BIG BAZINGA – Big Bazinga galloped 1 ½ miles after the morning renovation break with Loren Diego up for trainer Katerina Vassilieva.
Vassilieva said unless there were a couple of defections from the anticipated Derby field at entry time Wednesday, Big Bazinga would be supplemented into Saturday’s $250,000-added American Turf, and Brian Hernandez Jr. would have the mount.
“My owner wants to hold on to the last bit of hope,” Vassilieva said.
CALIFORNIA CHROME – Trainer Art Sherman, coming on strong despite running on very little sleep, and California Chrome, coming on strong, too, despite not being allowed to do much running, made the Churchill Downs scene Tuesday morning and proved big hits.
Both trainer and horse had jetted in from their Southern California headquarters Monday and both were ready to get on about the business of showing what the likely Kentucky Derby favorite does five days in front of America’s foremost horse race. Wearing a simple green saddle cloth (his Derby cloth was back in the shop for some repairs after being misspelled Califorina Chrome) and with regular exercise rider Willy Delgado aboard, the chestnut colt started trackside from Barn 20 at approximately 6:45 a.m. Art’s son and assistant – Alan Sherman – guided him on a shank through traffic and the five-furlong gap.
The California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit backtracked all the way around the big Churchill strip, hugging the rail all the way. Delgado reported afterward that his mount felt “more aggressive” than usual during the jog, though he responded positively to stout restraint and there were no incidents of note along the way.
“He shipped good and he’s doing good, just like we thought,” Art Sherman said afterward. “He’s a laid-back colt, so we knew the trip wasn’t going to bother him. And he’s feeling awful good right now, so I’m not surprised to hear he was pulling hard.”
Sherman said he’d have his horse back to galloping Wednesday, though he wasn’t quite sure if he’d be out during the Derby/Oaks training period at 8:30 a.m., or come to the track earlier given the colt’s strong wont to get on with his business. He indicated he’d school in the paddock Wednesday, then stand in the gate Thursday.
“He’s plenty fit to run,” the trainer said. “It’s mostly schooling now; getting him used to the place.”
Sherman belayed his 77 years by working on about five or six hours sleep over the past two days, which included getting his horse to the airport in California at 1:30 in the morning, then dealing with a delayed plane trip of his own, social commitments in Louisville and dozens of phone calls along the way. Still, when he met a sizable contingent of media types near Barn 20 at 9 a.m Tuesday, he was full of smiles, all the right answers and a feel-good vibe that has made him and his colt Derby 140’s most popular story.
The whole California Chrome saga has just gone from good karma to better along the way, starting with owner/breeders’ Steven Coburn and Perry Martin turning an $8,000 mare and a $2,000 stallion into a horse who has won more than $1 million, allowing them to turn down $6 million for 51 percent of him and taking them all to the edge of racing glory.
Even the seemingly bad luck turns to good for the “Chrome Boys,” as Art Sherman tells the tale.
“So my wife Faye and I were flying on Southwest out of L.A. yesterday and wouldn’t you know we wound up in a delay in Phoenix,” he relayed. “They had an issue with a plane and had to go and get us a new crew. But that all turned out great. We meet up with Tom Proctor, Mike Smith and Gary Stevens and Ronnie Ebanks. They were all headed to Louisville, too.
“So we get on the plane and we’re all sitting together and we’re telling stories. And I mean to tell you this crew of guys can spin stories with the best of them. I can’t tell you half the tales that were told, but there were some beauties. We are laughing and laughing and laughing. It was a riot. The people on the plane around us couldn’t believe how much fun we were having.
“And then, to cap it all off, as we’re starting to come into Louisville, Ronnie jumps up and gives a call of the Kentucky Derby. It was terrific; the man should be a race caller. And he knew his audience. He had the race between California Chrome, Hoppertunity (Smith’s mount) and Candy Boy (Stevens’ mount). And he takes us right up to the finish as the plane’s coming in and he says: ‘And it’s too close to call at the wire!’ Oh, I’m telling you the whole plane loved it. Everyone was cheering. And it was the best plane ride I’d ever had.”
CANDY BOY – Trainer John Sadler sent his Kentucky Derby charge Candy Boy to the track Tuesday morning just as the special Derby/Oaks training period began following the mid-morning renovation break. Exercise rider Jelani Grant was at the controls and steered the husky colt through a strong gallop of a mile and one-half on the big Churchill oval.
Back at Barn 43 afterwards, Sadler was pleased with the exercise for his son of Candy Ride and said everything was moving forward in their quest for honors in Derby 140.
“He’s doing well here,” Sadler said. “Tomorrow and Thursday, I’ll stand him in the gate. He’ll school with horses for the first race this afternoon.”
The trainer also noted that his owners – Lee and Susan Searing of the C R K Stable – would return to Louisville today from Southern California and stay through the Derby. The Searings bred Candy Boy in Kentucky from their In Excess mare She’s an Eleven. Obviously hoping to catch lightning in the jar twice, they currently have She’s an Eleven back in foal to Candy Ride again.
Gary Stevens will ride Candy Boy on Saturday.
CHITU, HOPPERUNITY - Chitu schooled in the gate and jogged about a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Hoppertunity walked the morning after his final pre-Derby work. Baffert said the colt came out of the work in fine condition.
“I do a lot of gate (schooling); the gate is very important here,” Baffert said. “I hate when they act up in the gate. I blame myself for it. It’s like a coach who doesn’t use his timeouts. It’s the coach’s fault, right? Use them wisely.”
Sunland Derby winner Chitu runs in the colors of Tanma Corporation, owned by Boston residents Susan Chu and her husband Charles. Susan Chu is very active in international show jumping and decided to enter Thoroughbred racing after watching Super Saver win the 2010 Derby. Tanma owns Super Ninety Nine, a 2013 Derby prospect following a victory in the Southwest Stakes. He did not run in the Kentucky Derby and has resumed training in March after a long layoff.
Baffert said he did not realize he was being interviewed when Susan Chu had a meeting with him at Santa Anita.
“She actually interviewed a lot of trainers, she picked me and she wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby,” Baffert said. “Here she is, her second horse and she’s at the Kentucky Derby. It’s not supposed to be happening like this, but it just worked out.”
Baffert chuckled as he recalled the conversation with Chu.
“I passed the interview. That’s a big thing,” he said. “She goes by stats and reads every article. She said she picked me because I’m a very kind person.”
Chitu, named after a famous horse in Chinese history, is the son of Henny Hughes out of the A. P. Indy mare Sea Gift. He will be ridden by jockey Martin Garcia.
“He’s one of those horses that is quiet and low-key,” Baffert said. “He’s got a great mind. He’ll walk into the paddock and he’s quiet. Nothing really stirs him up. That’s what I loved about him when I bought him, he was just so quiet. He would make a great riding horse and he’s beautiful to boot. And he’s fast. He really runs. He’s not bred to go that far, but the bottom side, the A.P. Indy, just carries him a little bit farther. He likes a fast racetrack, we know that.”
COMMANDING CURVE – When Robby Albarado commited to ride Medal Count in this Derby, veteran jockey Shaun Bridgmohan landed the mount on Commanding Curve for trainer Dallas Stewart.
"It's always nice to ride in the Derby,'' said Bridgmohan, who will be riding in his sixth Derby. His best finish was sixth on Santiva on 2011.
Bridgmohan called Commanding Curve "a very improving 3-year-old that's coming into himself at the right time.''
"Definitely, the distance is in his favor,'' Bridgmohan said. "He's such a kind horse. He does everything nice and easy.''
Commanding Curve was impeded at the start of the Louisiana Derby before finishing third. The experience might benefit him, Stewart said.
“The horse that was on his outside just came over on him, and Robby had to take him up, couldn't do anything, had to just get himself back together,'' Stewart said. "And then as he went around the turn and down the backside, he kind of geared him up. Geared him up on the turn and dropped him on the rail, then came back outside, and the horse handled it great. So hopefully, that'll all play in good for this race.''
On Tuesday, Commanding Curve galloped under exercise rider Emerson Chavez.
DANZA, INTENSE HOLIDAY, VINCEREMOS, WE MISS ARTIE – Trainer Todd Pletcher chose to go light on his quartet of Derby contenders Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs and instructed his hands to simply walk the foursome around the shedrow at Barn 34 rather than take them to the track for exercise. The colts previously had worked half-miles Sunday, then jogged a full mile each on a “sloppy” track Monday.
In light of his “audible” call, Pletcher was asked about instructions and audibles for his crew of riders come Derby Day.
“Overall, I don’t like to give riders too many instructions,” the trainer said. “My preference is to give them a general plan for the race. I might tell them I think there’s a whole lot of speed in the race and that we probably want to take back, for instance. Or maybe let them know about a little quirk or situation with a particular horse. Things like that.
“But I realize that races often don’t come up the way you think they will. And that’s why you’ve got to leave room for that ‘audible’ by a rider. I’ve got to have trust in my riders that they’ll do the right thing. And they’ve got to have trust in me to understand that things don’t always go as you’ve planned.
“In the case of a race like the Derby, the situation changes because of the multiple entries. With a regular race where I’d only have one runner going, you can talk your strategy in the paddock. But with the Derby, the paddock is just too busy. I talk to my riders ahead of time then, leaving me time to deal with all there is to do in the paddock that day.”
Pletcher’s four riders for the Derby are Joe Bravo (Danza), John Velazquez (Intense Holiday), Javier Castellano (We Miss Artie) and Joe Rocco Jr. (Vinceremos).
GENERAL A ROD, HARRY’S HOLIDAY, VICAR’S IN TROUBLE – General a Rod worked a half-mile Tuesday in :49.40 (17/27) to the satisfaction of trainer Mike Maker and jockey Joel Rosario.
"I never worked him in the morning, and Mike asked me to be on him, and yeah, just to work for the race,'' said Rosario, who rode General a Rod to a victory in the Gulfstream Park Derby and a third-place finish in the Florida Derby. "He looked good, steady going the whole way.'
MEDAL COUNT - Medal Count galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar during the Oaks and Derby training session. Prior to the exercise, the Blue Grass Stakes runner-up stood motionless by the half-mile gap for five minutes, enjoying another opportunity to acclimate to his surroundings.
“Everything went fine,” trainer Dale Romans said.
Medal Count is very likely to be the last Derby starter by Dynaformer, the hugely influential stallion who died two years ago today – April 29, 2012.
“I think he was a very good sire,” Romans said. “If we could get a good Dynaformer colt in the breeding shed I think it would be important for the future of racing. Those are good, rugged, hearty horses.”
Dynaformer most famously sired ill-fated 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. His other top progeny include Melbourne Cup winner Americain and the hard-knocking gelding Perfect Drift. Overall Dynaformer sired 130 stakes winners, including 61 graded stakes winners, 25 Grade I winners and 18 millionaires.
“It’s just a shame what happened with Barbaro, that he couldn’t get to the breeding shed with those bloodlines,” Romans said.
PABLO DEL MONTE - Pablo Del Monte continued to train strongly at Keeneland Tuesday morning.
“He galloped around the track here at Keeneland unbelievably,” Ward said.
Ward’s homebred son of Giant’s Causeway is scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.
Pablo Del Monte sat 21st on the points list Tuesday and needs one horse to defect by Friday morning in order to make it into Saturday’s 20-horse Derby field. Ward will continue to train his colt the next few days with a run in the Derby as the goal.
“If he gets in Friday morning, schooling in the paddock Friday afternoon is something we’d probably do,” Ward said.
RIDE ON CURLIN - Ride On Curlin galloped Tuesday under exercise rider Bryan Beccia for trainer Billy Gowan.
Gowan is quick to praise the legendary trainer Jack Van Berg for bringing him up in the business. Gowan completed an internship under Van Berg as the final requirement for Gowan to receive an equine degree from Louisiana Tech. He wound up working 4 1/2 years for Van Berg.
"He makes you learn,'' Gowan said. "He wants you to learn. Where a lot of people won't tell you anything, Jack, he will explain stuff to you. He'll feel the horse's legs, and he'll make you feel the horse's legs, and he'll ask you, 'What did you feel?' And then, if you don't see what he sees, he'll call you a dumbass, and he'll show you what it is. You just learn.
"And I remember one time we were going to look at horses' legs, walking down, he'd check 60 horses' legs every morning. And the grooms had to stand there with the webbings open, and he'd go in there and check them, and there was a note pad, and he'd write down what to do them up in – ice, this, blah, blah. blah. I walked in there one morning, probably about half-asleep or whatever. He slapped me on the back and he said: 'You look at that horse when you walk in that stall. See what you see.'
“It's attention to detail. And he would explain everything. ... We'd be out on the pony. I galloped a lot of horses for him. And he'd tell you about times, or why you do this, or why you gallop this way. Always just telling you. Always teaching. He loved to teach.''
SAMRAAT - Samraat went to the track for the first time Tuesday morning and jogged twice around the oval in the wrong direction under exercise rider Rodney Paine.
Samraat winner of his first five career starts before finishing second in the Wood Memorial on April 5 at Aqueduct, shipped from New York on Monday afternoon. Trainer Rick Violette said the trip on a charter flight took five hours, stall to stall.
“It was almost like he was beamed here,” Violette quipped and said the son of Noble Causeway out of the Indian Charlie mare Little Indian Girl handled the journey well.
“He was squealing and throwing his head walking around here after we got unpacked,” Violette said. “He likes traveling.”
Samraat and Uncle Sigh with be the ninth and 10th New York-breds to run in the Derby since Funny Cide became the first winner from the Empire State in 2003. Violette noted that Funny Cide also finished second in the Wood.
“It’s a horse race. This is a real horse,” Violette said. “He’s beat all but one horse in six starts. I think he’s a high-quality horse, period, as is Gary Contessa’s horse, Uncle Sigh. It’s a little bit of a different breed than it might have been years ago.”
That difference, Violette said, is that the New York program has continued to improve.
“I just think New York-breds and the breeders have stepped up their game,” he said. “Little Indian Girl has three stakes horses. She’s a pretty nice broodmare. Noble Causeway hasn’t set the world on fire, but he’s by Giants Causeway and that’s been a pretty good combination. Uncle Sigh was a pretty expensive two-year-old purchase and was meant to be a nice horse.”
Violette also brought along Patsy Simons’ accomplished New York-bred filly Effie Trinket to run in a stake at Churchill Downs this weekend.
“You’re not supposed to be surprised any longer when a good horse happens to be a New York-bred,” he said.
SOCIAL INCLUSION – Social Inclusion, who currently sits 22nd, two spots away from qualifying for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, will not ship to Churchill Downs, his connections reported Tuesday morning.
“We’re going to keep the horse here at Gulfstream Park. We ran out of time. It wouldn’t be fair to the horse,” Ron Sanchez of Rontos Racing Stable Corp said. “We have no time. It doesn’t look like he’ll get into the field.”
The Manny Azpurua-trained Social Inclusion, who finished third in the Wood Memorial after launching his career with two dazzling victories at Gulfstream, will be pointed to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 17.
“We’ll probably look for a prep. We’re going to have a meeting with Manny tomorrow morning,” Sanchez said.
TAPITURE - Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tapiture walked the shedrow at trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn and was reported to be in fine shape the morning after his steady half-mile maintenance move in :50. Since arriving at Churchill Downs in mid-April with both Tapiture and Oaks favorite Untapable, the barn has strived to keep their surroundings and their patterns consistent with what they were accustomed to in Hot Springs, Ark., and New Orleans, respectively.
“I love a routine,” Asmussen said. “I love consistency. I think it measures where you’re at. It takes some of the variables out.
“When you get here, to the Oaks or the Derby, with the new TV screen for instance, there’s just a lot to take in. You just want to mentally be in a position where they can show their talent.”
Tapiture will be the first Derby mount for 21-year-old Ricardo Santana Jr., who was fourth in the standings at last year’s Churchill Downs spring meet and boasts leading rider titles at Oaklawn Park and Delaware Park.
Santana is a native of Panama, a country that has produced several successful jockeys, including Laffit Pincay Jr., Alex Solis, Braulio Baeza and Cornelio Velasquez.
“You just do what you do,” trainer Steve 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 about two miles under exercise rider Benito Alvarado Tuesday morning before schooling in the Churchill Downs starting gate.
The son of Indian Charlie is scheduled to school in the paddock for the fifth race Thursday afternoon and, tentatively, Friday.
“If he goes over there on Thursday and does nothing wrong, I don’t think I’ll school him again,” trainer Gary Contessa said.
Although Uncle Sigh is scheduled to be Contessa’s first Derby starter, the New York-based trainer already has saddled a horse for the Run for the Roses. He subbed for trainer Stanley Hough in 1982 and saddled Reinvested, who closed from far back to loom boldly in the stretch before settling for third behind Gato Del Sol and Laser Light.
“Reinvested was (part of the mutual field), and I don’t think I did a single interview. After he finished third, everyone wanted to talk to me,” Contessa said. “Stanley had been here the year before with Proud Appeal and didn’t do well. He didn’t want to come back for Reinvested, so he sent me down here. It was cool.”
Contessa also had a rooting interest in 2003 in Peace Rules, whom he sold after he broke his maiden at Belmont in his third lifetime start.
“I owned Peace Rules and sold him to Bobby Frankel,” Contessa recalled. “I had kids and had to put another kid through college. I was pleased that he ran well.”
Peace Rules, who carried Edmund Gann’s colors to a third-place finish behind Funny Cide and Empire Maker, went on to win multiple Grade I stakes and more than $3 million in earnings.
WICKED STRONG - Wicked Strong schooled in the gate Tuesday morning and had a routine gallop at Churchill Downs under exercise rider Kelvin Pahal.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he had Pahal jog the colt the wrong way -- clockwise -- from the gap on the backstretch to the gate at the head of the stretch. Since Wicked Strong acted up in the gate prior to the running of the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, Jerkens wants to make sure he is familiar with the gate at Churchill Downs.
“He’s had a reputation for getting a little antsy in there,” Jerkens said.
“And the gate is situated pretty much where it’s going to be when he runs, even though there isn’t a soul in the grandstand now and there certainly will be a big difference (on race day). He was in there for about a minute and then it looked like he was going to start kicking at the gate a little bit. We backed him out and reloaded him and he stood perfectly still for another good minute. We were happy with that.”
Pahal galloped the colt after the trip to the gate. Jerkens said Wicked Strong likely will be schooled in the paddock. He is considering giving the colt a “blow-out,” a short workout through the stretch during training hours Thursday.
Jerkens said everything has gone smoothly with Wicked Strong since his impressive victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct racetrack on April 5.
“I was glad to see him not lose a lot of weight and act like he’s knocked out,” Jerkens said. “That’s not the case at all. His energy level is good, he’s been eating good and he’s just as raunchy as he always was in the stall. We’re happy with him.”
Wicked Strong is Jerkens’ first Derby horse. He looked like he might have the Derby favorite in 2009, Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby winner Quality Road, but a quarter crack kept the colt out of the Derby. Jerkens worked for his father, Hall of Fame trainer
H. Allen Jerkens, before opening his own stable in 1997. Like every horseman, Jerkens said he has thought about saddling a horse in America’s biggest race.
“Yeah, it’s been a dream,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure, naturally. With everybody scrutinizing every move it makes it a little tough. He’s helping things out a lot by doing good. It really gets nerve-wracking if you know in the back of your head they’re not quite
what you want them to be and you’ve still got to press on. That’s when it gets really tough, when you’ve got to see it through. But I really happy with how he’s doing. He’s really helped us out a lot in that regard.”
Centennial Farms purchased Wicked Strong for $375,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale. Jerkens did not hesitate when asked what he likes best about the colt.
“His athleticism,” he said. “He’s light on his feet. He’s perfectly built for an athlete. He’s got kind of a light frame in the middle, but he’s got a nice shoulder on him and he’s got nice hindquarters on him.
“We like the way he looks now, but most of the time as a 2- year-old and earlier he was a little light. You can see his ribs sometimes. But my father always said, and he’s right, ‘I never minded horses showing a little rib as long as their hindquarters are filled out
nice and they’ve got good muscle tone in their hind end.’ I never cared about ribs, but they’ve got to have muscle in their hind end.
And he does. He’s got a good engine back there and a big beautiful shoulder.
“He’s got a nice long stride. Some horses have a long stride, but when you ask them to accelerate they get all sloppy. He’s not like that. He has a long stride and when you ask him his stride stays long but it’s the right way, it accelerates forward. Some horses when you ask them to run their legs look like a washing machine. I think he’a a perfect size for a race horse. I really do.”
WILDCAT RED - Wildcat Red returned to the Churchill Downs racetrack Tuesday morning for a strong 1 1/8-mile gallop under exercise rider Juan Belmonte.
“The way he went today was amazing. I’m very happy with it,” trainer Jose Garoffalo said. “We’re still very optimistic.”
The Fountain of Youth and Hutcheson winner walked the shedrow Monday morning after breezing five furlongs in 1:04 2/5 at Churchill Sunday morning.
“It seems he likes the track. I saw a big difference between today and Sunday,” Garoffalo said. “He’s full of himself.
Wildcat Red, who finished second in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park last time out, is slated to be ridden by Luis Saez, who was aboard for his Fountain of Youth score.