Anyone looking for a sign from above in selecting this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner need look no further than Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred Tapiture.
Just as the son of Tapit reached the half-mile pole to begin his four-furlong breeze in driving rain Monday, April 28, at Churchill Downs, a loud thunderclap rocked Louisville. Unfazed, Tapiture smoothly rocketed through the turn on the sloppy track on his way to completing four furlongs in :50.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who watched on horseback during the driving rain, enthusiastically relayed the story of the thunder rocking the grounds just as Tapiture began his work to Winchell Thoroughbreds farm and racing manager David Fiske. Tapiture was not bothered by the driving rain, lightning, thunder, or even the mammoth new video board.
"It reminded me of the golf scene in 'Caddyshack'," Asmussen cracked, noting one difference from the movie. "Thank goodness we didn't get struck by lightning at the end of it."
This week Asmussen has not been taking advantage of the 8:30 a.m. time slot reserved for Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Kentucky Derby starters. He sent out likely Kentucky Oaks favorite Untapable for her final breeze before the race Sunday, April 27 at about 6:20 a.m. and Tapiture ventured out to the track at the same time Monday morning.
Only a light rain was falling as Tapiture, with exercise rider Abel Flores up, left Barn 38 on the Churchill backstretch for his walk to the main track with Asmussen guiding on a pony beside them. But shortly after Tapiture stepped on the track, the rain picked up. By the time he was galloping up to start his workout, the rain was falling extremely hard and the thunder and lightning had picked up.
It didn't bother this year's Southwest Stakes (gr. III) winner, as he cruised through the first quarter in :24 3/5 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:04 4/5.
"I'm very happy to get it in; I'm very happy with how he moved over it," Asmussen said of the work. "I can't say enough about Abel being able, under those conditions, to do what we wanted. He hit :50 right on and that's what we were aiming for with the horse."
Asmussen noted the downpour was similar to the one that hit before the 2004 Kentucky Derby won by Smarty Jones . Still the Churchill surface gave the trainer confidence to move forward with the breeze.
"This track handles water amazingly," Asmussen said. "It gives you a lot of confidence in that we've had a lot of horses run over off tracks here in the afternoons over the past 15 years or so."
A few minutes after Tapiture's breeze, the track was closed because of lightning but it was reopened at 7:20 a.m.
Tapiture already has a win over the Churchill surface, as he closed out his juvenile season with a 4 1/4-length victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) on a fast track. After a close second to Hoppertunity in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) March 15 at Oaklawn Park, Tapiture enters the Derby off a fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
Tapiture goes into the Derby off of two works at Churchill. He completed five furlongs in 1:02 4/5 on April 21.
"He has a beautiful stride to him," Asmussen said. "He's an extremely efficient mover."