the gaps on the backstretch. He's a good mover, but a little unsteady."He moves like a $10,000 claimer," Jill says. He'll get a route of ground eventually, but for now Bode is just a sprinter.
A Place Called Hope
8:55 a.m.The loudspeakers on the backside offer us a moment with the track chaplain."Have you ever considered the power of hope?" he says.It's Derby week. Amen.
8:20 a.m.Bernie Schiappa is one of the owners of Sinister Minster, winner of the Toytota Blue Grass Stakes. He's currently un-tethering himself from a microphone just off trainer Bob Baffert's barn after being interviewed by Caton Bredar of WAVE 3-TV. Bernie is a player. He's talking about a bad beat he had in the '99 Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream. As a part-owner of Silic, he singles him in the pick 3, along with Anees, who won the Juvenile at long odds. In the Sprint, he uses three or four horses, but not (favorite) Artax. Ouch.Lawyer Ron (the horse) walks by."He don't look too good today," Schiappa says. "But that's OK. He ain't dressed for game day. On Saturday, they'll all look better."Schiappa surrounds himself with colorful characters. Besides Baffert, he uses trainer Julio Canani."Baffert's the best at what he does," Schiappa says, an homage to being at the Downs on Derby week.Who's a better storyteller?"You gotta go with Julio; but you can't understand a word he's saying, but you gotta go with Julio."If he (Canani) doesn't get in the Hall of Fame, there's something wrong. He's a great trainer. Actually, he's the one that introduced me to Bob. Right here. We were in the barn here with Ladies Din.
A Friend in Need
7:40 a.m.Trainer D. Wayne Lukas is feeling better. He'd been away from the track Monday and went home early yesterday with muscle pain. He's back aboard his pony and is overseeing some horses coming out to go on the track.Up walks John Shirreffs, defending Derby-winning trainer and conditioner of Derby aspirant A. P. Warrior. The "Warrior" arrived yesterday around noon and is across the way in Barn 45."Need anything?" Lukas asks."Can I borrow a pony?" Shirreffs inquires. Lukas is glad to oblige. Shirreffs notes Lukas has always been very nice and will do anything for another trainer. He asks what time the track closes down. "9:30? OK. We'll go out about 9:10 then." He plans on giving A. P. Warrior a tour of the track. A little jog. A little galloping. The horse will tell him what he wants to do.
Caps For Sale
7:20 a.m.It's "circus day" around the backside. The media center packed with fringe players and the backstretch announcer doing double duty:"Attention on the backside, there's a (fill in the blank) car, located outside Barn (fill in the blank) that needs to be moved or it will be towed." There is one of these announcements every 3-5 minutes.Just below one of the viewing areas by the media center is a large green and white plastic sign: D. Wayne Lukas Racing $15.Caps for sale.Green ones with white "WL" and white ones with a green "WL." The famed logo of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.Jack Savage, 14, and his little brother, Paul, 11, are running the show. So far they've sold a few. There are several large boxes below the table. It's gotta be time to go to school, but they say they'll head back later. They get the gig because their aunt knows Lukas."Attention on the backside....this is the last call for...."
7:05 a.m.One of the first people we run into today is retired jockey Jerry Bailey who is hawking a new two-DVD package called "Jerry Bailey's Inside Track: Your Inside Advantage to Horse Racing and Handicapping."We've heard from others that it's good.I was tossed a freebie, but there's not time to wade through five hours of video right now. However, it's got to come in handy, especially after my foray at the windows yesterday.No jock was better tearing through a Daily Racing Form than Bailey."It's all my knowledge," Jerry tells me. "For 30 years, I've been reading the Form, and I've dissected races and tried to figure out who's going to be where, and how the race is going to set up. It's there, along with very basic things. It's also for the guy who doesn't want to pick up a Form and just go out there and say, 'Ooh, that's a good sign' or 'That's a bad sign.'"Bailey just got into town and this is his first Derby week as a "retiree."How does it feel?"I'm sure there are going to be some internal pangs of not being out there," he says, pointing toward the track. "For the most part, I'm very comfortable with not riding."To be honest with you, I wasn't going to ride in '05. It was such a drain on me. If I didn't win -- the days I was away from home -- it wasn't worth it to me to be away from my family. I was unhappy a lot more days than I was happy. Basically, I was ready to stop."Oh, yeah, the payoff: For more, visit, winwithjerry.com.....
Dining HabitsSome random thoughts from last night's Trainer's Dinner at the Hyatt ballroom in downtown Louisville...The format of the dinner hasn't changed much in the last 20 years or so since I first attended the event back in the early '80s. The venue hasn't changed much either. It moved to the convention center a few years back, but has been returned to the Hyatt.Indian Charlie is a no-show. He has one of his helpers handing out today's sheet on the way in and tomorrow's sheet on the way out.The largest round of applause comes when Beverly Lewis is introduced and the widow of the late Bob Lewis quickly draws a standing...and sustained ovation. Their estate will see Point Determined go to the post in the Derby. The Lewises won the Derby--and the Preakness--twice with Silver Charm (1997) and Charismatic (1999)."If this horse wins the Derby, we know who caused it," she says, which draws a collective "aah" from the audience."Mark Casse, trainer of Seaside Retreat, draws a circle around his career as a trainer, and that of trainer Tom Albertrani who sends out Deputy Glitters. "He rode the longest-priced winner I ever had--$181 -- at Churchill Downs," Casse quips, considering both of their runners will be long odds on Saturday. "I asked him if he could make weight."John Shirreffs, who won last year's Derby with Giacomo, can't fly under the radar this year. He's given a prize for his victory a year ago, then gives credit to fellow trainer Eoin Harty for helping him get this year's starter, A. P. Warrior to the Derby. Before dinner, Shirreffs, when asked if last year's win felt like it happened yesterday, last year, or 10 years ago, he responds "yesterday" without hesitation.Shirreffs, along with his wife Dottie Ingordo, remark they're happy not to have A. P. Warrior in Barn 42 along with a lot of the other Derby contenders. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin confirmed that Jazil's owner, Sheikh Hamdam would find his way to Churchill Downs to see his first ever American race on Saturday. Shadwell Stable vice president Rick Nichols noted that Shadwell has yet to win a grade I race in the United States."It'd be a great time to break our maiden," said Gainsborough Stud farm manager Allen Kershaw.Those trainers not in attendance: Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Barclay Tagg, Dale Romans, and Bob Holthus. Holthus had an excuse, claiming laryngitis following a full day of yakking with the media....Emcee Paul Rogers, the voice of the Louisville Cardinals on WHAS, celebrated his 55th birthday at the dinner. His co-host, Chris Lincoln, announced to the audience that Rogers parents were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary the same night.
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