Michael Matz didn’t expect Visionaire to sizzle in his final work before the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I), so the trainer was satisfied when the colt breezed a half-mile in :48.40 Monday morning at Churchill Downs.
The fastest time among the 44 horses working the same distance was Iron Butterfly’s :46.60, but Visionaire was quicker than three other Derby candidates: Bob Black Jack (:48.60), Pyro (:49.80), and Z Fortune (:51). Denis of Cork, another Derby candidate, stopped the clock in :48.
Ridden by jockey Jose Lezcano, Visionaire worked in company with Novel Twist, a 3-year-old Holy Bull filly that finished fourth in her only career race.
“That’s fine,” said Matz of Visionaire’s effort. “He’s not a very good work horse, and he did what he had to do. That’s usually what he does before a race, and they don’t give any money for works before the race. He’s going to do what he wants to do in the race, and I just don’t want to get in his way.”
As Matz talked, Visionaire calmly strolled by underneath the shedrow
“He seemed like he did well on the track today, and he looks like he’s cooling out well,” Matz continued. “As you can see, not too many things bother him. He’s a real easygoing horse, which I think, temperament-wise, is going to help him on Saturday with the big crowd.”
Visionaire won the Gotham Stakes (gr. IIII) by a nose and was third in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III). But Team Valor International and Vision Racing’s 3-year-old Grand Slamcolt was fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) in his last race prior to the Derby.
“The pace was slow, and I think, at the end, he was the only one that was gaining on the leaders at that point,” said Matz of the Blue Grass. “If he runs good on Saturday, we’ll all be happy with it. If he doesn’t run good on Saturday, then we’ll all be crying. I really don’t foresee any problems. Obviously, a horse that comes from behind has to have a good trip, but it (a traffic problem) can happen for horses that are mid-pack. Twenty horses is a lot of horses.”
Visionaire scored his Gotham win over an off track, so it doesn’t really matter to Matz if it is sunny or rainy Saturday for the Derby.
“He’s been unbelievable on any track he’s run on,” the trainer said. “He’s a nice honest horse, and he’s going to try his best no matter what the situation is. I think there’s going to be a lot more pace here than in the Blue Grass. But nobody knows what these 3-year-olds are going to do in a 20-horse field going a mile and a quarter, so we’re going to take a shot like everybody else is. I’m happy with my horse right now.”
Matz won the 2006 Derby with Barbaro, who broke down in the Preakness (gr. I) and was euthanized early the following year after a long and valiant battle for his life.
“I was very happy with what he did and what he accomplished,” said Matz of Barbaro, “and I hope I have the same feeling this Saturday. I’m glad to be back, that’s for sure. Anytime you’re here it’s a nice situation.”