BIG BAZINGA - Big Bazinga walked the shedrow Monday morning. "We don't train in the rain," said Amber Mayers, assistant to trainer Katerina Vassilieva.
CALIFORNIA CHROME - As the rains pelted, the lightning flashed and the thunder roared at Churchill Downs Monday morning, likely Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome and a dozen of his West Coast buddies went airborne from Ontario Airport near Los Angeles on a Tex Sutton charter shortly after 5 a.m. “their time”. The flight landed in Louisville just after 11:30 a.m. Eastern, and the horses arrived at the track at 12:45 p.m.
California Chrome took up residence in stall 15 of Barn 20 on the Churchill backside, sharing space with the horses of trainer Tom Proctor. The chestnut colt's trainer, Art Sherman, and his wife Faye, had a flight of their own out of L.A. at 8 a.m. Monday.
Sherman said that his millionaire charge would get his first feel for the Churchill strip Tuesday morning with a likely jog over what is eligible to be a wet surface.
CANDY BOY - Trainer John Sadler, a Southern California guy, isn't one who has to dance around the weather too often. But confronted with serious rain, lightning and thunder Monday morning at Churchill Downs, he decided to trot earlier rather than late with Candy Boy.
Sadler sent Candy Boy and exercise rider Jelani Grant to the track with his first set prior to 6 a.m. and had them jog once around the sloppy strip.
"He likes it soft," the trainer said later at Barn 43. "If it were to come up wet on Saturday, I wouldn't mind it. He liked it here last Friday when he galloped and the track was wet. If it does work out that way, I'd think some others wouldn't care for it and we'd be OK."
Sadler was in the Derby recently with Sidney's Candy and Line of David in 2010. He was asked if he had made any adjustments for the trip this time.
"You're always learning and adjusting," he said. "This time when I came, I was fortunate enough to have an owner who had a horse (Monument) they let me bring as a workmate for Candy Boy. He keeps him sharp and competitive and that works well for him.
"I also brought my own stable pony this time. We vanned him from California in three days in order to save some money. But he's here and it just makes things easier for my horses."
Sadler has brought four other horses on this trip, including Saturday's American Turf runner Quotient, who is aboard the Tex Sutton flight that brought 13 horses in from California Monday, including likely Derby favorite California Chrome.
Saturday, Sadler will give Gary Stevens a leg up on Candy Boy. And they'll go running for the roses - rain, wet, dry or fast.
CHITU, HOPPERUNITY - Hoppertunity breezed a half-mile in :48 Monday.
Under jockey Martin Garcia and working in company with stakes-winning stablemate Drill, Hoppertunity covered the first furlong in 12 seconds and was timed in :24.20 for a quarter mile. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.40 and seven furlongs in 1:27.40. Hoppertunity started out two lengths behind Drill and finished on even terms.
Strong storms punctuated by thunder and lightning passed through Louisville before 7 a.m. The track was closed for more than 30 minutes because of the lightning. The dirt surface was renovated and then floated to keep it from being damaged by the downpour and track officials announced that it would not be renovated again prior to the special training time for Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses at 8:30.
Bob Baffert decided he would try to take advantage of what might be the best conditions of the morning and train the horses right away. He had Garcia breeze Kentucky Oaks candidate Ria Antonia and then Hoppertunity.
"I sent him out because I was worried about these storms coming in," Baffert said. "Then they said they were going to float the track and they said there was going to be one renovation then and none later. So I was in a little bit of a panic mode and called the audible to go with the filly first if it was good and safe.
"Then I brought him out, and he worked really well with Drill. Usually Drill wouldn't work well on this, and today he did. He's a really good work horse. We gave him a little bit of a head start this time -- the last time Drill went to the eighth pole and didn't want to work, but today he stayed with him. They work together all the time and what they did today was a normal work.
"It was a good work. I'm glad I got the work in. He looked great. He was reaching out well. Got it in and got it out of the way. I can relax now, sit around and go buy my tickets."
Baffert said that Chitu was fine Monday, the morning after working six furlongs from the gate in 1:13.20.
Mike Smith with ride Hoppertunity in the Derby and Garcia will be aboard Chitu.
COMMANDING CURVE - Commanding Curve galloped Monday morning under exercise rider Emerson Chavez.
Commanding Curve handled the wet conditions well, trainer Dallas Stewart said. Commanding Curve raced once on an off track, finishing sixth in his debut, 23 1/4 lengths behind the winner, in a seven-furlong maiden race Aug. 31 at Saratoga.
"You know, he ran bad in the mud at Saratoga, but that was like soup,'' Stewart said."But he's galloped - I've never worked him in the mud - but he gallops terrific in it. It's always a great unknown.''
Commanding Curve on Sunday moved into the 20-horse body of the potential Derby field when West Point's Ring Weekend was withdrawn because of a fever. Stewart said he feels badly for Graham Motion, who trains Ring Weekend, and also for the West Point partnership that owns him.
But Stewart and his friends and family are thrilled that he'll be in the Derby with Commanding Curve.
"People were calling and texting and stuff,'' Stewart said."Like I said, we've been training like we're running all the way around. That's the way we've got to go.''
DANCE WITH FATE - Dance With Fate left Ontario International Airport early Monday on the flight with California Chrome.
The plane arrived at Louisville International Airport at 11:32 local time. Dance With Fate arrived at Churchill Downs at 12:45 and was offloaded by Barn 42.
Winner of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his most recent start, Dance With Fate is trained by Peter Eurton and will be ridden on Saturday by Corey Nakatani.
DANZA, INTENSE HOLIDAY, VINCEREMOS, WE MISS ARTIE - The Todd Pletcher Derby quartet got in one-mile jogs Monday morning despite the wild and wet conditions at Churchill Downs that had the morning training period shut down for approximately half an hour because of lightning strikes in the area.
"We got lucky and found a seam (in the weather) to jog the colts," Pletcher said.
The foursome had put in their final Kentucky Derby works the previous morning, each going a half mile. Intense Holiday (:48.60) and We Miss Artie (:49.20) had worked in company, as did Danza (:48.80) and Vinceremos (:49).
Pletcher said the weatherman would be the key to his next move with his 3-year-olds.
"We'll have to see how it goes with the weather tonight and tomorrow," he said at Barn 34. "We might go back to galloping with them tomorrow, but the weather will be a big part of making the call."
The trainer was asked if any of his Derby four had given him any indications that they might like or dislike a surface akin to the "sloppy" one they navigated with easy jogs Monday morning.
"I really don't have a line on any of them at this point as to how they might do on 'off' tracks," he said. "We just haven't seen it so far. I don't have any reason to believe any of them would be hindered by it, but we'd be into experimentation if we had to do it."
After his colts had worked Sunday morning, Pletcher indicated he was happy with three of them, but had reservations about running We Miss Artie in the race. He was not especially pleased with his work and wasn't sure the Canadian-bred was at his best on a dirt surface. He had indicated that he was going to talk to his owner - Ken Ramsey - and see if he could convince him to consider other options.
Ramsey overrode his trainer on this one. Asked about that conversation with Ramsey, Pletcher just smiled.
GENERAL A ROD, HARRY’S HOLIDAY, VICAR'S IN TROUBLE - Each of trainer Mike Maker's Kentucky Derby contenders -- Vicar's in Trouble, Harry's Holiday and General a Rod -- jogged on a sloppy Churchill Downs track Monday morning.
Exercise rider Joel Barrientos was aboard each colt.
Of the three, Vicar's in Trouble is the only one to race on an off track, and none of them has raced on a sloppy or muddy surface. Vicar's in Trouble broke his maiden with a 13-length romp against 2-year-old Louisiana-bred company in a six-furlong race on a "good" track Dec. 14 at the Fair Grounds.
"If the situation called for it, they've trained well over it, but as a whole, I don't work my horses over an off track,'' Maker said. "They haven't run on it. There's only one way to find out.''
MEDAL COUNT - Medal Count enjoyed a light two-mile jog over the sloppy Churchill Downs surface, hitting the track at 9 a.m. with exercise rider Faustino Aguilar aboard during a period of meteorological calm.
"He's fine," trainer Dale Romans said. "Energy level's high."
The Blue Grass Stakes runner-up jogged the wrong way, sticking to the outside rail. Afterward he stood calmly by the half-mile gap and took in what little activity there was to see toward the end of training hours on a wet morning when many horses on the backside never left their barns.
"He'll gallop easy all week," Romans said. "Probably Wednesday he'll stand and school in the gate. Probably school in the paddock Thursday and if he's fine we might not do it again; if he needs to we'll go back Friday."
This was Medal Count's first day back on the track since Saturday's five-furlong move in 1:00.20. Romans said his stout Dynaformer colt came out of the work "perfect" and added that "it didn't take anything out of him."
PABLO DEL MONTE - Pablo Del Monte galloped 1 ½ miles on a stormy Monday morning at Keeneland.
"He's been breathing fire all weekend, and even all the rain couldn't put the fire out," Ward quipped.
Pablo Del Monte, who needs one horse to defect from Kentucky Derby field in order to make the Run for the Roses on Saturday.
"If not, he's ready for the Preakness," Ward said.
RIDE ON CURLIN - Trainer Billy Gowan walked Ride On Curlin in the shedrow Monday morning, a day after he worked seven furlongs in 1:29.
Gowan said the colt was a handful. "He was feeling his oats, because he ate every one of them last night,'' Gowan said. "And his legs were cold and tight. I love the way he looks this morning, because you always hold your breath after a work. We came in this morning, and it was perfect.''
With rain coming down, the timing for Ride on Curlin's walk day turned out fortunate. "We had it all planned out,'' Gowan said.
Ride On Curlin has raced twice on off tracks, finishing third, a length behind winner Hoppertunity, in the Rebel on a "wet fast" Oaklawn Park track, and winning an allowance race sprint by 2 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn on a "good" track. Ride On Curlin's sire, Curlin, won the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2007 on a sloppy track at Monmouth Park.
SAMRAAT - Trainer Rick Violette said Samraat "just hacked around the barn" at Aqueduct racetrack Monday morning before being flown to Louisville.
Violette said the charter was expected to leave the New York area at approximately 3:30 p.m.
"This is his light day," Violette said. "We rode him around the barn to take the edge off him, but he hadn't had a day off since his breeze (one mile in 1:45.91 on Friday at Aqueudct) and I figured his travel day could be that."
Samraat, runner-up to Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial, is Violette's second Derby horse. His debut in America's biggest race was with Read the Footnotes, who finished seventh in 2004. He is looking forward to another trip to the Derby.
"It's pretty cool," Violette said. "I'm obviously excited; my whole family is going to be there. I've got a brother flying in from L.A. and another brother flying in from London. My sister and my parents are coming up from Florida. It's pretty cool and they are very excited. This is something you really should enjoy, whether you go once or 100 times. There is no question that you need to slow down sometimes and smell the roses and this is certainly one of those times. No pun intended."
Violette, 61, said he enjoyed being at the Derby with Read the Footnotes, but that hasn't lessened his enthusiasm.
"I'm 10 years older, and probably not wiser, but as you get older you realize that these things don't have to happen ever again, or 10 years from now. So do your job, cross all the t's and dot all the i's, but leave yourself some time to sit back and enjoy it, too."
TAPITURE - "It felt like the priest's round of golf in Caddyshack," trainer Steve Asmussen said of Tapiture's half-mile work through an epic early morning storm. "Only, thank goodness, we didn't get struck by lightning at the end of it."
The Winchell Thoroughbreds colorbearer and exercise rider Abel Flores hit the track at 6:15 a.m. and headed the wrong way (clockwise in racing parlance) in preparation for their final pre-Derby workout. Within three minutes, as they walked in tandem with Asmussen and his pony to their outside, the sky opened up and pounded Churchill Downs with what a few local horsemen said was the worst weather they could remember seeing horses train in.
The Asmussen barn, though, preaches the importance of routine above all else, so Tapiture and his handlers proceeded as if it were any normal morning under the Twin Spires.
"You just do what you do," Asmussen said. "It's very comfortable to be here at Churchill. This racetrack handles water amazingly. It gives you a lot of confidence having had several horses run a lot in the afternoons here over the last 15 years or so."
Sheets of rain blew sideways and a deafening crack of lightning, which may have been the one that knocked out a bank of lights on the far turn, marked the start of the work as the Tapit colt broke off from the half-mile pole. Unfazed by the weather and seemingly relishing the sloppy surface, Tapiture stayed well off the rail, rolled through an opening quarter in :24.60 and finished the four-furlong move in :50. Clockers caught the five-furlong gallop-out in 1:04.80.
The work unfolded at 6:30 a.m. and by 6:45 Churchill official suspended training temporarily because of the dangerous circumstances.
Back at Barn 38, as the storm picked up yet again, Asmussen welcomed soaking reporters under the dry cover of his shedrow.
"I'm very happy to get it in," Asmussen said. "I loved how he moved over it. I can't say enough about Abel, under those conditions, being able to do what we wanted. He hit 50 right on and that's what we were aiming for with the horse."
Asmussen typically does not ask much of his workers in their final work before an important stakes engagement.
"He's got a beautiful stride to him," the trainer said. "He's an extremely efficient mover. I'm definitely happy to get it in before they announced the track's closed."
UNCLE SIGH - Uncle Sigh galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Benito Alvarado Monday morning in preparation for a start in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
Earlier in the morning, trainer Gary Contessa recalled the day last fall when he predicted that the son of Indian Charlie would run in this year's Derby.
"When he got to my barn and I worked him his first half-mile, I called the owner and I said, 'We're going to run this horse in the Kentucky Derby.' He has a stable manager and she called me and said, 'Are you kidding me? You're going to tell an owner six months before the Derby that he's going to win the Derby?' When I hung up, I said, 'That is kind of wrong, giving the owner that kind of pump that far in advance.' But that's how I felt when I worked him a half-mile at Belmont Park."
Uncle Sigh first caught Contessa's attention while breezing for the Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale for 2-year-olds in training at Palm Meadows Training Center in March 2013. Although the New York-bred colt didn't meet his reserve at the sale, Contessa persisted and purchased him privately for his owners.
"I expected him from the day I bought him to be a great horse. He was the horse I had to have at the 2-year-old sale," Contessa said. "Every year I go to every 2-year-old sale and I watch hundreds of horses run past me."
Contessa, who spotted something in Uncle Sigh, explained that he has "plagiarized" Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas' explanation of how he is able to spot great potential in a particular horse, likening it to being able to detect the cat hidden in a picture in a children's book.
"I plagiarized it. I made it mine. Because when I see a great 2-year-old run past me, I feel like I've seen the cat. I understand exactly what Wayne meant when he said that," Contessa said. "When I saw this horse run past us, I saw the cat."
WICKED STRONG - Wicked Strong made his first trip to the track at Churchill Downs Monday morning and galloped approximately 1 1/4 miles over the sloppy surface under exercise rider Kelvin Pahal.
Wicked Strong shipped from New York to Louisville by redeye van Saturday night and did not go to the track Sunday.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens sent the colt out to the track at 8:30 a.m. during the time reserved for Derby and Oaks runners
"He galloped pretty much like he always does, starts out real slow looking around and once he gets warmed up he starts stretching out," Jerkens said. "He didn't pull like he does back home, only because of the combination of the mud and he's never seen the place before. I thought he looked good and comfortable and switched his leads nice.
"The pony was with him, which is good because he can get a little tough on the way home. He got loose a couple of times on us early in his career coming home from the track. We like to have at least somebody there with a shank or a pony or both."
Jerkens said he was happy when the worst of the intense electrical storm moved away from Churchill Downs and he was able to get Wicked Strong out to the track.
"It definitely was important. I wanted to get him out there and stretch his legs a little bit. He walked the day after he worked and spent the whole night cramped up in a van. I really wanted to get him out there and stretch his muscles a little bit."
Jerkens said the colt appears to have made a smooth transition to Churchill Downs. He is stabled in trainer Eddie Kenneally's barn.
"He doesn't seem to be bothered," Jerkens said. "He's close to the track and there has been a lot of activity so far. Bill (Mott) and Eddie jog their horses up and down here to examine them before they go out and it hasn't bothered him at all. I'm really happy about that. He hasn't given a care about anything. So far, so good."
Wicked Strong will be Jerkens' first Derby starter and his third career starter at Churchill Downs. He won the 2002 Humana Distaff with Celtic Melody. In 1992, he was working for his father, Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens, and part of the team that brought Devil His Due to the Derby. Devil His Due finished 12th in the race won by Lil E. Tee.
WILDCAT RED - Wildcat Red walked under the shedrow Monday morning, a day after breezing five furlongs in 1:04.40 under jockey Luis Saez at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Jose Garoffalo reported that the Fountain of Youth winner was bright and came out of his first breeze over the Churchill surface in good order.
"He's perfect. He had a very easy workout and is saving everything for Saturday," the South Florida-based trainer said. "There are people who are skeptical about the workout, but he did it so easily and Saez felt the horse did well."
No worse than second in seven career starts, all at Gulfstream Park, Wildcat Red particularly pleased his trainer upon the completion of his gallop out.
"He did something that I really liked. After he pulled up, a horse went by on his outside and he grabbed onto the bit and wanted to go with him. Saez took a hold of him, or he would have breezed again. That's what people didn't notice."
Garoffalo remarked about the Florida-bred colt's competitive nature.
"He needs the company, but we don't need the company during the workout," he said. "He'll have a lot of company in the race. He'll have 19 horse for company."