Because of the lack of quarantine facilities at Churchill Downs, it is very unlikely that any of Ballydoyle's 3-year-olds will make the trip to the Kentucky Derby, trainer Aidan O'Brien said Tuesday.
Last year, O'Brien sent Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Johannesburg, along with Castle Gandolfo, to run in the Derby, and was not happy about having to quarantine at Keeneland and vanning over to Churchill, which he did the morning of the race.
With the situation still the same this year, O'Brien feels it makes their task all the more difficult. Although he wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of running in the Derby, he said it is highly unlikely, as the preps in Europe are not geared to have a horse ready to go 1 1/4 miles on the dirt in America.
Ballydoyle did nominate several 3-year-olds to last Saturday's Lane's End Stakes, but felt they weren't 100 percent fit. "It was kind of close whether to go or not," O'Brien said. "We could have sent them over 90 percent fit and use the race to get them fitter, but traveling that kind of journey we'd want to have them 100 percent. Fit horses travel better."
As for the quarantine problem, O'Brien said, "We'd love to come for the Kentucky Derby, but circumstances can't be against us all the way. We're not able to get the right kind of preps in them here, and by Churchill Downs not allowing us to quarantine there, it makes things even more difficult. Last year, they said we didn't give them enough time, but it's been a year and the situation hasn't changed. I don't want to say anything that's going to upset anyone, but we're at a big enough disadavantage just having to travel all that way so early in the year. Our flat season only opened this past Sunday. The Two Thousand Guineas is run the same day as the Kentucky Derby, and right now we're training our 3-year-olds to run on that date. We haven't completely ruled out the Kentucky Derby, but it would be a last-minute decision if we did come."
Although O'Brien could fly to Churchill Downs well in advance of the Derby, which would give his horses plenty of time to van to Churchill and adapt to their new surroundings, he said Ballydoyle prefers to arrive close to the race, as they do for the Breeders' Cup and other big international events.
"We regret their decision and hope they reconsider," said John Asher, Churchill's vice president of communications. "Aidan O'Brien is a great trainer, and the addition of Ballydoyle would add to the spectacle of the Derby. It's been a concern for us, and we have discussed it, but we just don't have the space to build a quarantine barn without it affecting our spring meet. Every inch of space is claimed right now. We hope to resolve this in the future, but we just don't have any short-term solutions. Godolphin hasn't had a problem, nor did the Japanese, and we didn't think Ballydoyle had a problem until last year."
In 1992, Churchill Downs converted a warehouse across the street from the track's main entrance as a quarantine barn for Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champ Arazi, who arrived almost a week before the race.
O'Brien, who saddled Tomahawk to win Sunday's Oak Lodge Sires Loughbrown Stakes at the Curragh, said Hold That Tiger is scheduled to make his first start in the 7-furlong Gladness Stakes, the same race in which Johannesburg suffered his first career defeat last year before traveling to America for the Kentucky Derby.
It was thought after his excellent third-place finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile that Hold That Tiger would return to America for the Derby, but co-owner Michael Tabor all but ruled that out over a month ago.
O'Brien did show interest in sending someone for the Travers Stakes, which will be run at Saratoga on Aug. 23.