Derby Trainers Gearing Up for Big Weekend of Workouts

Friday was another relatively quiet day on the backside at Churchill Downs, as none of the 22 horses being pointed toward the May 6 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) worked on a dry sunny morning.

The tranquility will change this weekend, however, as nearly a dozen Derby horses are expected to breeze Saturday or Sunday. A forecast for rain and/or thunderstorms Saturday night and early Sunday could alter the plans for the five scheduled to work Sunday. As a result, the Saturday work tab could see as many as nine Derby contenders go through their final works.

As of late Thursday, the tentative workout schedule (with trainers) was:

Barbaro (Michael Matz)
Lawyer Ron (Bob Holthus)
Sharp Humor (Dale Romans)
Steppenwolfer (Daniel Peitz)
Sweetnorthernsaint (Michael Trombetta)
Cause to Believe (Jerry Hollendorfer)

Bluegrass Cat (Todd Pletcher)
Keyed Entry (Todd Pletcher)
Sunriver (Todd Pletcher)
Jazil (Kiaran McLaughlin)
Flashy Bull (Kiaran McLaughlin)

Brother Derek (Dan Hendricks)
Private Vow (Steve Asmussen)
Storm Treasure (Steve Asmussen)

Trainer Todd Pletcher said that if the forecast looked accurate as it grew closer, he would switch the workouts for Bluegrass Cat, Keyed Entry, and Sunriver to Saturday.

With the paucity of workouts, the biggest attraction Friday morning was the first appearance on the track by Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Brother Derek, the likely Derby favorite who arrived Thursday from California.

"He looked fine, he went right on out and seemed to enjoy it," said trainer Dan Hendricks. "He handled the track fine and everything looked good."

Hendricks, who was paralyzed from waist down in a motocross accident two years ago, makes his rounds on the backside in motorized wheelchair customized for him to be able to negotiate the dirt and other elements found in a stable area. Following Brother Derek's trip to the track, Hendricks addressed the media from a temporary platform set up outside his barn.

While he appreciates the attention being directed at him and his horse, Hendricks was somewhat awed by it all.

Noting that his horse has acclimated to Churchill Downs and is "very comfortable," Hendricks added "maybe more so than I am."

Elaborating, the trainer added, "It's a little different than being home. At home, we get one or two reporters after a race. This is the week out and it's only going to get worse. I love the horse getting this much attention, but it's just different, that's all. It's no big deal."

Hendricks said favoritism in this year's Derby would be between his horse, Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Barbaro, and Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner Lawyer Ron. Not surprisingly, Hendricks echoed the sentiment that there will be an abundance of early speed in this year's classic, with Brother Derek in the early mix.

"People are saying they are sending their horses, they are going out is going to be a very hotly contested pace and we are not going to be very far off it," Hendricks said. "He (Brother Derek) gets out in front and dictates the pace and he has a high cruising speed. So with those weapons, he has been very effective."

Hendricks said he would prefer that Brother Derek not draw a post position that is among the first five on the inside or the last five on the outside.

Another West Coast trainer with a Derby horse that most assuredly will be running in or near the front is Bob Baffert, who conditions Sinister Minister, front-running winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).

"I tried to rate him one time and it was disastrous," Baffert said of the colt. "He is very fast. I think he is a really good miler. I just cannot slow him down. We talked about the smart thing would be to miss this and send him to the Preakness and let him roll there. But he won the Blue Grass and the owner always wanted a Derby horse."

Baffert said his two other Derby horses -- Point Determined and Bob and John -- could be in a position to benefit if other horses fade after trying to keep pace with Sinister Minister.

"That's the beautiful part for my other horses," Baffert said. "It's a beautiful setup for me. Bob and John reminds me a lot of Real Quiet -- he's got that long, fluid stride...he needs a horse to run at."

Meanwhile, trainer Mark Casse was still marveling at Thursday's impressive workout by Seaside Retreat, whose :59 2/5 timing for the five furlong breeze was the fastest among 22 horses that worked the distance.

"He is the type of horse, that when he finds a track he likes, he really likes it," Casse said. "And he really likes this track."

Noting that the son of King Cugat will probably be overlooked by the media, handicappers and wagering public ostensibly due to his last start in which he finished 32 lengths behind winner Sinister Minister in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. ), Casse said he remains bullish on the colt's chances. "I am not saying he will hit the board, but he will surprise them."