FROSTED, UPSTART MAKE FIRST APPEARANCES AT CHURCHILL DOWNS FOR DERBY 141
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Wednesday, April 29, 2015) â€“ Godolphin Racingâ€™s Wood Memorial (GI) winner Frosted and Ralph Evansâ€™ ultra-consistent Upstart made their initial morning training appearances at Churchill Downs Wednesday. The two colts had arrived from South Florida Tuesday afternoon for Saturdayâ€™s 141st running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
KENTUCKY DERBY NOTES
AMERICAN PHAROAH/DORTMUND â€“ On â€œis this an omen front?â€ there was good news out of Germanyâ€™s top soccer league in this week for Kaleem Shah, owner of Dortmund: the club team his horse is named defeated Bayern
Munich in an overtime shootout Tuesday. Last fall, before Shahâ€™s Bayern won the Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic, the Bayern team beat Dortmund.
Shah was wearing a Dortmund soccer shirt and jacket as he reported the result of Tuesday's at trainer Bob Baffertâ€™s barn. Earlier in the morning Shah watched his colt gallop 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Dana Barnes.
Dortmund brings an unbeaten record into the 141st Derby. He earned a lot of respect on Feb. 7 at Santa Anita when he responded to a challenge from Firing Line and rallied in the stretch to win by a head.
â€œThat obviously proves that heâ€™s got a big heart,â€ Shah said. â€œIt takes a horse with a certain demeanor, and speed and class to be undefeated, six for six so far. I donâ€™t want to get ahead of myself, but Iâ€™m very hopeful that he will do well for himself. That Bob Lewis, the way he came back after being passed by Firing Line, just proves the quality of the horse that he is.â€
On Tuesday, Baffert said Dortmund gets over the track at Churchill Downs better than he does at Santa Anita. Shah said that he had heard that, too.
â€œDana Barnes, who gets on him, has told me that he moves way up on this surface compared to Santa Anita,â€ Shah said. â€œI know there are some other very good horses in this field, so Iâ€™m hopeful that he will do well.â€
Shah was careful to be upbeat and diplomatic with comments but acknowledged that he is interested in seeing how his colts fares against the other star of Baffertâ€™s barn, the likely favorite, American Pharoah.
â€œObviously, Iâ€™m biased. Understandedly so,â€ he said. â€œIt is not just a two-horse race. There are 19 other good horses in the race. Everybody is hopeful; thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re running. There is so much luck that goes into this race, but Iâ€™m hopeful that heâ€™ll do well.â€
And Shah said he is comfortable with having his horse, a son of 2008 Derby winner Big Brown, in the same barn with appears to be his biggest rivals.
â€œI know Bob will do right by both horses,â€ he said. â€œWhoever is the fastest will win. We will find out. If he has the heart of his daddy, Big Brown, Iâ€™m sure he will do well.â€
American Pharoah galloped 1 1/2 miles under Jorge Alvarez.
BOLD CONQUEST â€“ The Ackerley Brothers Farms' Bold Conquest, who stood 22nd in Derby qualifying points as of Tuesday, wasn't entered Wednesday by trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen said Wednesday morning that he and the owners talked Tuesday night and made the decision to withdraw the colt from consideration.
BOLO â€“ Golden Pegasus Racing and Earle Mackâ€™s Bolo stretched his legs in a mile and three-eighths gallop Wednesday morning under exercise rider Tony Rubalcaba along with a visit to the starting gate during the 8:30 to 8:45 special training period at Churchill Downs for Derby and Oaks horses.
Interested observers of the gallop were trainer Carla Gaines and one of the Golden Pegasus members, Keith Brackpool, the boss man at Santa Anita racetrack in California.
Though Bolo has primarily been turf oriented in his brief career â€“ of his five starts, three have been on grass â€“ Gaines has found encouragement on several fronts for her horse to run on the dirt at Churchill. She noted that other â€œgrassâ€ horses had successfully made the switch to dirt for the Derby, notably Barbaro, the 2006 winner who had three turf victories prior to his start in the Run for the Roses. She also feels her charge will welcome the added distance of the race and that he has the ability to adapt and adjust to circumstances and riders, including his new one for Saturday, Rafael Bejarano. She added one more encouraging note to the scenario Wednesday morning: â€œI think he just loves this track,â€ the conditioner said. â€œHe goes over it so smoothly.â€
CARPE DIEM/ITSAKNOCKOUT/MATERIALITY/STANFORD â€“ The four-bagger out of the Todd Pletcher barn went trackside Wednesday at about 8:35 in order to take advantage of the special Derby/Oaks training session for those runners at Churchill Downs.
Half of the quartet simple galloped, while the other two both galloped and took a visit to the starting gate. The straight gallopers were Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner Carpe Diem, who had exercise rider Patti Krotenko attached for a one-mile tour of the oval, and Itsaknockout with Ezequiel Perez who covered a mile and one half. The two colts doing double duty were Florida Derby (GI) winner Materiality â€“ with Carlos Cano up â€“ and the Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up Stanford, who had Isabelle Bourez in the saddle.
Pletcher watched the maneuverings of his horses from the frontside, then reported all was well when he returned to his Barn 40 headquarters.
The seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer, who has run 40 horses in the Kentucky Derby since the year 2000, was asked his opinion of the current state of affairs of the hugely popular race and the fact that â€“ these days â€“ it is virtually guaranteed to have a 20-horse field.
â€œI know the field size is an issue,â€ he said. â€œAnd I can see both sides of how it is currently working. This is one of those years -- with all the very good horses at the top of the lineup â€“ where in the relatively recent past you might have seen a field of only eight or 10. People might take a look and say â€˜I donâ€™t think I can beat those horsesâ€™ and wait for another day. But now, weâ€™re going to have 20 horses most every time. It has become such an event in itself that youâ€™re all but sure thatâ€™s going to happen.
â€œMy job normally is to find the best race for my horse; where that horse is going to be a favorite and, ideally, a short price. I want to run them where they figure to be able to win. But this race is different and Iâ€™ve had to start looking at it differently.
Weâ€™ve had enough Giacomos (2005) and Mine That Birds (2009) (both of whom went off at 50-1 and won) to make the point that anyone has a chance. And I get that. On the other hand, a 20-horse field can take away from the ability side of things and put the luck element more into play. It makes things so much tougher for your horse and your rider. I think it might be part of why we havenâ€™t seen any Triple Crown winners lately.
â€œI wasnâ€™t around before they cut the field size to 20 runners (in 1975 after they had 23 starters the previous year) and I know thereâ€™s been talk of cutting it further. Maybe 14 would be the right size. But then, if you did that, thereâ€™d be a 15th horse that really deserved to be in. You just know that would happen. It always does.
â€œThe points system (installed with the 2013 Derby) seems to have had an effect that way. My owners are now saying â€˜Weâ€™ve got enough points to get into the race.â€™ It seems to me it was a little different before that when we used the graded stakes system.
â€œI surely can see both sides of this. Sometimes Iâ€™m on both sides of it I really donâ€™t have an answer for it; Iâ€™m not sure there is one. I do know it is a popular race and we want to win it. And I know Iâ€™m not alone with that.â€
DANZIG MOON â€“ John Oxleyâ€™s Danzig Moon galloped 1 Â½ miles after the renovation break with exercise rider William Cano up. â€œHe went very well this morning,â€ trainer Mark Casse said. With the post position draw looming this afternoon, Casse was asked what he would prefer with Danzig Moon.
â€œIdeally, somewhere in the middle,â€ Casse said. â€œFor us, it is not as crucial as it is for some other horses. If I had to be inside or outside, Iâ€™d prefer inside. He needs to get the perfect trip and needs to save ground.â€
Danzig Moon will be ridden in Derby 141 by Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard the colt in his past three starts.
â€œThis is a good group of horses,â€ said Leparoux, who will be riding in his eighth Derby. â€œDanzig Moon is an improving horse and you never know.â€
Leparoux, 31, had his best finish in his first Derby in 2007 with Sedgefield, who finished fifth behind Street Sense. He has been a regular on the Kentucky circuit for the past 10 years, save for a few forays to Southern California.
â€œI was riding at Keeneland a few years before there was Polytrack,â€ Leparoux said of the all-weather surface that was installed for the Fall 2006 meet and replaced last year. â€œI got in the gate for the first race Saturday night and I felt like the old man in there with a bunch of kids. They were all in their 20s!â€
EL KABEIR â€“ Zayat Stablesâ€™ El Kabeir went to the racetrack Wednesday morning for the first time since arriving from New York early Monday morning, getting reacquainted with the racing surface over which he scored one of his most important victories last fall.
â€œHe went out for a jog. Everything went great. Perfect. He was full of energy,â€ trainer John Terranova said. â€œHe got a view of the track again, and on we go.â€
Exercise rider Simon Harris was aboard for the morning activity where the son of Scat Daddy posted a front-running victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall. â€œHe was striding out great. He was looking around at everything. He handled the track beautifully,â€ Harris said.
FAR RIGHT â€“ Harry Rosenblum and Robert LaPentaâ€™s Far Right had an energetic 1 Â¼-mile gallop after the renovation break with regular exercise rider Laura Moquett in the saddle.
â€œThe (post position) draw doesnâ€™t matter,â€ trainer Ron Moquett said. â€œHe is going to run well from wherever he is.â€
Mike Smith, who won the 2005 Derby on Giacomo, has ridden Far Right in his past three starts with two wins and a second. He will be aboard Saturday.
â€œI beat him in the Delta Jackpot and he had trouble in that race,â€ Smith said. â€œI had high expectations or I would not have flown to Oaklawn to ride him.â€
With Smith aboard, Far Right won the Smarty Jones and Southwest (GIII) and then finished second in the Arkansas Derby (GI) to American Pharoah.
â€œHe has had to stop and start in some of his races and has had no problem doing it,â€ Smith said. â€œThat ability is a plus in a big field. He could make some noise if things get a little heated up front early.â€
FIRING LINE â€“ Trainer Simon Callaghan â€“ following a serious flying misadventure â€“ was in from California and able to oversee Arnold Zetcherâ€™s Firing Lineâ€™s exercise Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs. His bay colt went trackside at the start of the 8:30 special training session for Derby and Oaks candidates and toured a mile and one half in a strong gallop under exercise rider Humberto Gomez. He also visited the starting gate.
â€œHe went right in the gate today,â€ Gomez said afterward back at Barn 42. â€œYesterday he was a bit tense going in there the first time, but today he went right in no problem. He felt strong under me galloping. Heâ€™s doing good.â€
Transplanted Englishman Callaghan is pleased with his horse and excited for the chance to take part in his first â€œDarby.â€
â€œOh, yes, very glad to be here,â€ he noted. â€œEspecially after all it took to do it yesterday.â€
The 31-year-old Callaghan, who has been training out of Southern California since 2009, had a simple trip from Los Angeles to Louisville through Chicago planned for Tuesday, but got caught up in a travelerâ€™s nightmare instead. First, after boarding at LAX and sitting on the runway, his entire plane was told to return to the terminal. Three and one-half hours later they finally got in the air, only to miss their connection in Chicago, of course. But another flight to Louisville was lined up and he and his fellow passengers boarded. Once more, they sat on the runway with nothing happening. Finally, they were told that the planeâ€™s steering was malfunctioning and theyâ€™d have to once more return to the terminal, where another plane would be scheduled. At last he made it to Louisville Tuesday evening.
â€œMissed my dinner, but Iâ€™m here now,â€ Callaghan said. â€œItâ€™ll get better from here on out.â€
FRAMMENTO â€“ Mossarosaâ€™s Frammento galloped 1 Â½ miles under exercise rider Juan Bernardini for trainer Nick Zito after the renovation break.
Frammento, who will be the first also-eligible when post positions are drawn, would be ridden by Corey Nakatani if he gets in the race.
FROSTED â€“ Godolphin Racingâ€™s Frosted galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Rob Massey Wednesday morning after arriving at Churchill Downs from Florida late Tuesday afternoon.
â€œWeâ€™ll do the same tomorrow, but we might go to the paddock and go to the gate,â€ trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of his Wood Memorial (GI) winner.
Following the morning activity, McLaughlin made the short walk from Barn 42 to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas for a photo opportunity that brought together Lukas, the four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, and five former assistants. McLaughlin was joined by Todd Pletcher, Mike Maker, George Weaver and Dallas Stewart, who all entered horses in the Kentucky Derby Wednesday, to pay tribute to their former boss.
â€œWayne, not only was he a great coach and teacher on the racetrack, he also mentored me off the racetrack. I feel blessed to be with him early in life and see how he behaved and acted. Itâ€™s helped us all in life,â€ McLaughlin said. â€œHeâ€™s a special individual.â€
INTERNATIONAL STAR â€“â€¯Ken and Sarah Ramseyâ€™s Louisiana Derby (GII) winner and Road to the Kentucky Derby points leader (171) International Star galloped around the Churchill Downs oval under exercise rider Joel Barrientos and visited the starting gate.
â€œEverything went well,â€ trainer Mike Maker said. â€œHe was perfect in the gate and will school [in the paddock] during the third race today.â€
Maker added that neither the prerace routine nor the starting gate have posed issues for International Star. The schooling and gate work are standard protocol for Maker, as for most of the Derby trainers.
Maker confirmed that Firespike, 24th on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard, would not be entered in the Derby and instead will go in Saturdayâ€™s American Turf (GII).
â€œWayne was a father figure,â€ Maker said. â€œYou spend seven days per week with somebody you get close. He always did right by his horses and gave them the best. I canâ€™t thank him enough for the opportunity he gave me.â€
Maker worked under Lukas from 1993-2003, a stretch in which the barn sent out 10 Triple Crown race winners (including Kentucky Derby winners Thunder Gulch in 1995, Grindstone in 1996 and Charismatic in 1999) and seven Breedersâ€™ Cup winners.
â€œOrientate was one of my personal favorites and Cat Thief left me a little souvenir to remember him,â€ Maker said, showing off a small scar on his face. â€œIt was just so many good horses.â€
KEEN ICE â€“â€¯Donegal Racingâ€™s Keen Ice galloped strongly for two miles Tuesday under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar for trainer Dale Romans after the renovation break.
Kent Desormeaux, who won the Derby with Real Quiet in 1998, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and Big Brown in 2008, will be aboard Keen Ice on Saturday. Desormeaux and Romans teamed for third-place Derby finishes with Paddy O'Prado in 2010 and Dullahan in 2011.
"He's going to be one of them, when they load into the gates, who's already done it,'' Romans said of Desormeaux, who will be riding Keen Ice for the first time. "He's done it more than once and won't be intimidated. Maybe three's a charm. We've had two thirds together.''
MR. Z â€“ Zayat Stables Mr. walked in the shed row for trainer D. Wayne Lukas the day after blowing out two furlongs in 24 seconds. Although Ahmed Zayat's stable also will be represented by likely favorite American Pharoah and El Kabeir, Lukas said Zayat is closely involved with long shot Mr. Z.
"These horses are like his children,'' Lukas said. "He's just absolutely crazy about them all. I'm sure he calls everybody as much as he calls me. He's a great owner. Not only does he have great enthusiasm, but he's knowledgeable. He knows what's going on.''
Mr. Z, of course, is named for the owner. "That's why he's got a certain affinity for him,'' Lukas said.
MUBTAAHIJ â€“â€¯Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoumâ€™s UAE Derby (GII) winner Mubtaahij â€œcantered one mile, or galloped, as youâ€™d say,â€ trainer Mike de Kock reported of Wednesday morningâ€™s exercise after the renovation break. Jockey Christophe Soumillon, who has the return mount in Saturdayâ€™s Kentucky Derby 141, was aboard.
â€œI might give him a little blowout tomorrow,â€ de Kock said. â€œWeâ€™ll see if he eats well again. I might let him stretch his legs for three furlongs. He was quite alert taking everything in this morning. It was like heâ€™d been here every day. Head down, relaxed, chilled. Heâ€™s got a good mind and doesnâ€™t get too fazed by anything.â€
The Irish-bred son of Dubawi has been among the most popular horses for the growing throngs of visitors. Every step Mubtaahij makes in the morning â€“ from the track to his bath â€“ seems to be chronicled by dozens of fans, photographers and journalists.
â€œI thought it would [bother me] but it actually hasnâ€™t,â€ de Kock said. â€œI understand it and I get it -- the media have their job to do and itâ€™s good for the sport that the man on the street can get that close to the horses and the big players in the industry. I think itâ€™s good to keep the sport strong.â€
Even de Kock, who has won nearly 100 Group I events at many of the most prestigious race meets around the globe, wasnâ€™t fully prepared for the hoopla that surrounds the Kentucky Derby. â€œIâ€™m blown away,â€ he said. â€œI expected it to be big, but not this big. You get told about it, you read it, but until you experience it, you donâ€™t really know.
â€œIâ€™ve experienced the Melbourne Cup, which is just a massive, fantastic meeting. There are a lot of good meetings in Europe, Honk Kong, Singapore, but not like this.
â€œThe most amazing thing for me is that people just get to walk around you. The man off the street, you know, thatâ€™s just unbelievable. There are more people walking around here looking at horses in the morning here than go racing at a lot of places.â€
OCHO OCHO OCHO â€“ DP Racing LLCâ€™s Delta Jackpot (GIII) winner Ocho Ocho Ocho had an easy three-furlong breeze in :38.40 under exercise rider Amie Williams.
â€œGot a little something out of it,â€ trainer Jim Cassidy said. â€œI didnâ€™t want anything too aggressive and I thought she did a good job.â€
Amie Williams, 26, the same rider formerly known as Amie Pooli before her marriage to Cassidyâ€™s assistant Matt Williams. Sheâ€™s won 139 races dating to 2011, including 13 over the winter at Turf Paradise before returning to Southern California as an exercise rider.
â€œHeâ€™s got a huge stride for a little horse and feels awesome,â€ Williams said of Ocho Ocho Ocho. â€œHe just floats across the ground. He wanted to keep on going and I kind of had to bring him down a little bit. His ears were pricked the whole work, he was really happy.â€
The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense visited the paddock during Tuesdayâ€™s races without incident.
â€œHeâ€™s good-minded,â€ Cassidy said.
TALE OF VERVE â€“ A surprise horse joined the possible Kentucky Derby field when Charles Fipke's Tale of Verve was entered Wednesday morning by trainer Dallas Stewart. Tale of Verve, whose only victory came in a maiden race at Keeneland in his most recent start on April 23, ranks 22nd in Derby qualifying points, with 0, among the 22 horses entered. He'll be the second also-eligible runner when post positions are drawn later Wednesday, and won't draw into the race unless two horses are scratched before 9 a.m. Friday.
"I know it's a longshot for him to get in the race, but we'll still get a shot,'' Stewart said. The colt's victory at a long distance and his affinity for the Churchill Downs surface were reasons for wanting to take a shot at the Derby, Stewart said.
A son of Tale of Ekati and the Unbridled mare Verve, Tale of Verve has run only in maiden races, two last year and four this year. The Keeneland race was at a mile and three-sixteenths, and he won by two lengths.
"The horse had two nice works here (at Churchill Downs) going into that race, and he's trained phenomenal after the race,'' Stewart said.
Tale of Verve worked five furlongs April 5 in 59.40 seconds, the fastest of 21 workouts at the distance that day. On April 12, he worked five furlongs in 59.80, the second-fastest workout of 38 at the distance.
"He's won going farther than any horse in America except that horse from Dubai,'' Stewart said. "It was a mile and three-sixteenths. The other (horses') races were a mile and an eighth. They were better races, don't get me wrong, but he's a fit, sound horse.''
TENCENDUR â€“â€¯ Owner-breeder Phil Birsh enjoyed his first experience on the backside during Derby week Wednesday. Birsh watched the bustle around Barn 42 that is the temporary home of several Derby runners and watched his colt gallop once around the track under exercise rider Blair Golen.
Birsh is a New York City resident who has owned Thoroughbreds for 25 years. He is the president and CEO of Playbill, which publishes the monthly theatrical magazine that is the program for most Broadway shows and many entertainment events across the country.
â€œItâ€™s a really remarkable experience,â€ Birsh, 57, said. â€œThe Kentucky Derby has such a place in American culture and to be just a part of it is truly a gift. I and my family are so excited.â€
Birsh is no stranger to Churchill Downs, but Tencendur is his first Derby runner. The massive son of Warriorâ€™s Rewards earned his qualifying points with a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial (GI) on April 4. â€œIâ€™ve raced here. Iâ€™ve won here. Iâ€™ve been to the Derby many times and I must say that is better,â€ Birsh said.
With a Derby runner, Birsh had access for the first time to what goes on in the barn area and around the backside on the days leading up to the race. The normally quiet space is loaded with horsemen, spectators and media. A few feet away from where Birsh and his farm manager, Mike Tobin, were standing Firing Line was being bathed and South African Michael de Kock, trainer of Mubtaahij, was in the midst of a television interview.
Birsh smiled as he put the experience in perspective. â€œYou wouldnâ€™t be human not to be jealous a little bit and want so much to experience what itâ€™s like to have some connection to this great, great moment.,â€ he said. â€œEveryone who owns a horse asks themselves when they see the horse for the first time, â€˜Is this the one?â€™ For whatever reason he was. Itâ€™s a wonderful gift and you have to be grateful for it.â€
UPSTART â€“ Ralph M. Evans and WinStar Farmâ€™s Upstart stretched his legs during a morning gallop under exercise rider Vicki King Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs after arriving from Florida late Tuesday afternoon.
â€œIt was a normal, regular gallop for him. She picked a good spot for him. There wasnâ€™t a lot of action when she turned around to gallop,â€ trainer Rick Violette Jr. said. â€œHeâ€™s a pretty cool character. He takes everything in.â€
Upstart raced three times at Gulfstream Park this year, winning the Holy Bull (GII), finishing first in the Fountain of Youth (GII) before being disqualified and placed second, and checking in second behind Materiality in the Florida Derby (GI).
â€œBetween racetracks and trips, it hasnâ€™t been ideal as far as results. But, still, only one horse beat us all winter,â€ Violette said. â€œHeâ€™s run fast enough to win the Derby, numbers-wise, sheets-wise, and heâ€™s trained great coming into this. I donâ€™t think I could change anything for the bettor, if I wanted to.â€
Violette said he thought Upstart is being underestimated.
â€œI think because of the slowness of the racetrack in Florida on both Florida Derby Day and Fountain of Youth Day, it was kind of easy for people to dismiss them as slow horses,â€ Violette said. â€œWhen those slow horses finish 10 and 12 (lengths) in front of the field, and the field is OK â€“ and when Frosted goes and wins the Wood Memorial after (a fourth-place Fountain of Youth finish) â€“ you have to put things in perspective.â€
WAR STORY â€“ Loooch Racing Stables (Ron Paolucci), Glenn Ellis and Christopher Dunnâ€™s War Story jogged a mile and galloped a mile under exercise rider Marvin Orantes for trainer Tom Amoss.
Amoss, who won two races on Tuesdayâ€™s Churchill Downs card, was asked what post position he would like to draw for War Story and he deferred to Paolucci.
â€œEight,â€ Paolucci said. â€œI had a dream last night that we won the Derby from the eight. I dreamed five and got the five when Ria Antonia won the Breedersâ€™ Cup (Juveniles Fillies in 2013). I dreamed the one and got the one when Sr. Quisqueyano won the Sunshine Millions. â€œMaybe we can make it three for three.â€
KENTUCKY OAKS NOTES
ANGELA RENEE/ESKENFORMONEY â€“â€¯ Conditioner Todd Pletcherâ€™s Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) entrants Angela Renee and Eskenformoney were out of their barn and on to the track at 6 a.m. Wednesday for gallops as they continue to move forward toward the $1 million filly classic this Friday at Churchill Downs.
Angela Renee, who races in the silks of Siena Farm, was partnered by exercise rider Patti Krotenko for a mile and a quarter gallop around the oval. Up on StarLadies Racingâ€™s Eskenformoney was Carlos Cano and that pair toured the track only once for their exercise. Tuesday, the pair drew posts four (Eskenformoney) and six (Angela Renee) in the field of 14 scheduled for the nine-furlong Oaks. Pletcher was asked what he thought of those draws: â€œIâ€™m good with it. Happy. No issues,â€ was his reply.
BIRDATTHEWIRE â€“â€¯Trainer Dale Romans was talking confidently about Forum Racing's Birdatthewire as he watched the filly gallop under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar. "I don't want to sound Bubby Delp-ish,'' Romans said, making a reference to the cocky trainer of Spectacular Bid. "I expect her to win.'' Romans also said, "If it wasn't for the points system, she'd be in the Derby with them.''
Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount. "He's already ridden her twice, and he's 2-for-2 on her,'' Romans said. "He is an up-and-comer. He loves the filly, and he has a lot of confidence in her.'' Birdatthewire is 6-1 in the Oaks morning line. "That would matter to me if it wasn't just one man's opinion,'' Romans said.
CONDO COMMANDO â€“â€¯Co-owner Michael Dubb knows what itâ€™s like to have a highly regarded Oaks horse. He was a partner in Sis City, the 3-5 favorite, who was fourth in 2005. Three years ago, he owned a share of Grace Hall, who was third as the 5-2 favorite. On Friday, once-beaten Condo Commando will be among the favorites in the Oaks.
â€œIâ€™m hoping that the third time is a charm,â€ Dubb said Wednesday after the filly galloped 1 3/8 miles under trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
Dubb, a metro New York builder and a member of the New York Racing Associationâ€™s Reorganization Board, is a partner with Bethlehem Stables and The Elkstone Group in Condo Commando. She was purchased for $72,000
in a group of about 20 yearlings in the $50,000 to $125,000 price range that the partners purchased at auction.
â€œBy racing standards weâ€™re not big budget people, with the hope that weâ€™ll get one or two that work out to be superstars,â€ Dubb said. â€œWe know that some wonâ€™t work out and the others will be just horses. We paid $72,000. When you shop in that range, sometimes you canâ€™t check every box, as the big bloodstock agents say.â€
Racing is full of stories about why decisions are made and Dubb said there was a reason why his group snagged the daughter of Tiz Wonderful out of Yearly Report.
â€œTiz Wonderful wasnâ€™t the most desirable stallion, but I had owned My Happy Face previously, who was very successful out of Tiz Wonderful, so I was partial,â€ he said. â€œOn the dam side, she is out of a multiple Grade II winner. When youâ€™re shopping at that level thatâ€™s what we have to do. We canâ€™t have Bernardini out of a Grade I winner. Itâ€™s fine.â€
Eleven months after they purchased Condo Commando at Keeneland, Dubb and his partners gambled by running her in a $75,000 maiden claiming race at Saratoga Race Course. She won by 12 lengths that day and then won the GI Spinaway by 13 1/4 lengths. She is the only runner in the Oaks field who has competed in a claiming race.
â€œWhen youâ€™re at Saratoga you expect that in every maiden race youâ€™re going to run into a Todd Pletcher,â€ Dubb said. â€œSo the first time out for a horse you donâ€™t want to throw it to the wolves. We knew the horse was good; we didnâ€™t know how good she was. I will tell you that the walk from the box to paddock, making sure she wasnâ€™t claimed, was the longest walk I can ever recall taking. We didnâ€™t know how good she was.â€
A shade over 57 seconds after the gates opened for the 5 1/2â€“furlong race, Dubb and his partners were pretty sure she wasnâ€™t a common horse and feeling pretty lucky that no one had claimed her.
â€œMy attitude is the first race isnâ€™t the most important race,â€ he said. â€œHer fifth or sixth or seven, which might turn out to be the Kentucky Oaks, is more important. We knew she could run. We hadnâ€™t really asked her to do all that much. Being by Tiz Wonderful, itâ€™s not a question of we thought we could get away with it. We didnâ€™t. We really just thought we were doing the right thing by the horse, not knowing how good she was.
Once she ran like that we were â€˜Oh, my God, what do we have here?â€™ â€
FOREVER UNBRIDLED â€“ Trainer Dallas Stewart is taking a positive attitude about the Oaks draw, which put Charles Fipke's Forever Unbridled in the No. 1 post position. "We've just got to leave it up to racing now,'' Stewart said. "You drew the 1-hole; you've got to run from the 1-hole. That's what the deal is.''
Mike Smith is replacing Brian Hernandez Jr. as Forever Unbridled's jockey. "He's a Hall of Fame rider,'' Stewart said of Smith. "I'm very excited about having him. After she ran in New Orleans, I felt like we would be coming here. I just felt like I wanted to get a top, top top rider. Not taking anything away from Brian. He did a great job. If I didn't get Mike, I was going to stick with Brian. So (Smith) accepted the call three weeks ago.''
Smith said: "She's been running really well, definitely deserves a shot in here. No one knows until we got over there and do it, but she deserves a shot, and I'm glad she drew in. Drew the 1-hole, which is OK going around two turns, especially when you're going to sit back a little bit. We'll see what happens.''
The filly galloped a mile-and-three-eighths Wednesday under exercise rider Emerson Chavez soon after the track opened.
Iâ€™M A CHATTERBOX/LOVELY MARIA â€“ Grayson Farmâ€™s Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) winner Iâ€™m a Chatterbox and Brereton Jonesâ€™ Ashland Stakes (GI) heroine Lovely Maria each galloped five furlongs and jogged five furlongs under trainer Larry Jones. By design, Jones gradually has shortened the distance of their gallops the past few days to get them fully charged for Fridayâ€™s Kentucky Oaks.
The Jones fillies have thrived at Churchill Downs this week, though Jones always finds things to worry about and work on. In the case of Iâ€™m a Chatterbox, the main concern continues to be whether she can perform as well over this surface â€“ the only one sheâ€™s ever lost a race on (twice) â€“ as she has at Fair Grounds and Keeneland. For Lovely Maria, the Majesticperfection filly has not always been cooperating with her rider.
â€œBoth days (galloping this week) thereâ€™s been big improvement, even today from yesterday,â€ Jones said. â€œI thought Lovely Maria was much better. Sheâ€™s gotten a lot more relaxed and used to the surroundings. Sheâ€™s going a lot straighter and truer. Theyâ€™re both doing good.â€
Also Wednesday, both fillies visited the paddock and stood in the same stalls they will be saddled in Friday without incident.
INCLUDE BETTY â€“â€¯Brereton Jones and Timothy Thorntonâ€™s Fantasy Stakes (GIII) winner Include Betty continued her routine of coming to the track early in the morning for routine maintenance gallops.
â€œSheâ€™s doing fine,â€ said co-owner Thornton, who spent the morning delivering foals at Airdrie Stud, where he is the general manager. â€œI wouldâ€™ve heard different by now if there was anything to tell.â€
MONEYâ€™SONCHARLOTTE â€“ George and Lori Hallâ€™s galloped a mile shortly after 7 oâ€™clock Wednesday morning under exercise rider Jesus Gomez for trainer Kelly Breen.
Paco Lopez will have the mount on Moneyâ€™soncharlotte, who arrived at Churchill Downs late Tuesday night from her home base at Monmouth Park.
OCEANWAVE â€“â€¯Gary and Mary Westâ€™s Oceanwave prepared for a scheduled start in Fridayâ€™s Kentucky Oaks during a morning gallop Wednesday at Churchill Downs.
â€œShe went a good mile and three-quarters and galloped a nice long mile,â€ trainer Wayne Catalano said.
Oceanwave will be seeking to return to winning form in the Oaks after finishing second in her past two starts while encountering traffic in both the Honeybee (GIII) and the Fantasy (GIII) at Oaklawn Park. The daughter of Harlanâ€™s Holiday was unlucky not to be entering the Oaks of a victory in the Fantasy, said her trainer.
â€œShe got in a little traffic around the corner. Rounding the turn, she got held up a little bit. They got the first jump on her when she probably should have gotten the first jump on them, and we came up a neck short,â€ Catalano said.
Rafael Bejarano is slated to ride Oceanwave for the first time in the Oaks.
PUCA â€“ Donegal Racingâ€™s Puca galloped a mile Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for a start in Fridayâ€™s Kentucky Oaks. The daughter of Big Brown is winless in two starts this year after concluding her 2014 season with a troubled sixth-place finish in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Santa Anita in November. She closed well after stumbling at the start to finish fourth in the Davona Dale (GII) at Gulfstream in her seasonal debut before finishing second to front-running winner Condo Commando in the Gazelle (GII) at Aqueduct.
â€œAt Gulfstream, a one-turn mile probably isnâ€™t her cup of tea,â€ trainer Bill Mott said. â€œ(At Aqueduct), we were laying second and third, but the winner didnâ€™t come back to us. It was a pace-scenario sort of thing. I think two turns, mile and an eighth, will suit her. If she gets a little pace, thatâ€™ll help.â€
SARAH SIS â€“ Joe Ragsdaleâ€™s Sarah Sis galloped 1 Â½ miles under exercise rider Jesus Esquivel after the renovation break for trainer Ingrid Mason.
A $20,000 purchase from Ocala in 2014, Sarah Sis broke her maiden by 11 Â¾ lengths at Arlington Park in her debut.
â€œWe pretty much expected something like that. We bet,â€ Mason said with a laugh. â€œShe didnâ€™t have any fast works, but (jockey) Julio (Felix) said she was special and that she would win by a lot.â€
Sarah Sis followed that victory with a runner-up finish in the Arlington-Washington Lassie and then took an allowance race at Keeneland by 4 Â½ lengths in which she defeated Oaks rival Lovely Maria.
â€œThis is a tough race and it will be her biggest test yet,â€ Mason said. â€œBut she is doing well and is all dappled out.â€
Sarah Sis will be ridden by Gary Stevens in the Oaks. It will be the first time aboard for the two-time Oaks winner.
â€œShe is very tractable,â€ Stevens said. â€œI think she could have beaten (champion) Take Charge Brandi (in the Martha Washington) and could have been closer in the Fantasy (GIII). She is a good filly.â€
SHOOK UP â€“â€¯Regis Racingâ€™s Shook Up schooled in the starting gate before galloping under exercise rider Mike Callaham for trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen said that the filly's inside draw for the Oaks, post position No. 2, wasn't the motivation for taking the filly to gate. "It's part of our routine.'' he said. "She was going to the gate today.''
Shook Up is a daughter of Tapit, a sire who has provided Asmussen several talented runners, including Untapable, who won the Oaks last year for him, and Tapiture. The trainer offered a simple explanation for his success with Tapit offspring.
"They're fast,'' Asmussen said. "There's no substitute for talent, no matter how you want to dress it up. It's a race.''
STELLAR WIND â€“ Kentucky Oaks favorite Stellar Wind, owned by Hronis Racing, was on the track at 5:45 a.m. for a 1 1/2-mile gallop under Ricardo Peniche, longtime exercise rider for trainer John Sadler.
â€œ[Ricardo] says sheâ€™s just floated over the track,â€ Sadler said. â€œShe hasnâ€™t had any problems handling it. We havenâ€™t breezed over it but she trained really well at home before traveling. Weâ€™re very excited, obviously. Weâ€™re just waiting. We could run tomorrow or today. Weâ€™re ready. â€œSheâ€™s been working really nicely. Victor (Espinoza) loved the work on Friday and so did I. Just the way she does it, she travels easily and sheâ€™s working nicely and doesnâ€™t get tired or anything like that. We feel sheâ€™s ready to go.â€
Sadler said Friday that Stellar Windâ€™s final Kentucky Oaks work â€“ six furlongs in 1:12.80 â€“ was nearly identical to her final Santa Anita Oaks (GI) breeze â€“ six furlongs in 1:13.60 six days prior to the race. If the chestnut filly can duplicate her huge effort in that race, Sadler believes that would be enough to win the Kentucky Oaks.
â€œI would think so,â€ he said. â€œI hope so.â€
On Thursday Sadler will travel to Laneâ€™s End Farm in Versailles, Ky., near Lexington, to visit the stallions, including his former charge Twirling Candy and Stellar Windâ€™s sire Curlin.