Trainers' Dinner: Light Night, Tense Week

Doug O'Neill honored for last year's win with I'll Have Another.

At one point during the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Kentucky Derby trainers' dinner April 30 in Louisville, Todd Pletcher was offered a chair to handle his extended stay on stage.

Nearly all of the trainers with starters pointing for the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs talked about their horses and joked with co-hosts Jill Byrne and Paul Rogers before an enthusiastic crowd of 500 at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom.

With an expected five Derby entries, Pletcher had the most to talk about and really could have used that chair he was jokingly offered (and graciously turned down). After watching a video replay of Verrazano , who he'll saddle for Let's Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier, edging Normandy Invasion  and Vyjack in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I), the multiple Eclipse-winning trainer said he thinks Saturday's race is deep in talent.

"I think there's some really good horses in this crop, and we saw three of them in that race," Pletcher said.
Besides Verrazano, Pletcher also will enter Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Overanalyze , Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Revolutionary , Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Palace Malice , and third-place Blue Grass finisher Charming Kitten.

While Pletcher plans to send out five Derby horses, Charles Fipke is the owner-breeder of two horses that will enter the Louisville classic in Blue Grass winner Java's War  and grade III-placed Golden Soul.

"I'm very thankful to be working with Mr. Fipke. He's an amazing guy and it's great that he's going to have two horses he bred in the Derby," said Dallas Stewart, who trains Golden Soul. "You've never seen a party like he's going to have if one of these horses wins the Derby."

The party was going strong at Tuesday night's dinner where Southern California-based trainer Doug O'Neill was honored for his victory in last year's Derby with I'll Have Another . O'Neill will try to make it two Derbys in a row with his second straight Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner, Goldencents . The fun-loving O'Neill turned a bit more serious when asked what it was like to be back in the Derby again.

"This is incredible; this is the best," O'Neill said. Earlier he noted that it still doesn't seem real to read through the Derby program and see himself listed among the winning trainers.

Other trainers who attended included Kelly Breen, who will saddle Black Onyx; John Terranova, Falling Sky; Ken McPeek, Frac Daddy  and Java's War ; Eddie Plesa Jr., Itsmyluckyday ; Tom Amoss, Mylute; Chad Brown, Normandy Invasion; Shug McGaughey, Orb ; D. Wayne Lukas, Oxbow  and Will Take Charge ; and Rudy Rodriguez, Vyjack.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear attended the dinner as well and reminded the trainers about the reason they're all in Louisville.

"I'm the guy you'll all want to meet again at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday," Beshear said. "If you don't remember this face, I'll be the guy holding the trophy."