Although Reddam Racing Stable's Bond Holder will not make an expected start in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) due to a lingering foot abscess, trainer Doug O'Neill said the colt could still make the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Bond Holder's seasonal debut was to have come in the Feb. 22 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, but he missed that race after injuring a hoof during an eventful ride aboard a Federal Express plane from California.
Winner of the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park at age 2, Bond Holder is the best shot Team O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam have this year of repeating the Derby victory they savored with I'll Have Another in 2012.
"I think it is strong," O'Neill said in a March 4 podcast interview on Bond Holder's chances of making the Derby. "We're still optimistic but I just want to get him back to the track and see him breeze. As much as it is a dream of ours to run him and win the Derby, right now we won't go there if he's not 100%. Right now, our goal is just to get him back on the track.
"We have removed the hind left shoe and are working on that area; he has an abscess on his toe right beneath the shoe. The only real solution is patience and good horsemanship and that is what we're doing on a daily basis."
Bond Holder is stabled in Tom Proctor's barn at Tampa Bay Downs as he is treated for the abscess. O'Neill said the son of Mineshaft is doing better and it is hoped the colt can get back to the track this weekend, but right now it is too early to map out a schedule or even consider what the next race might be.
Through racing of March 2, Bond Holder was 14th, with 11 points, on the Kentucky Derby leader board, with most of the top points-earning preps yet to come.
O'Neill said the problems encountered by Bond Holder on the flight are rare. The plane experienced turbulence and O'Neill said the flight personnel were inexperienced at working with horses. As a result, Bond Holder became upset and injured himself.
"I wasn't there, but my assistant said they just didn't have horse-loving handlers," O'Neill explained. "He got bounced around; maybe they thought they were transporting a piano or something and they were a little rough with him. He just had a really bad reaction and started thrashing around and by the time we landed there he was really banged up."
O'Neill said it is unknown what effect the eventful flight to New Orleans might have on future plans to transport Bond Holder via plane. Following the missed engagement in the Risen Star for his 2014 debut, Bond Holder was put on a Tex Sutton flight for a return trip to O'Neill's Southern California base.
Although there was no turbulence, Bond Holder became upset when the flight that left New Orleans and made a stop in Miami en route to the West Coast was getting ready to leave Florida for the cross-country venture. He was removed from the plane in Florida and that's when the connections decided to send him to Tampa Bay for a possible start in that track's Derby on March 8.
"By the time he got to Florida, he was kind of freaking out from what we think was the experience of the previous ship. It was at that point we took him off the plane because we didn't want to take chance of taking him from Florida to California with the mindset," O'Neill said.