Kiaran McLaughlin says he's training Alpha with both the Grade I Florida Derby and Wood Memorial in mind -- but now there's another option.
Alpha has $180,000 in graded stakes earnings and may well need to hit the board in his next race to clinch a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Now that El Padrino will likely to run in the Florida Derby, the Grade II Louisiana Derby on April 1 has become a possibility for Alpha’s next start.
“If El Padrino is going to the Florida Derby, the Louisiana Derby becomes a little bit easier,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “I have to talk to Simon Crisford about all of this, because he’s the racing manager (for Godolphin).”
The Grade II Louisiana Derby is the day after the Florida Derby, with the Wood Memorial coming the following Saturday.
“He’s here, and his training schedule doesn’t change,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just that he’ll probably work the morning of the Florida Derby if he’s going to New York instead of racing that day.
McLaughlin is clear about the case against running in Florida.
“Union Rags is a nose from being undefeated. He’s a serious horse. I don’t like our chances of beating Union Rags. I don’t like running in races that I don’t think we can win,” said McLaughlin. “I have that much respect for Union Rags, but then again Hansen is waiting up there, so it’s not going to be easy no matter where you go.”
Crisford, the longtime stable manager for Godolphin, will make the ultimate decision. Alpha was shipped from Palm Meadows to New York and won twice at Aqueduct this winter before shipping back to Palm Meadows to train for his final Derby prep. After winning the ungraded Count Fleet, he closed from off the pace with a wide trip to take the Grade III Withers by 3 1/2 lengths.
“He wasn’t beating Union Rags or racing against a Union Rags. We had a good spot up in New York and he ran well,” McLaughlin said. “But he’s doing everything asked of him. We’re happy. We just want to stay this way and get to the gate May 5th.”
Staying south does have two strong points in its favor for the Alpha camp. It gives its participants five weeks to prepare for the Kentucky Derby, which McLaughlin prefers, and it would allow Ramon Dominguez to accept the return mount aboard Alpha.
“We obviously like him. He’s two-for-two on him. He’s a great rider, and he’s coming here to ride him if we run,” McLaughlin said. “If we don’t run and we go to the Wood, we have Javier Castellano on a hold for the race.”
McLaughlin hasn't locked in a jockey if the Kentucky Derby comes up.
“You get the best available rider on the day. Ramon might have to ride Hansen in the Derby and Javier might have to ride El Padrino,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll get a Hall of Fame rider on May 5. He’s very straightforward horse to ride; it’s just that he has gate issues which are hopefully getting better.”
Although collecting graded-earnings will be important, McLaughlin is looking for Alpha’s next race to provide the best possible preparation for the Derby.
“I’m just hoping that our best race is going to be on May 5, not on March 31 or April 7,” he said. “At this time, we just hope we can get to May 5 healthy and sound, no matter how we get there.”
--Edited Gulfstream Park release with additional content by Dick Downey