With several major prep races for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) rapidly approaching this weekend, three prominent trainers discussed Tuesday how their contenders are progressing toward their next start and the first Saturday in May.
Barclay Tagg, who will send out Elizabeth Valando's Nobiz Like Shobiz in the March 3 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, described his talented colt as "a lovely horse to train."
The son of Albert the Great, who has hit the board in all four of his starts, concluded his juvenile campaign with a score in the Nov. 25 Remsen (gr. II), after which he won the Feb. 3 Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream in his seasonal debut.
"(Since the Holy Bull), he's been eating well, looking well, and we're pleased with him," said. Tagg. "He has a lot of poise, and he never gave me any indication that the race was hard on him."
When asked if he saw any similarities between Nobiz Like Shobiz and his 2003 Derby victor Funny Cide, Tagg said they are both "big, strong, fast horses, but very dissimilar other than that."
Nobiz Like Shobiz is easy to train, Tagg explained, while Funny Cide is a challenge. "(Nobiz) is a big puppy dog compared to Funny Cide--he oozes class. If you could sit down and design a horse for the Derby mentally and physically, he's the perfect type."
In spite of his talent, Tagg admitted that Nobiz Like Shobiz was still "a young, green horse" and he would have to wait and see how things pan out with the colt's schedule and training regiment before expressing high hopes for his shot at conquering the Triple Crown races.
Tagg, who also trained Nighstorm (by Storm Cat), the winning dam of Nobiz Like Shobiz, said his goal was to send the colt through three preps before the Run for the Roses.
Cornelio Velasquez, who has been aboard in all four prior starts, will again get the mount on Nobiz Like Shobiz.
Trainer Michael Gorham, who is also gearing up for the Fountain of Youth with his 3-year-old colt Adore the Gold, said he viewed Nobiz as the "one to beat."
"I see (Nobiz) as the leader (of the Derby trail) at this point," said Gorham. "He's done everything pretty professionally, and I think he's on top of the poll right now."
Gorham's high opinion of the Tagg-trained colt didn't diminish his view of his own Derby contender, however.
"(Adore the Gold) is my best 3-year-old ever," he said. "You can tell who the good horses are pretty quick--it has a lot to do with disposition and natural talent. I'm confident my horse will run well (in the Fountain of Youth). He's answered every question we've had."
Adore the Gold, who will be ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Edgar Prado in the upcoming prep race, started his career at 2 as a maiden claimer, after which he quickly moved up the ranks in winning the Dover Stakes at Delaware Park and the H. Steward Mitchell Stakes at Laurel Park. He launched his 2007 season with a victory in the Feb. 3 Swale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
Gorham said if all goes well for Adore the Gold in the Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby (gr. I) would be the next potential start for his colt.
Meanwhile, trainer Doug O'Neill has decided to choose a different steppingstone on the Derby trail with J. Paul Reddam's Great Hunter, who is pointed toward the March 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita. The race is held on the same day O'Neill's California champion gelding Lava Man will compete for his second Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) title.
"So far everything is coming together well (with Great Hunter)," said O'Neill. He's doing great, but we'll probably be at the mercy of the pace a little bit. He should be tough, but again, when you give a horse a breather, you want him to build as the year goes on," he added of the colt's more than three month layoff since running third in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in November. Great Hunter scored his major win in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland last fall on his way to the Breeders' Cup.
When asked about Great Hunter's physical features and his chances in the Lewis, O'Neill replied simply: "He's a beautiful looking individual, a gorgeous-bodied colt. He's ready to roll."
If the race brings positive results, O'Neill said he is considering the April 14 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland for Great Hunter's next outing.
"I feel blessed to have four legitimate horses to potentially compete in the Triple Crown," said O'Neill, referring to other contenders Liquidity, Notional, and Cobalt Blue.
Like Gorham, O'Neill also showed great respect for Nobiz Like Shobiz, who he is hoping to avoid along the Derby trail.
"He kicked our butts (in the grade I Champagne where Nobiz finished second and Liquidity ran ninth)," he said. "I was standing right next to Barclay. They were so proud of that horse and they should be--he's a beast when you stand next to him. Not only does he have the look, but he has extremely fast numbers. If you can avoid that horse before the big dance, it would be good."
While Liquidity is being pointed toward the March 10 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, Cobalt Blue will likely run in the March 17 San Felipe Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park. Future plans for Notional are still undecided.