Thursday Morning Line at Churchill Downs



School Daze
12:25 p.m.

A pair of Derby contenders enter the paddock for some schooling. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer watches as Cause to Believe circles the track before the day's first race.

John Shirreffs and his wife, Dottie Ingordo, enter with a prancing A. P. Warrior. Facing the paddock, the Warrior is put in the far right-hand stall.

They stand. Shirreffs fields a couple of cell phone calls. Dottie advises that after the session, they'll drive to Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington for a visit. Last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Ann and Jerry Mosses' Giacomo, was foaled there.

Cause to Believe takes up residence in the next stall.

Two stalls down, Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) runner Ermine goes in. Trainer Ronny Werner says he wasn't pleased with yesterday's schooling session, so he brought her back for more.

Twenty minutes go by. The Warrior is so relaxed it's as if he's napping. Then, all of a sudden, he reaches out to his right and nips Shirreffs on the arm. Five minutes later, there is a nice purple welt on his forearm.

The first race goes off. Jocks return to the paddock, passing the Warrior to get back to jocks room to change for the next race.

It's now 12:55. Shirreffs gives the signal. Let's go.

At about 1:30, between the second and third races, trainer Steve Asmussen brings over four horses, two of which are his Derby tandem of Storm Treasure and Private Vow. They take up residence in stalls 14 and 13, respectively.

Next door in stall 12 is the dark bay Brazilian-bred beauty Einstein, accompanied by trainer Helen Pitts. Off his good looks, Einstein figures to have a say in the Woodford Reserve (gr. IT) on the Derby undercard.

Earlier in the day, both Barbaro and Steppenwolfer spent some time in the paddock.




Miller Time
9:45 a.m.

Back at Bob Baffert's barn, the media has amassed en masse. The three-time Derby-winning trainer stands on a box so everybody can get a good view.

Along with the Baffert bunch is world champion skier Bode Miller. Baffert named his son for the silver medalist.

"He's a cool little guy," Miller says of his namesake. "It'll be a tough way to grow up."

Baffert and Miller met at last year's Derby.

Miller is not a racetracker, but has been to Del Mar a few times. Behind some cool shades, he's enjoying the Derby backstretch scene. He definitely knows how to talk the talk, especially about Baffert's three runners: Sinister Minister, Bob and John, and Point Determined:

"He (Sinister Minister) might burn out, especially how hard the pace might be," he says. "Bob and John is stout. He has no questions on fitness. A lot of that stuff is how they stack up into the first turn and can get blocked in. I'm surprised with how crucial that is. You can get some bad luck being boxed in at the wrong time and have no chance."

Well said.



Dynamic Duo
9:30 a.m.

A legendary Kentucky pair, whose reputations stand taller than the Twin Spires, arrive.

Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum are in the house. Their sports radio program -- The Joe B. and Denny Show--is in its third year of broadcasting Derby week from the backstretch at Churchill Downs.

"Joe B." says he has been in the stands for 17 Derbys. His first one was in 1945.

This year, he likes Lawyer Ron.

"I don't really bet, but if I had a trifecta, I'd throw in A. P. Warrior and Barbaro," he says.

Crum, who has owned horses, hasn't made up his mind quite yet. "I was a Lawyer Ron fan until the post positions were picked. Now, I'm not quite so sure. There are three horses I like a lot: Sweetnorthernsaint, A. P. Warrior, and Point Determined.

"I did like Jazil until he got that one post. He'll never get through all that so I've got to throw him out now."

The show goes live at 10 on WXXA 790 AM.

They'll talk horses, but they know basketball. Hall won the NCAA national title at Kentucky in 1978 and Crum won a pair for the Louisville Cardinals in 1980 and 1986.



In the Mood
9:15 a.m.

Next to trainer Bob Baffert's barn, Ernie Moody has his cell phone attached to his right ear.

"Uh-huh...un-huh...hey, I'm kind of consumed with Derby stuff right now. Can we talk next week?"

He disconnects.

Moody runs Mercedes Stable, part-owner of Sinister Minister, the pace play in Saturday's Derby.

Around his neck is a camera with a monster lens. He'd been taking photos of his horse as he galloped on the track just moments before.

"I like to take some of my own pictures so I can e-mail them to some friends," he says. "It's a great experience here. I try to capture some of the atmosphere."

Moody was here in 2004 with Rock Hard Ten. The colt failed to draw into the race because he lacked the sufficient graded stakes earnings. He finished second in the grade I Santa Anita Derby, but was disqualified and placed third.

"That was disappointing," he recalls. "In fact, we have pictures of Rock Hard Ten jogging on the track with the Twin Spires in the background. The hopefulness of trying to get into that race and the disappointment of not being able to...this goes a long way toward making up for that.


Fresh Juice
8:30 a.m.

The Kentucky Derby experience brings together all types.

For example, there's O.J. Simpson -- a perennial Louisville guest. He says he doesn't bet much, but he's got a hunch play this year.

"I'm a big fan of lawyers. Give me Lawyer Ron," he says with a chuckle. "If his name was 'Lawyer Johnnie,' I'd bet the house."

O.J. likes the scene that comes together at Louisville on the first weekend in May.

"The Kentuckians are so hospitable," he says. "I just have a ball. This is a great week.

"Twenty years ago, when I came here for the various corporations I was working for, it was kind of old and staid. Now, you've got the hip-hop culture here. The parties here are better than they are for the MTV Awards or NBA games."



Riders Up!
7:55 a.m.

Hall of Fame jockey and now NBC analyst Jerry Bailey is under Bob Holthus' shedrow talking to jockey John McKee. McKee will ride Lawyer Ron, the co-second choice on the morning line in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

"He's telling me some little things," McKee offers. "What to watch out for; what to look for."

"We're just talking about the race," Bailey says. "It's the kind of race...as much as I always plan races out, this is a race you can't plan out too much. You can be about where you want to be, but other than that, you kind of have to take it on the fly."

Bailey flew home twice in the Derby. Once aboard Sea Hero in 1993 and again aboard Grindstone in 1996.



Hardboot Gap
7:45 a.m.

At the gap that is near the mile chute, Kentucky hardboot trainer Forrest Kaelin watches as Derby entrant Jazil exits the track and Derby starter A. P. Warrior goes onto the track for some exercise.

Kaelin has been at the racetrack 55 years. He currently has 17 horses in training and sent out the winner of the first race yesterday. He guesses he's been at Barn 46 for 30 years.

He ran a horse in the Derby once - Crimson Classic in 1997.

"He didn't belong," he says. "The owner said, 'let's run, let's run.' It was his $40,000. On the Thursday before the Derby, he said 'I got my money's worth' from all the publicity."

How about a pick?

"I like Steppenwolfer," he says. "He's a closer and good friend of mine trains him. He's run some good races, and the mile and-a-quarter will be his lick."



A Seat at the Final Table
7:25 a.m.

West Point Thoroughbreds head Terry Finley surveys the mob of people around the media center/recreation hall.

His syndicated stable is here with Flashy Bull. There are 17 in the group that own a piece of the son of Holy Bull.

"...and they're all coming," Finley says.

"This is the 10th year we've been here. You look around and see all the people that have horses running -- they have a pep in their step.

"You're with all these people that you deal with at the sales and you're with all year and then you're in the paddock for the Derby," he continues. "If you drew an analogy to poker, they get to the final table. Up to this year, we haven't been at the final table. It's very cool.

"This is not an easy business as everybody knows," Finley says. "There's a lot of travel and everything else. Our kids are coming in; they're flying in right now. It's going to be great to do the walk over as family. That's what I'm looking forward to."



Pumped for Tommy Lee
7:10 a.m.

Got a late start. On the media shuttle to the backside at Churchill, I'm seated next to Angie Fenton. She doesn't look like a racetracker. The shoes give her away.

She's a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal. She writes a celebrity column called "the Buzz." The Derby is her version of the Oscars.

She has a three-page list of "celebrities" to look out for this weekend.

Who's new? Who's hot?

Petra Nemcova comes to mind first. Her claim to fame is she's a supermodel that survived the tsunami back in December of 2004.

Fenton has a photo of Nemcova. Super.

Other hot ones to watch for are Michael Jordan, and rappers Bow Wow and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. Ludacris--who also stared in the movies "Crash" and "Hustle and Flow"--will be a participant in the Pegasus Parade later today.

"(Rock star) Tommy Lee is coming," Fenton says. "I'm pumped because he's crazy."



Seen and Scenes: The Post Position Selection Show

It doesn't take long to run into the first "celeb" at Fourth Street Live!, site of the post position selection show/process.

Captain Steve--the two-legged Captain Steve Thompson of the Louisville police force, not the four-legged Kentucky Derby starter--efforts connections to "Felt," the high-end pool hall that is the staging area for the owners, connections, and trainers.

Cap'n Steve remembers "back in the day" when he got to hang the tag on the starting gate for owner Mike Pegram on "Post Position Wednesday" back in 2000.



The show, broadcast live on ESPN, starts at 5 p.m. At about 4:55, more of Louisville's finest comes through, pushing back the crowd to make room for some of the portable cameras. Without a satisfactory view, I head upstairs to view the procedures from a walkway across Fourth Street.

It is there I run into Darrell Haire, current head of the Jockey's Guild, and Fiona McLaughlin, sister of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Both McLaughlins were disappointed in their earlier luck, with selection numbers 18 and 20, respectively, for Flashy Bull and Jazil.



The Flashy Bull contingent clearly wins the "War of the Buttons," as all of the connections wear colorful lapel buttons of some sort with a Derby runner's name on it.



There is one surprise in the selection process. Steppenwolfer's trainer, Danny Peitz strays from conventional wisdom and with the 10th selection opts to go inside and takes post 2. His horse figures to come from far off the pace. He'll take the shortest way around the track.

"I want to save as much ground as I can," Peitz says. "If you draw outside, you're going to try to go down to the inside anyway. That's where we're going to wind up.

"The only true mile and-a-quarter is right along the rail. It's pretty simple."



The whole Fourth Street Live! deal is better than the set up at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Right away, it's accessible -- at the Museum, you needed a ticket. Here, there's actually a feel of anticipation.

The introduction by ESPN hosts Kenny Mayne and Randy Moss is animated. The crowd responds.

However, during the actual show, the sound is a mess. It's in an open-air forum, and the sound bounces all over the place an it's hard to jump start the crowd because they can't hear what is going on. I have to check the monitors to see who has drawn what. That, along with two lengthy commercial breaks early, brings the crowd down some, but none seem to leave. It's still an official, sanctioned Derby event...and there's alcohol.

Also, on the TV show, the band OAR appears to be playing leading into the break. That was pre-recorded around 4:30, before the show started.



Someone in the know offers a suggestion. Currently, the post position selection process takes roughly 50 minutes of the 60-minute show, leaving a rushed Mike Battaglia to zip through the odds, which is really what a lot of people with a marginal interest in racing want to know.

His suggestion would be to allot the first 30 minutes for the post positions and the final 30 minutes could be devoted to the presentation of the odds and a round-robin of post position analysis and handicapping, a la the NFL draft. Since the show is the lead in for "Sportscenter," it might offer a hook for those tuning in to get caught up on the sporting scene.

Hey, it's a good idea.

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