Each year, the Kentucky Derby Trainer’s Dinner evokes laughter, prompts personal reflections, and conjures up emotions from several Derby-bound conditioners four days prior to the Run for the Roses.
The 2012 renewal of the event was no exception. Hosted by Todd Schrupp and Paul Rogers, the Trainer’s Dinner attracted a full crowd to the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in Louisville May 1.
The first Kentucky Derby trainer to grace the stage was Graham Motion, who was presented with the Kentucky Derby Trainer’s Trophy for his 2011 victory with Animal Kingdom .
Motion, who will saddle Went the Day Well in this year’s race, accepted the trophy with his usual humble demeanor.
“I always knew what a big deal it was to get to this race, even though I didn’t grow up in America,” said Motion, a native of England. “I never imagined I would be able win this race...I never set it out as a goal of something I would do. But the experiences I’ve had over the last year have been extraordinary. All I can say to whoever wins this year is to make the most of it, because it goes by very quickly.”
Motion added that he felt “really good” at this point about running Spiral Stakes (gr. III) Went the Day Well on the dirt as opposed to the same time last year with Animal Kingdom, when there were still a lot of unknowns (he had not yet won on that surface).
“I’m just more relaxed (this year),” Motion said with a smile.
When asked if the latter horse had a better chance of winning the race on an off-track, over which he broke his maiden by an impressive 12 3/4 lengths last year, Pletcher said, “I think he likes an off track; he had two big wins over an off-track, but I don’t think he necessarily has to have that to be successful.
“This horse is pretty laid back—a little on the lazy side, actually,” added Pletcher of the Risen Star (gr. II) winner. “But Rafael Bejarano is a really active rider that I think will fit him well.”
Bisnath Parboo, who trains Derby contender Trinniberg for his son’s Shivananda Racing, could not attend the trainer’s dinner, so Shivananda Parbhoo took his place at the podium.
It seems the duo, which named the Swale (gr. III) and Bay Shore (gr. III) winner after their native Trinidad, have managed to work the father-son dynamic in their favor. “(Working with my dad) is very good…he asks every night what we’re going to do the next day (with the horse), and then we make what we hope is the right decision,” said Shivananda Parbhoo.
When asked if there was any tension between them, Parbhoo answered, “Honestly, no. Because whatever my dad says, I agree with him.”
Another trainer that seemed happy and confident in his horse in the final days before the Derby was Michael Matz, who will send out Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Champagne (gr. I) victor Union Rags .
“From the time we got him after the 2-year-old in training sale, he looked terrific and he’s never been anything but that,” said Matz, who won the 2006 Derby with the ill-fated Barbaro. “(Union Rags) had a little bit of a hiccup in the Florida Derby (finished third), but other than that he’s done all we’ve asked him for.”
Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, who is taking a shot at the Derby with Rousing Sermon even though the colt has finished off the board in two of his three prep races this year, expressed his gratitude for being a part of the game.
“I’m just very grateful to be here and have another opportunity to run in America’s best race,” he said. “I’ve run in it a few times and haven’t won it, but I’m going to try harder this time.”
Other aspects of the trainer’s dinner included a touching video tribute to the late Julian Logan “Buck” Wheat, director of horsemen’s relations at Churchill Downs; and the presentation of the Charles W. Engelhard to Steve Haskin, senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse.