Two of the 3-year-olds that have looked best in the mornings on the main track at Churchill Downs working toward a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)—Dance With Fate and Medal Count—have the biggest question marks in terms of dirt form.
Those positive morning moves have their connections optimistic about going into the 1 1/4-mile classic May 3.
Owned by Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable and Ciaglia Racing, Dance With Fate enters Saturday's Kentucky Derby off a clear victory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland in the final year that race is conducted on Polytrack. The Lexington track plans a return to a dirt surface.
The son of Two Step Salsa arrived at Churchill April 28 after blazing four furlongs in :47, second-fastest of 64 works at the distance, two days earlier on the dirt at Santa Anita Park. While Dance With Fate does not have a win on dirt, he did run second in last year's FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) on the Santa Anita dirt before finishing off the board there in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
Trainer Peter Eurton said the big dark bay colt appears to be on top of his game getting over the Churchill dirt.
"I feel more confident than I did before the Breeders' Cup," Eurton said. "He had a few little issues...before the Breeders' Cup. Now, all is good."
Medal Count has not fared well in his two career stakes starts on dirt, finishing fifth in this year's Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park and 11th in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was beaten a combined 26 1/4 lengths in those defeats. He did win his career debut in a maiden race moved from the turf to the dirt at Ellis Park.
Still, trainer Dale Romans has been pleased with how the son of Dynaformer has handled the Churchill surface. Medal Count registered an April 26 breeze of six furlongs in 1:13. He enters in top form off a victory in the off-the-turf Transylvania Stakes (gr. III) and a runner-up finish in the Blue Grass, both during the Keeneland spring meet.
"I feel better than I ever have about any of my chances going into the Derby," said Romans, who has saddled four Derby starters including third-place finishers Dullahan (2012) and Paddy O'Prado (2010). "I think that we really fit well with this group. I think he's peaking at the right time. I think he's got all the parts that it takes to win a Derby."
Such hopes are not unfounded based on recent Derby results that have seen horses who run well on turf and synthetic surfaces take to the dirt in the Churchill classic. Four of the past eight Derby winners won races on turf or synthetic surfaces before their Derby victories.
In 2011 Animal Kingdom would prep for his Derby win with an impressive victory on the Polytrack at Turfway Park in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III). As a juvenile, the son of champion turf male Leroidesanimaux registered his maiden win in a race on the Polytrack at Keeneland.
All four victories registered by Mine That Bird before the 2009 Kentucky Derby came on the Polytrack at Woodbine, including a victory in the 2008 Grey Stakes (Can-III). The Birdstone gelding lost back-to-back races on dirt going into the Derby.
In his lone start as a juvenile, Big Brown won a maiden race on the turf at Saratoga Race Course. Switched to dirt, the son of Boundary would continue to thrive, winning the Florida Derby (gr. I) before his 2008 Derby score.
Barbaro, who like Medal Count was by Dynaformer, also started his career on turf, winning his first three career starts on the green at Delaware Park, Laurel Park, and Calder Race Course. Trainer Michael Matz would move Barbaro to dirt and he added wins in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and Florida Derby before his 2006 Derby victory.
I'll Have Another and Street Sense registered their biggest pre-Derby victories on dirt but both also ran well on synthetic surfaces. As a juvenile, 2012 Derby winner I'll Have Another registered his two best races in winning his maiden debut on the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park and finishing second in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) on the Polytrack at Del Mar. He entered the Derby off a win on dirt in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
Street Sense, who won the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on dirt at Churchill, would win the 2007 Derby off a close second in the Blue Grass.
We Miss Artie has struggled at times in the mornings, turning in a final pre-Derby breeze of four furlongs in :49 1/5 April 27 in which he was dusted by stablemate Intense Holiday. The son of NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Artie Schiller has never won on dirt and both of his stakes wins came on Polytrack, including his score in the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) to earn his Derby spot.
Harry's Holiday finished off the board in the Blue Grass after punching his Derby ticket with a runner-up finish in the Spiral March 22 on the Polytrack at Turfway. The son of Harlan's Holiday won a maiden claiming race in his career debut in September on dirt at Churchill Downs, when he was claimed by his current connections, trainer Maker and owners Skychai Racing, Sand Dollar Stable, Terry Raymond, and Jana Wagner.
Harry's Holiday then added a victory on the dirt at Gulfstream Park but he finished fifth in his lone stakes start on dirt, the Pasco Jan. 4 at Tampa Bay Downs.