The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (gr. III) isn’t much of a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) trial anymore—and hasn’t been for some time—but that has not prevented the race from drawing a strong mix of sprinters/milers at Churchill Downs' opening night April 30.
Led by Swale (gr. II) winner Travelin Man and Bay Shore (gr. III) winner J J's Lucky Train, the one-mile Derby Trial will kick off Churchill’s 39–day spring meet. The 11-race opening day Saturday program will be held in the evening for the first time, with first post set for 6 p.m. EDT and the $200,000 Derby Trial to be run under lights at 9:39 p.m. A field of nine was drawn.
E. Paul Robsham Stables' homebred Travelin Man won the April 3 Swale by two lengths at Gulfstream Park as the 2-5 favorite for his first stakes score. He was runner-up to Flashpoint in the Hutcheson (gr. II) in February, one start after breaking his maiden by more than seven lengths. The son of Trippi is trained by Todd Pletcher.
Joh Velazquez will keep the mount on the speedy Travelin Man, who will break from post 2 and is expected to set the pace.
Other pace could come from impressive maiden winner Dominus, who broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at second asking for trainer Steve Asmussen March 26 at Santa Anita. The Smart Strike ridgling will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
Swale runner-up Indiano also returns for Derby Trial. The champion 2-year-old colt in Panama, Indiano has been second in both starts in the U.S. Garret Gomez will ride for Marty Wolfson.
Fresh Start Stable’s J J’s Lucky Train hasn’t run a bad race in 2011 and enters off consecutive stakes wins. The Silver Train colt was runner-up in a pair of stakes at Aqueduct to start his season, including the Feb. 5 Whirlaway when he was overtaken in deep stretch by Kentucky Derby contender Toby's Corner. He then won the Miracle Wood at Laurel and the April 9 Bay Shore at Aqueduct—both at seven furlongs.
J J’s Lucky Train is based at Parx Racing for trainer Bill Anderson. It was Anderson who plucked him out of a $40,000 maiden claimer in his debut at Monmouth Park last summer when he won by 2 1/2 lengths. He has won four more times since then and has the pair of seconds.
“He was bought at the Timonium sale (2-year-olds in training) for $35,000,” Anderson said. “We watched the replays and thought he looked good. I liked his pedigree, so we took a shot. He’s always been a good-looking horse, even last summer, and he has really matured since then.
“Toby’s Corner is a heck of a horse. He came from way off the pace to get us in the Whirlaway. After that, we thought seven-eighths would be perfect for him. Anything longer and he would probably need softer. But we definitely think he can get a mile. Drawing outside of the speed (post 5) is a real plus.”
Anderson, who has assigned Jose Ferrer to ride again, is based at Parx year-round and races at Monmouth in the summer. This will be his first trip to Churchill Downs. He said J J’s Lucky Train would point to the Woody Stephens (gr. II, June 11 at Belmont) next.
Machen, based at Fair Grounds for Neil Howard, was fourth in the Risen Star (gr. II) and fifth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) after beginning his career with consecutive victories. Beamer was fourth in the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) and Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) for Carl Nafzger. And Indian Winter ships in from California for Jerry Hollendorfer after finishing sixth in the April 9 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
$200,000 Derby Trial (gr. IT, Race 9, 9:39 p.m.), 3YO, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Duca (KY), J K Court, 117, D W Lukas
2. Travelin Man (KY), J R Velazquez, 121, T A Pletcher
3. Machen (KY), E S Prado, 117, N J Howard
4. Beamer (KY), C H Borel, 117, C A Nafzger
5. J J's Lucky Train (KY), J C Ferrer, 121, W D Anderson
6. Dominus (VA), J R Leparoux, 117, S M Asmussen
7. Indian Winter (KY), S Bridgmohan, 117, J Hollendorfer
8. Indiano (KY), G K Gomez, 121, M D Wolfson
9. B G Suavecito (KY), E Martin Jr., 117, R J Granger