Alpha, who's been tucked away from the limelight in New York in the days leading to the Kentucky Derby, has continued being schooled at the gate at Belmont Park.
Alpha was fractious in the starting gate prior to his eleventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and so trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and his team have made a concerted effort to improve the colt’s behavior.
In the Grade I Wood Memorial, where he started from post 1, it was arranged to have a gate handler assigned to Alpha -- but standing just outside the stall when the colt and Ramon Dominguez waited for the bell to ring. Alpha finished a close second to Gemologist.
“He stood in the gate this morning,” said Artie Magnuson, assistant to McLaughlin, on Thursday. “He was really, really good. We need to keep going. In the afternoon, he gets cranked up. Last time, we didn’t have a man in with him. It was their idea at the gate. He said, ‘Why don’t we try to leave a guy out, but we’ll watch. If Ramon wants someone, we’ll grab him.’ Sometimes a colt will get distracted. They’ve done a great job with him.”
Magnuson said Alpha likely will breeze at Belmont on Saturday and will be flown to Kentucky on Monday. After his arrival at Churchill Downs, there will be additional gate schooling.
“We’ll stand him in the gate at Churchill and do it their way,” said Magnuson. “He’s not that terrible, so we’ll probably stand him, and they’ll get to know him, and whatever way they want to do is fine with us.”
Like the Juvenile, the Kentucky Derby will be conducted at Churchill Downs in front of a large crowd. Drawing from his experience from ponying Majestic Shore to post for the 1984 Kentucky Derby, Magnuson described the electric atmosphere on Kentucky Derby Day.
“That’s a crazy day,” said Magnuson. “It is so loud. It’s unbelievable. You feel like you’re so small. It’s crazy.”
Magnuson’s sensory overload was understandable, considering it was the first time he had ever ponied a horse to post.
“They asked, ‘Do you want to pony one?’” Magnuson recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ And they said, ‘We need 20 people! Just follow No. 15. Just follow him.’ It was Swale. I just followed him. It was wild.”
--Edited NYRA release