Not long after Churchill Downs opened for training April 30, trainer Steve Asmussen sent out his two Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopefuls for their final workouts.
Rather than wait for the 15-minute window following the morning track maintenance that is set aside for training by Derby and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) horses, Asmussen elected to send Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat to the track early.
Sabercat was timed in :48 2/5 for four furlongs, with fractional timed splits of :12 3/5, :24 2/5, and :36. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 and six furlongs in 1:15 3/5.
Daddy Nose Best, the Sunland Derby (gr. III) winner owned by Bob and Cathy Zollars, breezed four furlongs in :49 2/5, with splits of :13 1/5, :25 3/5, and :37 2/5. The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy galloped out five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:16 3/5.
“I’m extremely happy with the condition that both of these horses are making the Derby gate in,” he said. “We’re trying to stay in a rhythm with them, monitoring where we think they are. (We are) obviously very pleased with training them here at Churchill; they’re familiar with it. I love the position we’re in with both horses as far as their health and the way they’re getting over the racetrack.”
Asmussen said that with both horses having begun their careers at Churchill Downs, he does not have the added worry of whether they like the track.
“It gives me a tremendous amount of confidence in the fact that they’ll be able to run their race,” Asmussen said. “Horses that don’t train over here, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to run their race, but it doesn’t assure you that they will. The fact that both horses do have the races in the spring of their 2-year-old years here and have trained here a lot, I think you can notice the difference on the horses that have stabled here, as far as when they go on the racetrack, when they go off. There’s so much to see here, especially Derby Week, I think you feel good about it. It doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it’s one more thing to eliminate (having to worry about).
“I think they both have a lot of positives going for them. Now we’ll be very nervous about the post position draw and what kind of trip they can work out from it.”
Bred in Kentucky by Patricia Ann Elia Trust, Daddy Nose Best won the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) previous to his Sunland Derby victory of March 25. The $35,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase is one of the most experienced Derby hopefuls, with four wins, two seconds, and a third in 10 starts. He has earned $633,623 while racking up frequent flyer miles as he has raced at six different tracks.
“Daddy Nose Best has been in a very good rhythm,” Asmussen said. “He’s put in some very good works over the racetrack and I just want to keep that rhythm with him and keep him happy.”
Of this year’s Derby field, Asmussen said it is a well-balanced and quality group. “It’s amazing how well the major contenders have held their form and arrived here,” he said.
Sabercat, a son of Bluegrass Cat bred in Kentucky by Lantern Hill Farm, William J. Punk Jr., and the Lighthouse Group, races for Winchell Thoroughbreds.
With three wins and two third-place finishes in eight starts and earnings of $782,849, Sabercat comes into the Derby off a third behind Bodemeister and Secret Circle in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). The $120,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase has also won the Delta Jackpot (gr. III) and Garden State Stakes.
“We’re wanting him to be a little quicker,” Asmussen said of Sabercat. "He needs to be a little faster. I like his experience but I think he’s a horse that’s going to have to run faster than he has to this point.”
Asmussen, who sent out Nehro to finish second in last year’s Derby, said his biggest concern now is which post position each horse will draw when entries are taken Wednesday, May 2.
The trainer said he would prefer outside post positions for both of his horses to decrease the amount of dirt they take in the face coming out of the first turn of the race.