After watching Optimizer work at Churchill Downs April 29, trainer D. Wayne Lukas expressed confidence in the colt’s potential in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The biggest obstacle facing the son of English Channel out of the A.P. Indy mare Indy Pick, however, is that he needs a break to even get in the 20-horse starting gate.
With jockey Jon Court aboard, Optimizer breezed five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, co-fourth fastest work of the day among 10 working that distance over a muddy track.
According to Churchill clockers, the colt went the first eighth of a mile in :11 4/5, was timed in :23 3/5 for a quarter, :36 for three furlongs, and :48 for a half. Following the work, he galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 4/5.
Lukas, the Hall of Famer who has trained four Derby winners, said he and Court both were satisfied with the work that also gave jockey and horse more opportunity to get to know each other.
“Jon was pleased; I was pleased,” Lukas said of the April 29 move.
Court rode Optimizer for the first time when the colt rallied while eight-wide to finish second at 28-1 odds in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park. He was also aboard when the colt finished ninth after being steadied in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
“Every time Jon works him he gets to know the horse a little better and it’s a learning process for the horse and Jon,” Lukas said. “He seems to be getting a lot better with him lately and that’s a positive.”
Although his maiden triumph is the only victory on Optimizer’s resume in nine starts, Lukas said he has confidence in the colt’s ability to be competitive in the Derby. If he gets in.
“He has a brilliant pedigree for a mile and a quarter,” Lukas said of the colt, who was bred in Kentucky by owner Bluegrass Hall. “And he’s a closer. I think this particular Derby is speed top-heavy and I think some of those will have a gut-check at the quarter pole. He’s a natural closer. I think his best race may show up in the Belmont.
“We don’t have any grandiose ideas we are going to run off with this thing, but given a chance we will probably be a little bit dangerous. He’s a very sound horse; very good physically.”
With $184,708 in earnings in graded stakes that are used to determine the final 20-horse Derby field, Optimizer is outside looking in at number 21.
Lukas said Optimizer began his career on grass because the only two-turn races at Saratoga were on turf and the colt has breeding that favors that surface. But right now the priority is getting to the Derby.
“I put him on the grass knowing that he could run on the grass, and some day he may get back on the grass, but right now we would like to get in this Derby.”