The TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) winner and top points earner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, forced trainer Joe Sharp to make last-minute adjustments after developing a quarter crack in his right front foot. The son of Tale of Ekati worked with two different bar shoes on his front feet Saturday, his first breeze since April 15, when he earned the bullet among 30 workers at Churchill's Trackside Training Center for a half-mile in :47 4/5.
Since then Girvin's foot has received treatment, and to retain fitness, he has spent time in the pool at Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center and used the hyperbaric chamber there.
After Saturday's five-furlong move, Sharp said "relief" was the word of the day at his Barn 18 on the Keeneland backstretch.
Sharp's wife Rosie Napravnik was aboard Girvin for Saturday's work and Sharp was on appropriately named workmate Hotfoot, affording the trainer a close-up view of his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) hopeful as they prepared for the breeze. Rain from the night before yielded to thick clouds Saturday morning in Lexington, and the track was fast as Girvin started the work, clicking off two :12 furlongs for the first half-mile.
He then shifted into another gear in the stretch, and his long stride propelled him to a gallop out to six furlongs in 1:13 2/5.
"It was an exceptional work—one of the best works I've ever seen him have. Rosie said the same thing," Sharp said. "There was a point in the turn where I told Rosie to slow down a bit, and she said, 'I don't think we're going that fast.' I think it was just that he was doing it so effortlessly."
Grady also was thrilled with the move, which ranked second-fastest of 16 at the distance Saturday.
"How could you not like that work? He worked like a monster and galloped out like a monster," Grady said. "Now he's cooling out good. Good horses work like that. He looked comfortable."
Sharp and Grady watched Girvin after the breeze as he comfortably walked for 1 1/2 hours on a path outside the barn.
"He galloped out good and seems to be doing well," Sharp said. "As long as he stays like he is now, he's on track for the Derby. He showed today that he didn't lose any fitness. He had plenty left. (Napravnik) said she couldn't get him pulled up until they got to the five-eighths pole."
Sharp said getting out on the track aboard Hotfoot, who finished eighth in the Louisiana Derby, afforded him some added oversight of Girvin. He said he kept a close watch on the colt as he entered the track and when he walked and warmed up.
"You can see a lot more when you're actually looking them in the eye," Sharp said.
Sharp said the quarter crack is stabilized and they're keeping it clean. For Saturday's work, Girvin wore a special bar shoe made for him by Dr. Raul Bras, a foot specialist with Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. He also wore a bar shoe on his left front because he'd had an old quarter crack on that foot, Sharp said.
"That one has not been an issue. It's completely grown out," Sharp said. "Raul felt like making them both even and stabilizing them would be best."
Sharp said Girvin will probably wear the special shoe until race day and then it will likely be changed for the race, although he added he'd leave the decision on what shoes to wear on race day up to Bras.
Grady said Girvin's foot will continue to be evaluated this week to make sure he's comfortable going forward.
"Here's the deal. It's a foot. It's not like we have a suspensory (issue). It's not like we have a (bone) chip or a knee (injury). It's a foot. It's not the optimal time to have a foot (issue), but if you're going to pick any injury—if you had to pick one ... ," Grady said, expressing confidence in Dr. Bras. "It's either going to be good enough to run, or he's not going to run. Feet aren't marginal. It's going to be good or it's not."
Sharp said Girvin will stay at Keeneland the next few days, likely returning to KESMARC for further use of the hyperbaric chamber and possibly the pool. Grady said as long as he comes out of the work well, the plan is to ship to Churchill Downs May 3, adding that they'd always planned to stay at Keeneland as long as possible to avoid the limelight.
Girvin will enter the Derby with just two works since winning the April 1 Louisiana Derby, but Sharp is confident his first Derby starter is fit.
Girvin previously dealt with changed plans. He spent time at Evangeline Downs Training Center after his eye-catching debut win in December to take advantage of the hyperbaric chamber and quiet environment, but missed the Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots because of the equine herpesvirus outbreak at the New Orleans track.
During that time, the colt developed the quarter crack in his left front. With the quarantine finally lifted in late January and Girvin's foot back to good health, he returned with a runner-up finish in a one-mile turf stakes Feb. 4 at Fair Grounds.
In hindsight, everything worked out fine. The quarantine provided added time for Girvin to recover from his foot problem, and the turf race set Girvin up for his Feb. 25 Risen Star Stakes (G2) performance, where he rated in fifth early before taking command in midstretch on his way to a two-length score in the 1 1/16-mile event.
Girvin followed that effort with a clear victory in the Louisiana Derby, where he rallied from fourth to stay undefeated in three dirt starts.
"He's amazing—very resilient," Sharp said. "That's the kind of horse you want for the Derby. He's able to adjust with anything."