Trainer Todd Pletcher sent out all four of his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) candidates April 27 in Louisville, Ky. Under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 50s at Churchill Downs, Pletcher's foursome went out at 8:30 a.m. (EDT) after the renovation break and worked in pairs.
Starlight Racing's Intense Holiday, with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez aboard, worked with Ken and Sarah Ramsey's We Miss Artie . Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Danza worked alongside WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Vinceremos.
"I felt like we were looking for similar works from all four horses and Danza and Vinceremos were coming back off three weeks rest while We Miss Artie and Intense Holiday were coming back in six and five weeks," Pletcher said of the thought process behind the pairings. "It was a coin toss; we could have matched them up in any way. Intense Holiday and We Miss Artie had been working together anyway at Palm Meadows and seemed to be good mates."
First, the numbers:
Intense Holiday: Working outside of We Miss Artie under Velazquez, four furlongs in :48 3/5, out five furlongs in 1:00 4/5, and six furlongs in 1:16 4/5.
We Miss Artie: Working inside of Intense Holiday under Nick Bush, four furlongs in :49 1/5, out five furlongs in 1:02 2/5.
Danza: Working outside of Vinceremos, four furlongs in :48 4/5, out five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 and six furlongs in 1:16.
Vinceremos: Working inside of Danza, four furlongs in :49, out five furlongs in 1:02. Splits were :12 4/5 and :25.
The buzz of the backstretch six days before the Run for the Roses was the effort turned in by Intense Holiday. His Derby stock rose dramatically after the dark bay or brown Harlan's Holiday colt easily separated himself from his workmate.
"I can't say I've ever seen him work better than he did today," Pletcher said of Intense Holiday following the move. "I would classify this as the best work I've seen from him. Having said that, he always trains well and it's normal for him to breeze well, but that was exceptionally good this morning."
It was the first morning work for Intense Holiday with Velazquez aboard.
"He tends to cross fire a little bit, but he handled everything well today," the rider said. "I was taking a little too much hold of him going to the pole, but once he got into cruising speed, he felt very comfortable.
"On the backstretch I was trying to slow him down the best I could and try to hit the target of going in :13 and change (first eighth) and go from there. For me to get on him for the first time and go out over this track, he handled it very well."
Perhaps happiest of all was Starlight principal Jack Wolf.
"Johnny said the horse loved the track," Wolf said with a wide smile. "I wish they were running the race today. This will be a long week."
The glowing praise of Intense Holiday's drill left Pletcher flat regarding the work put in by We Miss Artie.
"I wasn't happy with the work this morning," Pletcher said. "I didn't think it was typical of what we see from him. He seems to be cooling out fine. I will talk with Mr. Ramsey and see what he thinks, but I didn't like the work.
"I think part of it was Intense Holiday worked awesome today and made We Miss Artie's work not look as good. I've been telling everybody all week the horse works good on the dirt, and he normally does, but today he didn't. He was on the inside and sometimes the inside can be a little funny here (Churchill Downs), but taking it on the face of it, :49 and 1, it wasn't awful, but it wasn't what I was accustomed to seeing from him."
Intense Holiday, out of the Unbridled's Song mare Intensify, was bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall and Haymarket Farm. The April 20, 2011, foal has won two of eight starts, with his last six outings coming in graded stakes. He won the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots Feb. 22 and was second in the March 29 Louisiana Derby (gr. II).
We Miss Artie, by Artie Schiller —Athena's Gift, by Fusaichi Pegasus , has a 3-2-0 slate from eight starts but has made only three starts on dirt (with one second to his credit). In his previous start, he won the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) over Polytrack at Turfway Park.
We Miss Artie was bred in Ontario by Richard L. Lister.
Of Pletcher's other pairing, it was the chestnut Danza who got the nod from those on hand at Churchill Downs.
"He's doing really well and is getting better and better," Pletcher said of the chestnut colt. "He came out of the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) proud of himself and seems to be taking to the track. I couldn't be happier about that."
As for Vinceremos, Pletcher said: "We thought he breezed well enough I spoke with Randy Gullatt (Twin Creeks Racing) and Elliot Walden (president and CEO of WinStar Farm), and they were pleased."
WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables own Vinceremos, from the first crop of Pioneerof the Nile out of Kettle's Sister, by More Than Ready . He was bred by Carrie and Craig Brogden's Machmer Hall. A winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) and placed in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), Vinceremos will be ridden by Joe Rocco Jr. in the Derby.
Danza —bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm —won the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) by 4 3/4 lengths for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners April 12. The son of Street Boss —Champagne Royale, by French Deputy, has only made four starts, but has made the most of them with a maiden win and a third-place finish (beaten a half-length) in last summer's Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) on his ledger.
"When you look back at his record and see that he broke his maiden impressively at Belmont Park and was flying at the end of the Saratoga Special," Pletcher noted. "When you start talking about horses running well in graded stakes at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, generally that's a pretty good indication that they have some quality. His allowance race at Gulfstream Park was better than it looked on paper and the Arkansas Derby speaks for itself."
Pletcher is no stranger to sending out multiple runners in the Derby. He has saddled 36 runners under the Twin Spires to date, winning the 2010 renewal with Super Saver .
"We've been fortunate with the weather, getting our works in on the days we wanted to," he said of Derby 2014. "Usually, the last few years it seems like we've been dealing with the track and that can makes things edgy, but this year it's been pretty relaxed."