Calumet Farm homebred Sonneteer is a compliant sort, whose nature is to rely upon his rider for instruction. So it was no surprise to assistant trainer Julie Clark when jockey Corey Lanerie, aboard May 1 for a four-furlong work at Churchill Downs, reminded the striking Midnight Lute colt to get down to business—and Sonneteer responded in kind.
Working for the first time since placing fourth in the April 15 Arkansas Derby (G1), the Keith Desormeaux trainee clocked a bullet in :47, the fastest of 22 moves at the distance on the day. Churchill clockers caught the colt in splits of :11 4/5, :23 1/5, and :35 1/5, with a five-furlong gallop out in :59 3/5, out to six furlongs in 1:13 3/5.
Lanerie, who will ride Steve Asmussen-trained Lookin at Lee in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), hopped aboard the pickup work mount after jockey Kent Desormeaux remained in California due to a travel booking error.
"He seems hard to get a gauge on, because he only does whatever you ask him to do," Lanerie said. "Working by himself, I think he's a little lazy, a little laid back, so I kind of got after him a little bit ... he's got a lot of flesh under you, he's a big horse, and he ran second in the Rebel Stakes (G2) against some good horses, so he's got to be a good horse."
"I thought it was good," Clark added. "Corey said he had to ask him a little bit, which is what is normal for that horse. He is very, very obedient. He can be a character a lot of times, but when he gets on the track he just waits for instruction.
"He's funny that way, because in the post parade he likes to get very enthusiastic, and Kent (Desormeaux), when he rode him the last time, thought, 'this horse is going to run off with me,' he was so strong. But he broke sharp and then was just like, 'OK, here I am. What next?'
"We like that about him. That's Keith's running style, to kind of sit back a little bit, relax, get a breath, and then come to the end. So (Sonneteer's) natural tendancy lends toward Keith's style."
With his fourth in the Arkansas Derby and a runner-up finish by two lengths to Malagacy in the March 18 Rebel at odds of 112-1, Sonneteer has kept good company. But he has yet to find the winner's circle in 10 starts, and has history against him. The last maiden to win the Kentucky Derby was Broker's Tip in 1933, joining Buchanan (1884) and Sir Barton (1919) as the only contenders to enter the Run for the Roses winless and emerge victorious.
"He's just constantly maturing, growing, getting bigger, coming into himself," Clark said. "I think he likes a distance, he likes to go a little bit further, and that closing kick is helpful... I think we've got a shot."