Three first-time Kentucky Derby trainers joined veteran conditioner Bob Holthus on a national teleconference April 25 to discuss final preparations for their horses heading into the Derby.
Dan Hendricks, Michael Matz, Mike Trombetta, and Holthus agreed that this year's Run for the Roses might well be one of the most competitive Derby heats in quite some time.
"It's gonna be a helluva Derby," said Holthus, who comes in with Arkansas Derby (gr. II) hero Lawyer Ron. "A lot of horses are coming into it undefeated this year, a real quality field with good records."
"This field is similar to the (Bessemer Trust) Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I)," said Hendricks. "Six or eight were tough in there. It's a good, competitive crop with a lot of stalkers and frontrunners."
Lawyer Ron, Brother Derek (trained by Hendricks), and Matz' Barbaro all enter the Derby starting gate undefeated for 2006. And their trainers agree that post position and early positioning in the race will be key to their chances.
"I'd prefer he start somewhere from the 8 post to the 16," Hendricks noted. "He's going to be forwardly placed, but I don't want to be neck and neck with somebody that goes out and gets silly."
Matz said that Barbaro has "enough tactical speed to put himself close up, but Edgar (Prado) will have to feel it out."
Holthus added that he hoped Lawyer Ron would be "...five lengths off the lead into the first turn."
Matz sought to downplay any negatives around the five-week layoff between Barbaro's victory in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby. "I don't understand why people are making such a big deal about the layoff when no preps were ever run five weeks out. Who's to say it's bad? He had more than five weeks off before the Holy Bull (gr. III) and eight weeks off before the Florida Derby. I'm not trying to buck history here. We came up with a plan to run three times in Florida and ship to Kentucky and run. We're trying to keep it simple and do what's best for the horse."
Holthus said that, as far as Lawyer Ron is concerned, the three weeks between the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby was a good interval. "The races don't seem to take a lot out of him. He's durable and bounces back quick. Two days later, you don't know he ran."
Trombetta, who trains Illinois Derby (gr. II) victor Sweetnorthernsaint, said his charge is versatile and will be able to carry his speed a distance. The horse left his Maryland base the morning of April 25 and is due to arrive in Louisville that evening. He will work at Churchill Downs sometime over the ensuing weekend.
Brother Derek will arrive at Churchill April 27 and gallop over the weekend before a light breeze of four or five furlongs under regular rider Alex Solis Monday.
Barbaro will make the short van trip from Keeneland to Churchill on the 27th as well, and Matz said he will work a half-mile either Sunday or Monday.
Lawyer Ron will be out for a five-furlong move Saturday, according to Holthus.
Taking a page from the Tom Petty songbook, Hendricks said that "Waiting is the hardest part. We waited after the Breeders' Cup for the new season to begin; waited to meet Stevie Wonderboy again; waited for the preps; and now we're waiting to ship and go to the big one. We learned at the Breeders' Cup he can ship and adapt to new surroundings. I don't see any difficulties other than the 10 furlongs and 20 horses."
Matz said that horse racing is about having "a great field and an outcome that's up in the air. Barbaro has shown the will to win and the heart, and I couldn't be more pleased with how he's come out of the Florida Derby. He was pushing the pony all over the place in his last work."
Holthus was confident about Lawyer Ron's current condition as well, noting that he galloped out a mile "in :38 and change with the outrider holding onto him. He became a man around December and has really matured into a racehorse."
Perhaps speaking for the quartet, Hendricks said, "We're coming back there to enjoy it. We want to have a blast."