Giant Oak’s breeze on March 7, clocked in 1:00.80 for five furlongs, was a routine move in advance of Fair Grounds’ $600,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) on March 14.
However, just past the wire, trainer Chris Block’s big horse bobbled briefly, giving the Illinois-based conditioner some moments of concern until he was able to check out his horse back at the barn.
“I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened there,” said Block about an hour later after having gone over his horse with a fine tooth comb, “but I needed to find out real quick.
“I asked James (jockey Graham who was aboard for the breeze and will ride Giant Oak in the Louisiana Derby) about it – and he said it was nothing. He said the horse just hit some uneven ground. Maybe it was from the tire tracks left over after the break.”
With the brief scare behind him, Block was anxious to look at the upside of Giant Oak’s move, accomplished in company with the Neil Pessin-trained You Dancing Devil.
“We got about what we were looking for,” the trainer said. “He worked as well as you could want. We let the other horse get as far in front as we wanted, and James said ‘Oak’ relaxed real well behind him.
“I feel real good about the owners’ decision to let James ride him in the Louisiana Derby. Although this will be the first time James has ridden him in a race, he’s gotten to know this horse real well in the mornings, and they’ve always seemed to click together. Also, James knows this track very well, and you always know you’re going to get 110% from him any time he rides any horse for you.”
Giant Oak, a Virginia Tarra Trust Illinois homebred, first attracted national attention when he finished second by a neck in Churchill Downs’ grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Nov. 29. However, in his first start as a 3-year-old in Fair Grounds’ Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 7, the Giant's Causeway colt was blocked behind rivals most of the way and finished fifth after making up ground in the late stages.
Silver Wing Stable’s Free Country got his final workout prior to the Louisiana Derby March 14, breezing five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.20 at Gulfstream Park.
Louisiana native and regular rider Kent Desormeaux was aboard for the work, which was the fastest of 25 moves at the distance by four-fifths of a second.
“Everything went good. We’re good to go,” said Silver Wing principal John Gerbas Jr., who will send out his first Louisiana Derby starter.
Free Country, who is trained by Ken McPeek, heads to the Louisiana Derby off a fourth-place finish as the favorite in the grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He won his first two starts, including a highly regarded first-level allowance race at Gulfstream in early January.
Free Country and the other Florida shippers for Louisiana Derby day are scheduled to arrive at Fair Grounds on March 12.