(from Churchill Downs)
A TO THE CROFT – Koolmen Racing Stable’s A to the Croft galloped 1 ½ miles in her final preparation for the Kentucky Oaks.
“She’s doing exceptionally well,” trainer Ken McPeek said about the daughter of Menifee. “It’s up to (jockey) Calvin (Borel) from here.”
A to the Croft, who will start from post nine in the Oaks, is 30-1 in the morning line. In 2002, McPeek had the Oaks favorite in Take Charge Lady, who led nearly the entire race until she was passed in the stretch by 20-1 longshot Farda Amiga and finished 1 ¼ lengths behind in second. Take Charge Lady went on to win 11 of 22 races and earn $2,480,377.
“It was nice to run second with her,” McPeek recalled about Take Charge Lady. “She won a lot of nice races in her career. One horse got in the way Oaks day, but it was a good day. I think I’m still really young in the scheme of things, and A to the Croft is going to be one of many more opportunities I’ll have to win the Oaks. Take Charge Lady was just the first, and we’ll keep grinding.”
Now McPeek is confident about the Oaks chances of A to the Croft, who won her career debut at Churchill Downs in July 2007.
“She loves this track,” he said. “She works well over it. She’s experienced here. She’s trained here all her career. Do we have home-court advantage? I don’t know.”
ABSOLUTELY CINDY – Battaglia Memorial winner Absolutely Cindy had an adventurous morning Thursday at Churchill Downs, galloping a mile and an eighth with Jeremy Roetting up.
When owner-trainer-breeder Keith Kinmon sent Absolutely Cindy to the track after the morning renovation break, Kentucky Derby favorite Big Brown was coming to the same gap with a crush of onlookers and reporters following in tow.
“About four reporters brushed right up behind my filly,” Kinmon said. “I told them that I knew Big Brown was running for $2 million, but I am running for $500,000 and I probably need it more than he does.”
After the morning exercise, Absolutely Cindy came bouncing off the track.
“She was a handful this morning,” Kinmon said. “Jeremy earned his money today.”
Absolutely Cindy will not go the track Friday morning. “I am not going to tempt fate again,” Kinmon said.
Julien Leparoux, the leading rider at the four-day-old Spring Meet with seven victories, has the mount on Absolutely Cindy and will break from post position two.
Kinmon was asked what he was hoping to see from his filly in the Oaks.
“If she is very relaxed early and can cut to the outside to get some room, she will come with a methodical run to the far turn where she has a real big kick,” Kinmon said. “The pace should be in our favor and I think she will run a real good race. I look for her to make a good showing.”
AWESOME CHIC – Aurora Springs Stable’s filly Awesome Chic jogged the “wrong way” one mile and galloped one mile on Thursday morning, her final trip to the track before the Kentucky Oaks. She will walk the shedrow on race day. Trainer Rafael Ramos said he would school her in the paddock today.
Jose Acero, owner of Aurora Springs Stable, has been optimistic all week and beamed with confidence Thursday morning.
“I have been visualizing this race a long time and I believe my wish will come true,” said Acero. “I really see us winning.”
Acero is looking past Friday’s race as well. “I hope to meet Eight Belles in the future, possibly at Saratoga.”
BSHARPSONATA – With trainer Tim Salzman and jockey Eric Camacho looking on, Cloverleaf Farm’s Bsharpsonata galloped two miles before 7 o’clock Thursday morning with Scott Miller up.
Salzman arrived in Louisville on Wednesday afternoon from Maryland. His father, John, has been overseeing the filly’s training in Kentucky.
“I don’t have to worry about a thing,” Tim Salzman said of his father being in charge. “He taught me all that I know and he knows twice as much.”
Camacho will break Bsharpsonata from post position 10, a spot that bothers neither rider nor trainer.
“The 10 hole is not a big deal with the long run to the first turn,” Tim Salzman said. “The rider is going to do what he has to do. Hopefully he can get over and save some ground.
“There is not a lot of speed in there. At Keeneland (in the April 5 Ashland Stakes), Little Belle kind of inherited the lead because nobody wanted it on the Polytrack. We will be up close.”
Bsharpsonata will be the second of two mounts in two days for Camacho. He will ride Essenceofthemoon for Salzman in Thursday afternoon’s Grade III Kentucky Stakes for two-year-olds going five furlongs.
“One today and one tomorrow and then back to Maryland,” said Camacho, who never has ridden at Churchill Downs.
Bsharpsonata will not go to the track Friday morning.
COUNTRY STAR – The Stonerside Stable’s filly got her first taste of Churchill Downs Thursday morning when she galloped a mile and three-eighths for trainer Robert Frankel. The tall daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker (also a Frankel charge) handled the exercise well and drew a pleasing nod from her Hall of Fame conditioner.
“She’s doing good,” Frankel noted. “I’ll paddock her this afternoon, then walk her in the morning. She’s ready to go.”
The double Grade I winner will be handled by Rafael Bejarano in the nine-furlong Kentucky Oaks and they’ll break from post No. 6 in the 11-horse field. The homebred sophomore is listed as the 3-1 second choice in 134th Oaks, which carries a purse of $500,000 and a Grade I rating.
GOLDEN DOC A –Trainer Barry Abrams had to wait until after 9 a.m. Thursday morning to get his rider to gallop Ron McCauley’s Golden Doc A in her final bit of exercise prior to her start in Friday’s $500,000 Kentucky Oaks.
Seems as if that rider – a Hall of Famer named Kent Desormeaux – had a bit of business to take care of first, something about a three-furlong work on a horse named Big Brown who was going to run in a race at Churchill on Saturday.
The effervescent Cajun reinsman made it to Barn 43 soon enough, though, and Abrams gave him a leg up on his little chestnut and led them trackside on a sunny Kentucky morning. The instructions were for a mile and a half gallop and “Mo” and the daughter of the Nureyev stallion Unusual Heat accomplished that, well out in the middle of the track and picking up the pace near the end of the journey. Afterward rider, trainer and horse seemed quite happy with the proceedings.
“Kent called me when he knew we were going to run in this race and our regular rider (Rafael Bejarano) was committed to Country Star (who also will run in the Oaks),” Abrams noted. “He said he’d never won the Oaks and he dearly wanted to win it and he thought our horse could do it. I told him I’d have to talk it over with the owner. When I did, he (McCauley) said he wasn’t sure but that he’d like to meet Desormeaux and talk to him about it. So I got them together and once that happened I knew it would be a slam dunk. Kent is one of the great talkers of all time. He’s also riding really well right now, which is what I liked. And, sure enough, when Ron came back after talking to him, he said ‘He’s our guy!’”
Abrams, a 54-year-old native of Minsk, Russia, has some history with Desormeaux. The trainer started in the horse business with trotters, but when he switched to Thoroughbreds in California in 1993, he won his first race with a steed named Cheyenne Gold. The rider he gave a leg up to in that heat was none other than Desormeaux.
Golden Doc A and Desormeaux will leave from post No. 1 Friday in the 11-horse Oaks field. The stretch-running filly is listed at 12-1 in the morning line.ELUSIVE LADY – Elusive Lady arrived at Churchill Downs on Wednesday afternoon after a flight from New York. On Thursday morning, the Van Nistelrooy filly “galloped an easy mile,” said Todd Quast, general manager for owner T. Paul Bulmahn’s Gold Mark Farm of Ocala, Fla. Exercise rider Jose Bello was aboard Elusive Lady, who is under the care of trainer John Kimmel’s assistant, Patrice Bellet.
Elusive Lady won the Tempted Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct last October. She is coming off a third-place finish at Aqueduct in the Comely Stakes (G2) on April 12.
Quast, who worked under D. Wayne Lukas for 10 years, said Elusive Lady “likes to be on the front end. She runs her best races that way. I think where she drew in the Oaks, in the four hole, she’ll be able to bounce and kind of be close to the front. That’s the plan: to let her get out and get into the race and see what happens.”
Florida-bred Elusive Lady, who was purchased for $90,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, is a member of the first group of racehorses that Bulmahn has owned. The founder and owner of ATP Oil and Gas decided to enter Thoroughbred racing when he attended the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 2002.
“Through all the excitement,” Quast recalled, “he said, ‘I’ve got to get involved in this.’ ”
In late 2002, Bulmahn purchased property in Ocala and began to develop Gold Mark Farm. The farm covers 2,500 acres and includes a training facility with a three-quarter-mile training track covered in Safetrack synthetic surface.
LITTLE BELLE – Neal McLaughlin, who has been his brother Kiaran’s assistant since 1993, has really enjoyed his recent stay at Keeneland. Not only did he saddle Darley Stable’s Little Belle to win the Ashland Stakes (G1) at the track on April 5, but he has watched the A.P. Indy filly blossom in the subsequent month while she has trained on Keeneland’s Polytrack. Meanwhile, McLaughlin, a Lexington native, has stayed with his parents. He is the youngest of seven children in the McLaughlin family.
On Thursday morning, Little Belle made her final trip over the Polytrack at Keeneland, galloping 1 ¼ miles with exercise rider Marsha Barrs aboard. “She’s really happy,” said McLaughlin about the filly, who was scheduled to board a van for the trip to Churchill Downs around 10 a.m.
With Rajiv Maragh aboard, Little Belle will break from post seven in the Oaks. “I love the post draw,” said McLaughlin. “They didn’t give us much respect in the morning line, but that’s OK.”
Little Belle is 8-1 in the morning line.
PROUD SPELL – Brereton Jones’ homebred filly Proud Spell jogged and galloped under trainer Larry Jones on Thursday. The likely favorite in the Oaks will be ridden by jockey Gabriel Saez, 20, who is making his first appearance in the race as well as in the Derby aboard the Jones-trained filly Eight Belles.
“This feels great,” said Saez from the Churchill Downs backstretch. “I’ll do the best I can. I have already won some big races, so I’m not nervous, but, I don’t know, maybe come Saturday I’ll get emotional.
“I’m calm and I’m ready,” he added. “I’ve gotten some good advice, including some from Angel Cordero Jr. I’m happy to be reunited with Eight Belles (in the Derby), but I’ve ridden Proud Spell in every race. Larry tells me, ‘You know what you’re doing.’ ”
Saez is originally from Panama, where he attended the famed Laffit Pincay, Jr. Jockey School and won 58 races at Presidente Remon racetrack before coming to the United States.
Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, the breeder and owner of Proud Spell, was at the track Thursday morning also.
Proud Spell had been under consideration for a start in the Kentucky Derby along with her stablemate Eight Belles, but Jones explained at how they arrived at the decision to run in the Oaks.
“As we analyzed the situation, it just made more sense to run in the Oaks and to see Larry and Cindy (Jones) have the chance to do well in both races. They deserve to have everybody rooting for them. That had something to do with it.
“We’ve run against most of the other fillies that are in the race and so we have a line on them. We have not run against colts. Her Beyer and Ragozin numbers in Louisiana were superior to Pyro, who at the time was one of the early favorites for the Derby, but I’m a more conservative-type guy and running my filly against fillies was more reasonable,” the owner said.
Would an outstanding performance in the Oaks put Proud Spell back into consideration for a start against colts?
“There’s always that possibility,” Gov. Jones said. “While I’m conservative, I also like to think of myself as somewhat of a sportsman and if that seems to be the sporting thing to do at some point and it’s not gong to be injurious to anyone in the process which is her, I’d consider it.”
PURE CLAN – IEAH Stable, Lewis Lakin and Pegasus Holding Group Stables’ Pure Clan galloped a mile and a half after the renovation break Thursday morning with exercise rider Steve Schmelzel up.
With the expected withdrawal of Eight Belles from the Kentucky Oaks field, Pure Clan will break from the far outside No. 11 post position.
The outside spot is a concern for trainer Bob Holthus, who will give Hall of Fame rider Edgar Prado a leg up on Pure Clan in the Oaks.
“He has got to save some ground going into the first turn,” Holthus said. “You can’t be two or three wide on the first turn, because you know you are going to be wide on the second turn. After that it is all up to Edgar and her.”
Pure Clan’s work for the Oaks is done. Holthus said the winner of the Pocahontas (GIII) and Golden Rod (GII) here last fall would not go to the track Friday morning.
RASIERRA – Lloyd DeBruycker’s Rasierra galloped a mile and a half before the renovation break with exercise rider Claudio Solis up.
Rasierra will make her Grade I debut in the Kentucky Oaks and break from position five under Jamie Theriot.
Trainer Ray Tracy Jr. was going to test the Grade I waters with the daughter of Kafwain last fall in the Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland, but the filly got sick.
“She came down with a fever before the Alcibiades and she had to stay at a clinic for a month,” Tracy said. “It turned out she had colitis and she had to stay on the farm for another month and I didn’t get her back in my barn until early January.”
The bacterial infection came at a most inopportune time for Rasierra, who came to Keeneland off a third-place finish in the Arlington-Washington Lassie (GIII) at Arlington Park.
“After the Lassie, she was training better than ever,” Tracy said. “Now, she is showing a steady gain forward again.”
Tracy was asked what he would like to see from Rasierra in the Oaks.
“I hope she relaxes early in the race,” Tracy said. “She was a little rank in her last race at Oaklawn Park, so we are taking the blinkers off hoping to get her to settle early.
“I know this is a big step up, but she has showed steady improvement and I think she can keep moving forward.”