AMERICAN PHAROAH / DORTMUND – On “is this an omen front?” there was good news out of Germany’s top soccer league in this week for Kaleem Shah, owner of Dortmund: the club team his horse is named after defeated Bayern Munich in an overtime shootout Tuesday. Last fall, before Shah’s Bayern won the Breeders’ 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 Baffert’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.
“That obviously proves that he’s got a big heart,” Shah said. “It takes a horse with a certain demeanor, and speed and class to be undefeated, six for six so far. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’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.”
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.
“Dana Barnes, who gets on him, has told me that he moves way up on this surface compared to Santa Anita,” Shah said. “I know there are some other very good horses in this field, so I’m hopeful that he will do well.”
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 Baffert’s barn, the likely favorite, American Pharoah.
“Obviously, I’m biased. Understandedly so,” he said. “It is not just a two-horse race. There are 19 other good horses in the race. Everybody is hopeful; that’s why they’re running. There is so much luck that goes into this race, but I’m hopeful that he’ll do well.”
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.
“I know Bob will do right by both horses,” he said. “Whoever is the fastest will win. We will find out. If he has the heart of his daddy, Big Brown, I’m sure he will do well.”
American Pharoah galloped 1 1/2 miles under Jorge Alvarez.
BOLD CONQUEST – 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 – 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 – of his five starts, three have been on grass – Gaines has found encouragement on several fronts for her horse to run on the dirt at Churchill. She noted that other “grass” 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: “I think he just loves this track,” the conditioner said. “He goes over it so smoothly.”
CARPE DIEM / ITSAKNOCKOUT / MATERIALITY / STANFORD – Carpe Diem and exercise rider Patti Krotenko galloped a mile. Itsaknockout with Ezequiel Perez covered a mile and one half. Materiality, with Carlos Cano up, galloped and visited the starting gate. Stanford, who had Isabelle Bourez in the saddle, galloped and went to the starting gate.
“I know the field size is an issue,” trainer Pletcher said. “And 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 – where in the relatively recent past you might have seen a field of only eight or 10. People might take a look and say ‘I don’t think I can beat those horses’ and wait for another day. But now, we’re going to have 20 horses most every time. It has become such an event in itself that you’re all but sure that’s going to happen.
“My 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 I’ve had to start looking at it differently.
We’ve had enough Giacomos and Mine That Birds 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 haven’t seen any Triple Crown winners lately.
“I wasn’t around before they cut the field size to 20 runners (in 1975 after they had 23 starters the previous year) and I know there’s been talk of cutting it further. Maybe 14 would be the right size. But then, if you did that, there’d be a 15th horse that really deserved to be in. You just know that would happen. It always does.
“The points system seems to have had an effect that way. My owners are now saying ‘We’ve got enough points to get into the race.’ It seems to me it was a little different before that when we used the graded stakes system.
“I surely can see both sides of this. Sometimes I’m on both sides of it I really don’t have an answer for it; I’m not sure there is one. I do know it is a popular race and we want to win it. And I know I’m not alone with that.”
DANZIG MOON – Danzig Moon galloped 1 ½ miles after the renovation break with exercise rider William Cano up. “He went very well this morning,” trainer Mark Casse said.
With the post position draw looming this afternoon, Casse was asked what he would prefer with Danzig Moon. “Ideally, somewhere in the middle,” Casse said. “For us, it is not as crucial as it is for some other horses. If I had to be inside or outside, I’d prefer inside. He needs to get the perfect trip and needs to save ground.”
“This is a good group of horses,” said Julien Leparoux, who will be riding in his eighth Derby. “Danzig Moon is an improving horse and you never know.”
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.
“I was riding at Keeneland a few years before there was Polytrack,” Leparoux said of the all-weather surface that was installed for the Fall 2006 meet and replaced last year. “I 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!”
EL KABEIR – 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.
“He went out for a jog. Everything went great. Perfect. He was full of energy,” trainer John Terranova said. “He got a view of the track again, and on we go.”
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 last fall. “He was striding out great. He was looking around at everything. He handled the track beautifully,” Harris said.
FAR RIGHT -- Far Right had an energetic 1 ¼-mile gallop after the renovation break with regular exercise rider Laura Moquett in the saddle.
“The (post position) draw doesn’t matter,” trainer Ron Moquett said. “He is going to run well from wherever he is.”
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. “I beat him in the Delta Jackpot and he had trouble in that race,” Smith said. “I had high expectations or I would not have flown to Oaklawn to ride him.”
With Smith aboard, Far Right won the Smarty Jones and Southwest (GIII) and then finished second in the Arkansas Derby (GI) to American Pharoah.
“He has had to stop and start in some of his races and has had no problem doing it,” Smith said. “That ability is a plus in a big field. He could make some noise if things get a little heated up front early.”
FIRING LINE – Trainer Simon Callaghan – following a serious flying misadventure – was in from California and able to oversee Firing Line’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.
“He went right in the gate today,” Gomez said afterward back at Barn 42. “Yesterday 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. He’s doing good.”
Transplanted Englishman Callaghan is pleased with his horse and excited for the chance to take part in his first “Darby.” “Oh, yes, very glad to be here,” he noted. “Especially after all it took to do it yesterday.”
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 traveler’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 plane’s steering was malfunctioning and they’d have to once more return to the terminal, where another plane would be scheduled. At last he made it to Louisville Tuesday evening.
“Missed my dinner, but I’m here now,” Callaghan said. “It’ll get better from here on out.”
FRAMMENTO – Frammento galloped 1 ½ 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 – Godolphin Racing’s Frosted galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Rob Massey Wednesday morning after arriving at Churchill Downs from Florida late Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ll do the same tomorrow, but we might go to the paddock and go to the gate,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of his Wood Memorial winner.
Following the morning activity, McLaughlin made the short walk from Barn 42 to the barn of 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.
“Wayne, 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. It’s helped us all in life,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a special individual.”
INTERNATIONAL STAR – International Star galloped around the Churchill Downs oval under exercise rider Joel Barrientos and visited the starting gate.
“Everything went well,” trainer Mike Maker said. “He was perfect in the gate and will school during the third race today.”
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 Saturday’s American Turf .
Later in the morning, Maker participated in a photo shoot with Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and five of his former assistants with horses in Derby 141.
“Wayne was a father figure,” Maker said. “You spend seven days per week with somebody you get close. He always did right by his horses and gave them the best. I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity he gave me.”
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 Breeders’ Cup winners.
“Orientate was one of my personal favorites and Cat Thief left me a little souvenir to remember him,” Maker said, showing off a small scar on his face. “It was just so many good horses.”
KEEN ICE – 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 – 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 – Mubtaahij “cantered one mile, or galloped, as you’d say,” trainer Mike de Kock reported of Wednesday morning’s exercise after the renovation break. Jockey Christophe Soumillon, who has the return mount in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby 141, was aboard.
“I might give him a little blowout tomorrow,” de Kock said. “We’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 he’d been here every day. Head down, relaxed, chilled. He’s got a good mind and doesn’t get too fazed by anything.”
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 – from the track to his bath – seems to be chronicled by dozens of fans, photographers and journalists.
“I thought it would [bother me] but it actually hasn’t,” de Kock said. “I understand it and I get it -- the media have their job to do and it’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 it’s good to keep the sport strong.”
Even de Kock, who has won nearly 100 Group I events at many of the most prestigious race meets around the globe, wasn’t fully prepared for the hoopla that surrounds the Kentucky Derby.
“I’m blown away,” he said. “I expected it to be big, but not this big. You get told about it, you read it, but until you experience it, you don’t really know. I’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. The most amazing thing for me is that people just get to walk around you. The man off the street, you know, that’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.”
OCHO OCHO OCHO – Ocho Ocho Ocho had an easy three-furlong breeze in :38.40 under exercise rider Amie Williams. “Got a little something out of it,” trainer Jim Cassidy said. “I didn’t want anything too aggressive and I thought she did a good job."
The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense visited the paddock during Tuesday’s races without incident. “He’s good-minded,” Cassidy said.
He’s got a huge stride for a little horse and feels awesome,” Williams said. “He 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.”
TALE OF VERVE – A surprise horse joined the possible Kentucky Derby field when Tale of Verve was entered Wednesday morning by trainer Dallas Stewart. 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.
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. 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.
"I know it's a longshot for him to get in the race, but we'll still get a shot,'' Stewart said. "The horse had two nice works here going into that race, and he's trained phenomenal after the race,'' Stewart said. "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 races were a mile and an eighth. They were better races, don't get me wrong, but he's a fit, sound horse.''
TENCENDUR – 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.
“It’s a really remarkable experience,” Birsh, 57, said. “The 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.”
Birsh is no stranger to Churchill Downs, but Tencendur is his first Derby runner. The massive son of Warrior’s Rewards earned his qualifying points with a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial on April 4. “I’ve raced here. I’ve won here. I’ve been to the Derby many times and I must say that is better,” 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. “You wouldn’t be human not to be jealous a little bit and want so much to experience what it’s like to have some connection to this great, great moment.,” he said. “Everyone who owns a horse asks themselves when they see the horse for the first time, ‘Is this the one?’ For whatever reason he was. It’s a wonderful gift and you have to be grateful for it.”
UPSTART – 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.
“It was a normal, regular gallop for him. She picked a good spot for him. There wasn’t a lot of action when she turned around to gallop,” trainer Rick Violette Jr. said. “He’s a pretty cool character. He takes everything in. Between racetracks and trips, it hasn’t been ideal as far as results. But, still, only one horse beat us all winter. He’s run fast enough to win the Derby, numbers-wise, sheets-wise, and he’s trained great coming into this. I don’t think I could change anything for the bettor, if I wanted to.”
Violette said he thought Upstart is being underestimated.
“I 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,” Violette said. “When those slow horses finish 10 and 12 in front of the field, and the field is OK – and when Frosted goes and wins the Wood Memorial – you have to put things in perspective.”
WAR STORY – War Story jogged a mile and galloped a mile under exercise rider Marvin Orantes for trainer Tom Amoss. Amoss, who won two races on Tuesday’s Churchill Downs card, was asked what post position he would like to draw for War Story and he deferred to Paolucci.
“Eight,” Paolucci said. “I 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 Breeders’ Cup. I dreamed the one and got the one when Sr. Quisqueyano won the Sunshine Millions.
“Maybe we can make it three for three.”