Steve Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby: On To The Downs

Steve Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby: On To The Downs
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This is our last weekly report. Starting Monday we'll be filing a daily Derby Doings report detailing all the morning's activities. We'll cover the works, gallops, and jogs, and also the overall appearance of the horses as they graze in the afternoon.

As usual, on the Friday before the Derby, we'll summariize all our observations and try to whittle this perplexing group down to the ones who have left the best impression – from their training, mental and physical sharpness, and hair coat. It's always interesting to see which horses' coats are coming into bloom in the two weeks leading to the race.

As of Friday, there are nine Derby horses on the grounds – Atswhatimtalknbout, Empire Maker, Peace Rules, Kafwain, Indian Express, Domestic Dispute (if he runs big in the Coolmore Lexington), Offlee Wild, Ten Most Wanted, and Buddy Gil. Sir Cherokee is stabled at the nearby Trackside training center, so we won't be seeing as much of him as the others. That also applies to Brancusi, who will remain at Keeneland until the Thursday or Friday before the Derby. Trainer Patrick Biancone did say, however, that he will ship the colt to Churchill Downs for a work, most likely next Friday. If it rains he'll ship over on Saturday.

Biancone said he likes the atmosphere at Keeneland, and his horses seem at home there. He's also appreciative of the way's he's been treated by Keeneland management, and although he'll miss the pageantry and excitement leading up to the Derby, he feels he's doing what's best for the horse. Biancone, who's had plenty of experience in big races – in Europe, America, and Hong Kong -- also said he did not train Brancusi to win the San Felipe or the Blue Grass, and that the son of Deputy Commander is finally ready to peak and is coming up to the Derby 100 percent. Remember, this is a trainer who won back-to-back Arc de Triomphes – with All Along and Sagace -- and would have won three in a row had Sagace not been disqualified from first. All Along also was voted Horse of the Year in America after sweeping the Canadian International, Turf Classic, and Washington D.C. International after winning that year's Arc – an amazing training feat.

As for the remaining Derby horses, Wood Memorial runnerup Funny Cide and Illinois Derby runnerup Fund of Funds will fly to Louisville on Wednesday, April 30 on a Tex Sutton flight from Farmingdale, Long Island. Outta Here, fourth in the UAE Derby, was originally planning to fly from California on April 24, but that flight was booked, and he'll now come on Sunday, April 27. Finally, Supah Blitz, runnerup in the Aventura and Fountain of Youth, will van up from his home base of Calder. Barclay Tagg, trainer of Funny Cide, said he'll likely give his New York-bred gelding two light works at Belmont, next Tuesday and the following Tuesday. Funny Cide is a very aggressive galloper, and if they can't hold him in his gallops, Tagg may cut out one of the works. Fund of Funds will train over his home track at Aqueduct. Trainer Rich Violette said Aqueduct is a great track on which to train, and the colt does well there, so he sees no reason to ship to Churchill early.

The only remaining race that may have any kind of impact on the Derby is Saturday's Coolmore Lexington Stakes, which has drawn a field deep in talent. The race will serve as a last chance at vindication for Domestic Dispute and Ocean Terrace, who disappointed in the Santa Anita Derby. Ocean Terrace's race was so bad, it's hard to believe it was anything but an aberration. D. Wayne Lukas takes one final shot with Scrimshaw, just as he did in last year's Lexington with Proud Citizen. With the colt's breathing problem presumedly a thing of the past, Lukas is looking for a big effort. Most Feared, one of the live Derby horses at the start of the year, tries to play major catch-up. Even if he should win the Lexington, he'll virtually go into the Derby off one 1 1/16-mile race this year. You also have the always dangerous Trust N Luck, who is more likely for the Preakness, and finally, there is Ministers Wild Cat. The son of Deputy Minister had a huge shot to win the Santa Anita Derby, but was forced to scratch with a foot bruise. He's worked super since then and again has a huge shot on Saturday. But by missing the Santa Anita Derby, he'd have to go into the Kentucky Derby never having raced farther than 1 1/16 miles, which does put him at a disadvantage.

Baffert said Domestic Dispute would have to win the Lexington and come out of it in great shape to run back in the Derby. Baffert, however, has not ruled out starting Senor Swinger, who was a well-beaten fifth in the Florida Derby and most recently the Wood Memorial. Baffert will see how the son of El Prado trains before making any decision.

In other Derby news, Robby Albarado will ride Offlee Wild. Pat Day, who rode the colt to the third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes, will stick with Illinois Derby winner Ten Most Wanted. Albarado had been the regular rider for the brilliant, but ill-fated Badge of Silver, who is recovering from a fractured cannon bone.

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