Daily Derby Notes: April 29

Daily Derby Notes: April 29
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Recapturetheglory with owner Ronnie Lamarque, left, and trainer Louie Roussel

(from Churchill Downs)

ADRIANO – Trainer Graham Motion, atop his stable pony, led Adriano to the Churchill Downs paddock for a schooling session Tuesday morning before his Lane’s End (GII) winner galloped about a mile under Alice Clapham.

The morning schedule may have been uneventful, but it certainly raised the spirits of his trainer about his chances in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.

“I’m actually starting to get a little excited about it. He’s really in good form,” said Motion about his second shot at the Run for the Roses. “I tend to be apprehensive going into these things; so much can go wrong.”

Adriano, whose “hot-blooded” prerace behavior has been a concern, has been the source of pride for his trainer with the cool manner in which he’s gone about his training during his stay at Churchill.

“The thing about this horse is that it’s just the opposite (scenario) of what happened with Chilito,” said Motion, whose previous Derby starter, Chilito, first began to demonstrate the studdish and ornery behavior that compromised his racing career and halted his stallion career initially at Churchill before his 11th-place finish in the 1998 Kentucky Derby.

“I swore to myself that I wouldn’t come back until I had a horse that belonged. I honestly thought Chilito belonged because he ran a big race in the Flamingo, which was one of the big preps at the time. He genuinely belonged. He was just a horse who became very difficult, and he waited until we got here to start it,” he added. “He really became a difficult horse. He almost pulled himself up during a workout one morning. It became a nightmare scenario to be honest.”

Edgar Prado has the mount aboard Adriano.

ANAK NAKAL/COOL COAL MAN – Cool Coal Man galloped 1 ½ miles with good energy under exercise rider Megan Smillie after the renovation break Tuesday morning. Trainer Nick Zito’s other Derby candidate, Anak Nakal, galloped the same distance under Heather Stark earlier in the morning.

“They’re longshots, but maybe I have this year’s Giacomo,’’ said Zito, referring to the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner who scored at 50-1 odds. “Who knows?”

While Anak Nakal has been winless in three starts this year after capping his two-year-old season with a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill, Cool Coal Man has won twice this year, including the Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream Park, before finishing ninth over Keeneland’s Polytrack track in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI).

Cool Coal Man and Stevil, who finished fourth in the Blue Grass, were the only horses that Zito started at the Keeneland spring meeting because of his expressed disdain for synthetic racing surfaces.

“There’s nothing more exciting than a dirt race,” declared Zito. “I haven’t seen too many thrilling races over there.”

The Hall of Fame trainer stressed that he still has a soft spot in his heart for Keeneland, it’s just that he disapproves of the Polytrack racing surface.

“Hey, I’m the first New Yorker who got reprimanded for how much I took my act to Keeneland,” he said.

While some horses show dramatic improvement while switching from turf to dirt, Zito hopes his horse will bounce back from his disappointing start on a synthetic track in his return to dirt.

“Dallas’ horse didn’t handle the synthetic track, and he came back to win the Derby Trial,” said Zito, referring to the Dallas Stewart-trained Macho Again, who captured last Saturday’s Derby Trial at Churchill after running poorly over Turfway Park’s Polytrack surface in the Lane’s End Stakes.

Julien Leparoux will ride Cool Coal Man, while Rafael Bejarano has the mount aboard Anak Nakal.

BIG BROWN – Ninety minutes after the unbeaten colt made his first visit to the track at Churchill Downs, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. all but predicted a victory Saturday in the 134th Kentucky Derby.

“I feel very confident that if Big Brown breaks with the field, I think he’s going to run a big race,” Dutrow said. “I just haven’t seen any other horse with my eyes that can beat him. That’s all.”

Big Brown stamped himself as an above-average three-year-old in a 12 ¾-length allowance victory on March 5 at Gulfstream Park. Just over three weeks later, the Boundary colt romped to a five-length victory in Florida Derby.

Dutrow kept the colt at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and shipped him to Churchill Downs Monday. With a big crowd of media following him from the barn, Big Brown walked to the track at 8:30 a.m., the conclusion of the renovation break. Under exercise rider Michelle Nevin, he galloped about 1½ miles.

“He traveled very good. I was with him the whole way,” Dutrow said. “A lot of horses really like flying; he’s one of them. He ate up everything last night. He trained good this morning. We’re happy with things.”
During a news conference, Dutrow talked at length about the quarter cracks that have twice interrupted Big Brown’s career. He said the hoof issues were resolved in time for the colt to get in his two Gulfstream races and run his unbeaten record to three.

“Since then, every day has been a good day for Big Brown,” Dutrow said. “That’s where we are right now.”

Following the allowance victory, Dutrow said he and the owners, IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa, Jr., elected to step up to Grade I company in the Florida Derby.

“That’s why we ran him back in 24 days,” he said. “Anybody who watches me train horses, I like waiting the 30 to 40 days. When they put in an effort, I like waiting.
But the circumstances were different. Everybody dreams of being where we are right now and we had to make some type of move and decide what we wanted to do next.

“After we thought about it, we thought 24 days wasn’t the best kind of scenario, but we watched him run. It didn’t look like he was on his belly that day. It didn’t look like he gave it all that he had. So we figured, `OK, yeah, we can try this. What have we got to lose?’ We went into the Florida Derby very confident. Even though we drew the 12 post, right away I loved it because he wasn’t going to get in trouble. He would have things go his way in the race and that the only way I could see him getting beat was if he got in trouble. I just couldn’t see those horses beating him. He came out of the race really good.”

Dutrow said Big Brown will gallop Wednesday and work three-eighths on Thursday. The trainer said he won’t make any changes in how he handles the colt. 

“I’m training him for a horse race,” Dutrow said. “It doesn’t make me feel anything different just because he’s training for the Kentucky Derby. Even though it’s the biggest race in the world, still, I’m basically training him for a horse race. That’s the only way that I’m looking at it.

“I’ve been dreaming about the Derby all my life. So now I’m here. I don’t want to put more into training him because I think all you have to do is basic stuff around him. His talent and his ability is going to get us there, not my training techniques. Just him. He’s the one’s that’s got us here. Any good-enough horseman can do what I’ve done with this horse. Any jockey can do what Kent (Desormeaux) has done with this horse. Any groom, hotwalker. It’s the horse that is what is making the whole game go here.”

BIG TRUCK/TALE OF EKATI – One day after stablemate Big Truck put in his final workout for the Derby, Tale of Ekati breezed a half-mile in :49.40 under exercise rider Kristen Troxell Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

“You can’t see much of anything unless you watch it on TV. You go to the clocker’s stand and watch it on TV – corporate America!” trainer Barclay Tagg quipped. “I just wanted him to go a nice half-mile. He went fine. Nothing dramatic.”

Tagg, who saddled the New York-bred gelding Funny Cide for a victory in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, said he doesn’t change his training philosophy for the Run for the Roses.

“You just do the same old routine – nothing fancy. It’s another horse race. You bring him up to it the best you can – the way that works best for him – and hope they run well,” he said.

A muddy track on Saturday wouldn’t please the 70-year-old trainer.

“I don’t like rain. I don’t like muddy tracks. You never know where you are on a muddy track,” said Tagg, who added he’d like to draw post positions between four and eight for his two Derby horses. “(Tale of Ekati) didn’t like a muddy track in the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile at Monmouth Park) and I don’t imagine he’ll like it if it’s here. If you get it, you get it. You can’t stop the rain.”

Big Truck, who captured the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) before running poorly in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface, walked under the shedrow at Barn 48 after working five furlongs in :59.40 Monday morning.

BOB BLACK JACK –Santa Anita Derby (GI) runner-up Bob Black Jack had a quiet Tuesday morning at Barn 45 on the Churchill Downs backstretch, merely walking the shedrow after turning in his final serious exercise for Kentucky Derby 134 the day before.

Trainer James Kasparoff, who puts the son of Stormy Jack through his paces for his brother Tim and partner Jeff Harmon, said that his dark colt was doing fine following his four-furlong work in :48.60 under veteran Richard Migliore. ‘The Mig’ handled Bob Black Jack in his Santa Anita Derby run and will be back aboard on Saturday.

“The horse ate up and all is well,” James Kasparoff noted. “He’s doing good and acting super. It’ll be just an easy one for him today.”

The trainer talked strategy about the 10-furlong Run for the Roses.

“Ideally, I’d like to see him sitting second in the early running,” he said. “But he can take the lead if nobody wants to go do it. I’ve got the fastest horse in the race, but the issue is how do you dole out that speed. I like the way Migliore sits him. He’ll do right. I thought his ride in the Santa Anita Derby was a good one. Distance isn’t a question with this horse. I know what they say about his breeding, but he doesn’t. He’ll run on. I don’t see that as a problem.”

COLONEL JOHN – WinStar Farm’s Santa Anita Derby winner returned to the track Tuesday morning and trainer Eoin Harty liked what he saw.

On Sunday, the Tiznow   colt turned in the fastest five-furlong work of the day. Monday, his exercise was limited to walking the shedrow. On Tuesday he was given the chance to stretch his legs a bit on the track.

“It was a real easy morning, just jogged him once around there,” Harty said. “He was full of himself. I’m just glad I got him around there in one piece without him doing something stupid. He wanted to do a lot more.” 

Harty said that Colonel John has flourished since the breeze, his first over a dirt track since last summer. At Keeneland and in California, Colonel John has trained and raced over synthetic surfaces. 

“He came out of that work in great shape, which was good to see,” Harty said.

When he arrived at the barn Tuesday morning, Harty gave his star pupil a thorough exam.

“I didn’t think it was going to be bad and everything looked like it was in good shape,” he said. “but I was hoping to see what I saw. Got lucky.”

Harty said he expects to school Colonel John in the paddock during the early part of the racing program Wednesday afternoon and will gallop over the track Wednesday morning.

COURT VISION/Z HUMOR – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s Kentucky Derby prospects returned to the track Tuesday morning after walking through the paddock and galloped approximately a mile and a quarter. Court Vision and Z Humor each had their final work for the Derby Sunday morning. Typical of a day following a workout, they had a light day Monday and walked the shedrow.
Mott said he liked what he saw of the colts Tuesday morning.

“They were good, up on the bridle,” Mott said. “Not nervous, but feeling good and aggressive.”

Court Vision, owned by IEAH Stables and WinStar Farm, will be wearing blinkers for the first time in a race in the Derby. The son of Gulch has finished third in his two starts this year – the Fountain of Youth and the Wood Memorial – and Mott is hoping that the blinkers will give him more resolve in the stretch. 
“We’re looking for this much more,” Mott said, extending his arms to each side. “We might need it. Just thinking maybe something to make him focus just a little more down the racetrack.

Court Vision has been wearing blinkers while galloping this month. In his first work wearing the equipment, he turned in a blistering :46.20 bullet work on April 17 at Churchill Downs. Mott said the time of the breeze showed that the blinkers had an helped.

“He’s never worked that fast before. It helps,” he said. 

“Sometimes horses just need a change of environment,” he added. “All of his other works have been at Payson (Park in Indiantown, Fla.) over the winter, very laid-back. With that being said, he did all of his prerace work before he started last year. He was never a great work horse, never did anything like that.”

Mott said he could not predict whether the blinkers would have a dramatic impact on Court Vision in the Derby, but acknowledged that he was optimistic that the colt was improving.

“All I’ve got to go on is the work and it looked quite impressive,” Mott said. “He was willing to run on by his horses where before he’d kind of get up to them and maybe stick his nose in front. If you pushed on him, he he’d give it to you. The other day, when you pushed the button, he really whizzed on by.”

COWBOY CAL/MONBA – At Keeneland, Monba and Cowboy Cal each jogged a mile over the Polytrack. Tristan Barry, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, said the colts would again train at Keeneland on Wednesday morning and begin their trip to Churchill Downs at 8 a.m.
         
DENIS OF CORK –Mr. and Mrs. William Warren Jr.’s Denis of Cork walked the shedrow early Tuesday morning at Barn 47, a day after working a half-mile in :48 and gaining a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with the defection of Behindatthebar.

“It really hit me hard yesterday after watching him work,” trainer David Carroll said. “Just to see how well he has been doing here and then possibly not having the opportunity to run.”

Now all that awaits is a jog Wednesday morning and then galloping up to the race.

Entries will be taken Wednesday, with the post position draw Wednesday afternoon and Carroll hoping for a spot somewhere between seven and 12 for his colt, who will be ridden by Calvin Borel.

Carroll was asked about the possibility of an off track and what that would do to Denis of Cork’s chances.

“I think he will be OK. He has won on it at the Fair Grounds,” Carroll said. “Besides, Butch (track superintendent Butch Lehr) will have it like 264 (the Watterson Expressway) here. The water will run right off.”

Even though Carroll got the good news about Denis of Cork on Monday morning, the roller coaster ride of being a trainer continued that afternoon.

“We had some good luck early on and you think you have everything going good, but then Sweepstake colicked on me last night,” Carroll said, referring to a three-year-old stakes winning filly owned by Forging Oaks Farm. “I had gotten on her yesterday afternoon at Keeneland and then we had to rush her into surgery last night.

“I was going to run her in the Edgewood on Friday. She’s a nice filly; she won a stake at the Fair Grounds and was an unlucky second in the Appalachian at Keeneland. I think she will be all right, but she is out until the fall. It’s always something.”

GAYEGO – The dark bay Arkansas Derby (GII) winner Gayego was trackside Tuesday morning at 6:30 at Churchill Downs under exercise rider Jody Pieper, jogging a mile around the strip, then galloping a mile and a quarter in the 40-degree chill.

He galloped strongly.

“He was pulling on me pretty good out there,” Pieper offered afterward. “He’s more than he was prior to the Arkansas Derby. I think he got a lot out of that race. He’s doing good. All we’ve got to do now is keep him happy.”

Gayego, a Kentucky-bred son of Gilded Time owned by Cubanacan Stables, is likely to be one of the forward factors in the 134th Kentucky Derby. He’s run close to, or set, fast fractions in virtually all of his five races, each time being handled by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has the call on Saturday.

Gayego’s trainer, the Brazilian Paulo Lobo, has been in California the past several days looking after his main string. He’ll return to Kentucky Tuesday night and remain with his “big horse” through the balance of the week. 

HALO NAJIB – Zayat Stable’s eleventh-hour Derby 134 hopeful drilled five furlongs on the turf Tuesday morning as a more likely date in Friday’s Crown Royal American Turf (GIII) appears his destiny. Halo Najib sits No. 21 on the list of graded stakes earnings after Monday’s defection of Behindatthebar. He would need another defection prior to Wednesday’s 10 a.m. entry deadline for Derby 134 in order to make Saturday’s main event.

Hall of Fame jockey and two-time Derby winner Kent Desormeaux was aboard for this morning’s breeze around the dogs, which was accomplished in a leisurely 1:05 flat for five furlongs on the firm course. The move tied for the slowest of seven turf workers Tuesday morning.

“I just wanted to let him run down the lane and let Kent see if he’s got a quick turn of foot on him,” Romans said. “I love it when I see my horses come back after a work and it doesn’t look like they even did anything.”

Desormeaux, booked to ride likely favorite Big Brown in Derby 134, would have the mount in the Crown Royal American Turf aboard Halo Najib. If the son of Halo’s Image were to draw into the Derby 134 field, Romans said that Saturday’s mount would go to Cornelio Velasquez or David Flores.

PYRO/Z FORTUNE – It was a very quiet Derby morning around an otherwise buzzing Barn 38, one day after trainer Steve Asmussen sent his charges Pyro and Z Fortune through their final, four-furlong breezes. The Derby duo both walked the shedrow and are expected to return to the racetrack to gallop Wednesday morning.

Asmussen, perhaps more than anyone, knows the one-shot nature of the Kentucky Derby. As the saying goes, “You’re only three once.”

“Curlin getting beat in this race goes to show how tough it is,” he said. “Here we are, a year later, and he doesn’t get a chance again. There’s only one chance to win the Derby. That’s it.”

When asked which performance was more mystifying this spring, Z Fortune’s lackluster Rebel (GIII) or Pyro’s no-show in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI), Asmussen replied: “The Rebel really was, because of the lack of variables (the race was on dirt vs. the Blue Grass on Polytrack).”

RECAPTURETHEGLORY – The Illinois Derby (GII) winner galloped two miles Tuesday morning under exercise rider and assistant trainer Lara Van Deren. Meanwhile, the affable co-owner/trainer Louie Roussel II and co-owner Ronny Lamarque continued to soak up the atmosphere.

“How’d he look out there this morning?” Roussel asked as he hustled through the shedrow. “I didn’t get to see him on the track. I was busy doing interviews.”

It’s been 20 years since the pair brought eventual Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Risen Star from Louisiana to finish third behind Winning Colors and Forty Niner at Churchill Downs. But time seems to have stood still for Roussel and Lamarque, who have shown an uncanny ability to personally greet media and support staff by name, despite two decades away from the spotlight.

“It’s a wonderful feeling seeing all these people again,” Lamarque said. “Louisville is such a wonderful place – they should host the Kentucky Derby here every year – wait a minute, they do! They should host the Breeders’ Cup every year, too. We’re proud to be here and we’re going to represent our community, New Orleans, with pride.”
          
SMOOTH AIR – Mount Joy Stable’s (Brian Burns) Smooth Air returned to the track at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning for a two-mile gallop under exercise rider Susie Milne.

“It’s 38 degrees! (local temperature)” said the colt’s South Florida-based trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. walking into the barn.  More important, Smooth Air’s temperature was normal at 99.9 degrees, according to groom Adelaida Geigel.

Stutts is pleased with the horse’s recovery and progress after coming down with a low-grade fever last week and subsequently missing two days of training including a scheduled work.  The Florida-bred colt had also galloped well on Monday, much to the delight of his connections.

Upon returning from the gallop, Milne said, “He’s loving it (the track surface). I am very happy with him today.”

While much of the Kentucky Derby hype this year surrounds the undefeated Big Brown, it should be noted that Smooth Air’s second-place finish to him in the Florida Derby (GI) is the closest any horse has gotten to the likely Derby favorite in his three races.  Smooth Air was five lengths behind Big Brown in that race and more than seven lengths ahead of Tomcito in third.  Big Brown won his other two races by large margins.

“This little horse (Smooth Air) is ‘seasoned,’ ” said Stutts. “Big Brown has only run three times in his life.  That’s something to be said.  What I’m hoping is that this horse (Smooth Air) hasn’t peaked out.”

Smooth Air never has been worse than third in seven starts.  Jockey Manoel Cruz, who has been aboard in all his races, will partner with him again in the Derby, marking his first start in the big race.

VISIONAIRE – All is well and quiet around the camp of 2006 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Michael Matz, one day after his Derby 134 aspirant Visionaire completed his major preparations with a four-furlong breeze.

“Everything’s good so far, knock on wood,” Matz remarked Tuesday morning. Team Valor and Vision Racing LLC’s Visionaire walked the shedrow and will return to galloping over the Churchill Downs’ surface Wednesday morning, the trainer said.

The late-running Visionaire was compromised by a slow pace when fifth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) three weeks ago. In Saturday’s 20-horse Derby field, traffic will be the chief concern.

“Obviously, with a horse who comes from behind, you need a good trip,” Matz said.

When asked if his memories of Barbaro’s Kentucky Derby were positive or bittersweet, Matz did not hesitate in saying, “They’re happy memories – very happy.”

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