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Triple Crown News & Notes

Carpe Diem beats rain in final Derby work

Carpe Diem was out before dawn finishing up his Kentucky Derby preparation (Keeneland/Coady Photography)

At 5:30 a.m. (EDT) Saturday at Keeneland, Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) and jockey John Velazquez worked a half-mile in :48 3/5 in the colt's final move before the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1) next Saturday.

Clockers caught Carpe Diem in fractions of :13, :25, :48 3/5 with gallop out times of 1:01 1/5, 1:14 4/5 and 1:29 2/5.

"I thought he worked super," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He seemed to get over the ground really well. We got fortunate with the weather; looks like most of the rain kind of went south of here. Perfect track. The track was in excellent condition. He seemed to handle it really well, finished up strongly, galloped out good."

Velazquez, who will ride Carpe Diem in the Kentucky Derby, also was pleased with the performance.

"We took it little by little in the first part of the work and then finished up really good," he said.

Since winning the April 4 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, Carpe Diem has remained there while Pletcher's other hopefuls for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks (G1) have relocated to Churchill. Carpe Diem worked four furlongs in :48 last Saturday.

"He really loves the surface here," Pletcher said. "We were a little concerned with how the weather was going to play out. Today was the day we wanted to breeze him. We had a lot more confidence in the surface being good here at Keeneland. This surface has impressed us quite a bit -- the way it handles moisture, rain."

Pletcher, who has been traveling between Keeneland and Churchill to oversee his horses, said Carpe Diem has been thriving since the Blue Grass.

"He's continued to develop," Pletcher said. "He's really in a good place now. He's just very happy with himself, content, galloping well; his appetite's good. Just all the indications you'd like to see leading up to a big race. He's giving us all the right signs."

Carpe Diem, who has won four races in five starts and has earned $1,519,800, is the third-leading point earner among horses taking aim at the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher, who won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver, said Carpe Diem likely would ship to Churchill on Monday.

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Upstart, Frosted tune up for Derby at Palm Meadows

Triple Crown contenders Upstart (Flatter) and Frosted (Tapit) took the track just after 8:00 a.m. (EDT) Saturday at Gulfstream's satellite training facility Palm Meadows to record their final pre-Kentucky Derby (G1) breezes.

Holy Bull (G2) winner and Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Upstart recorded the bullet move of the morning, clocking in at :59 4/5 for five-furlongs. With exercise rider Vicki King aboard, he galloped about a quarter-way around the track before pulling up and breaking off to breeze at the half-mile pole.

The bay recorded his first split in :12 4/5 before being asked to pick up the pace slightly, and the ridgling immediately responded, improving his second split by almost a full second. He powered through the lane for the second-half of the work under a virtually motionless King and appeared difficult to pull up after a strong gallop out.

"He felt great," King said. "He felt really good. He's done everything right. He went the right time -- everything, the fractions were perfect.

"He's push-button. He's really a nice ride," she added. "If he messes up, it's the rider's fault, because he does anything you ask him to do!"

King said having difficultly pulling up is the norm when riding the eager bay, noting he has great endurance.

"He's always like that -- before and after the breeze," she said. "He's just wants to go around again. He's happy to keep going."

Trainer Rick Violette was similarly very pleased with Upstart's work, noting the ease with which he carried his speed.

"It was kind of typical (for him), very professional," he said. "He looks like he's two-minute licking but he's going in 12 (second-intervals). He didn't want to pull up. He did it easily, and it basically was a typical Upstart work, which is what we were looking for."

Violette said he's learned that his trainee excels when racing off fast works.

"All (Vicki King) has to do is move her hands a little bit and he accelerates," he said. "He likes to work fast going into his races. His best races have come off fast workouts. When I toyed with that and toned it down a little bit, he didn't run his A-race, which is kind of my program, but it was also something we've learned (about him) as a two-year-old and three-year-old. He wants to zip a little bit, and we try to keep our horses happy."

Following the work, Upstart cooled out when walking Violette's shed row before being led to the turnout ring and taking a routine roll on his back. Upon rising, the ridgling let out a playful buck, seemingly full of energy after the serious exercise. Violette said his trainee has thrived since missing a scheduled workout about two weeks ago due to a spiked fever.

"He looked like he just walked out of his stall," Violette said. "It's pretty cool. We've had one little bullet that we dodged, and it doesn't seem to have had any after effect, that's for sure. He's had two good breezes and a two-minute lick, and now we'll just let him feel like King Kong for a week and head him over there (to Louisville) and see what happens."

Upstart will return to the track Sunday to gallop before traveling to Louisville on Tuesday.

"He'll leave Tuesday. He'll gallop a little bit tomorrow and Monday. Tuesday will be his walk day, and then we'll recharge for a big day on Saturday," Violette said. "He'll just gallop (leading up to the Kentucky Derby [G1]). He'll school in the gate and school in the paddock and that's it -- just a couple one-on-one stuff."

Wood Memorial (G1) winner Frosted, who finished second and fourth, respectively, in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth (G2), breezed minutes earlier. Under exercise rider Rob Massey, the dappled gray breezed five furlongs in 1:01. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee was timed in an almost identical time when he worked last Thursday.

"We had a great racetrack today," McLaughlin said. "We wanted to see a maintenance work, and we're all systems go. He worked great -- went in 1:01 -- and it was very similar to last week. We're very happy with it.

"We didn't want to see any changes, and we're just happy to keep seeing the same, seeing him work well and within himself," he added. "He's gone perfect."

After training up to the Wood Memorial at Palm Meadows, McLaughlin elected to return the colt to South Florida to keep things status quo. Under a sunny sky on a warm, picture-perfect morning, McLaughlin said the weather also played a role in his decision.

"Going into the Wood, he worked every week here and flew up there and won," he said. "Weather was a big thing. It looked rainy in Kentucky, and it has been, and in New York, too. It just looked like it was the right move. He's trained great here."

Frosted will depart for Louisville on Tuesday and spend the rest of the week galloping up to a start in the Run for the Roses.

"On Tuesday he flies at noon. He'll train here (at Palm Meadows) Tuesday morning, fly up, and train thereWednesday, Thursday, Friday, and maybe Saturday, too. We'll also go through the paddock, but not in the afternoon."

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Trainers beat the rain by moving Derby works forward one day

Materiality, seen here galloping Thursday, led out a Pletcher's Derby contenders to work on Friday (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
It was beat-the-rain day at Churchill Downs Friday with five Kentucky Derby (G1) and six Kentucky Oaks (G1) hopefuls putting in works over the fast main track.

The worktab for the Derby was comprised of half-mile works from the Todd Pletcher quartet of Itsaknockout (Lemon Drop Kid), Materiality (Afleet Alex) and Stanford (Malibu Moon), with Madefromlucky (Lookin at Lucky) also taking to the track; Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon) for trainer Mark Casse; and Far Right (Notional) for trainer Ron Moquett.

Not wanting to take a chance of working on an off track, Pletcher sent his four Churchill Downs-housed Kentucky Derby hopefuls to the track for four-furlong moves during the 8:30-8:45 a.m. (EDT) window reserved for Derby and Oaks hopefuls.

Working first together were Florida Derby (G1) hero Materiality and Fountain of Youth S. (G2) scorer Itsaknockout. The horses raced as a team through a half-mile in :48 with fractions of :12, :23 3/5 and :35 3/5 while galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 and six furlongs in 1:14 3/5. The moves were the seventh fastest of 78 at the distance. Javier Castellano was on Materiality and Ezequiel Perez on Itsaknockout.

Following right behind in company were Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Stanford, with Isabelle Bourez up, and Rebel S. (G2) second Madefromlucky with John Velazquez aboard.

Stanford was clocked in :48 2/5, the 19th fastest of 78, with fractions of :12 2/5 and :24 1/5 and a gallop-out time of 1:01 for five furlongs and 1:13 4/5 for three-quarters. Madefromlucky was timed in :48 3/5, the 28th fastest, with the same fractions but galloped out five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 and three-quarters in 1:15.

"I was happy with all of the works," Pletcher said. "Materiality and Itsaknockout worked very well and I thought they both got over the track very well. Stanford breezed really well today and I thought his gallop out was particularly good."

Pletcher said he was leaning against running Madefromlucky in the Derby and that he would recommend a race like the May 9 Peter Pan S. (G2) at Belmont Park, but he needed to confer with the owners before an official decision was made.

Fellow Pletcher trainee Itsaknockout worked in company with Materiality (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
"I am thinking that Belmont Park with its sweeping turns might be a good fit for him," Pletcher said.

The Churchill Downs pressbox later tweeted out that Pletcher confirmed Madefromlucky will bypass Derby via text.

Velazquez has the mount on Pletcher's other Derby hopeful Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway). Javier Castellano will ride Materiality and Luis Saez will have the mount on Itsaknockout.

Regarding Stanford, Pletcher said, "No decision has been made yet on running. Florent Geroux rode him the last time in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and he would be a possibility."

With jockey Julien Leparoux aboard, Danzig Moon worked a half-mile in company in :48 4/5, posting fractions of :12 4/5, :25 and :37 while galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 4/5. The Blue Grass S. (G1) runner-up worked with maiden winner Bollente (More Than Ready).

"We just decided to get the work done and not worry about it," assistant trainer Norman Casse said of moving the work up a day for Danzig Moon. "He always works in company and we just wanted a good, even work.

"His preparation could not be any better and I feel he has moved up since the Blue Grass," Casse added. "Other than (his fourth-placing in the) Tampa Bay Derby (G2), he has run well every time. There were two reasons for the Tampa Bay results; one, he didn't handle the track at all and came back with cuts on his hind legs and two or three days after that he came down with a virus that may have affected the performance."

Casse said Danzig Moon would walk Saturday and return to the track Sunday. A paddock schooling session is scheduled for Wednesday.

Far Right (Notional) turned a half-mile in :49 under Greta Kuntzweiler for Moquett, recording splits of :12 2/5 and :24 1/5 before galloping out five furlongs in 1:03. It was the 38th fastest of 78.

"I was worried it would be too quick," Moquett said of the work that came after the morning renovation break. "I wanted a Far Right work, not a :47, just a steady, grinding work."

Moquett initially had planned to work Far Right on Saturday but moved the drill up because of the rainy forecast.

Stanford completed Pletcher's Derby workers on Friday after Madefromlucky was withdrawn from consideration (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
"I'm glad that we can put that behind us and now we can go on and worry about something else," Moquett said.

On the West Coast, stakes winner and Santa Anita Derby (G1) third-place finisher Bolo (Temple City) worked five furlongs in :59 3/5 over Santa Anita's fast main track on an overcast Friday morning under Rafael Bejarano, who will ride the dark bay colt in the Kentucky Derby a week from Saturday, May 2, at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Carla Gaines said the Kentucky-bred colt worked "perfectly" and will leave Sunday for the Blue Grass State.

Also departing Sunday for trainer Bob Baffert will be unbeaten Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Dortmund, who is scheduled to breeze at Santa Anita on Saturday. Sunland Derby (G3) romper Firing Line (Line of David) will depart Sunday as well for conditioner Simon Callaghan.

In other Kentucky Derby news:

One who already began and completed the trip to Churchill on Friday is Grade 3 victor Ocho Ocho Ocho (Street Sense).

The dark bay colt left trainer Jim Cassidy's barn at Santa Anita at 4:15 a.m. (PDT) bound for Kentucky on a H.E. Tex Sutton charter flight. He was bedded down at Barn 41 at 2:40 p.m. (EDT).

Ocho Ocho Ocho is no stranger to traveling, having shipped to Keeneland for the a third-place effort in the Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland on April 4 before heading back to Santa Anita. Though Cassidy was disappointed by that effort he remains positive based on what he has seen in back in California, including his charge's Wednesday morning breeze of 1:13 3/5 for six furlongs, handily, from the gate.

"Everything's gone right since the Blue Grass," Cassidy said. "He worked really well the other day."

Ocho Ocho Ocho, named for his hip number, 888, at the 2014 Ocala Breeders' Sales April juvenile sale, will test the Churchill Downs surface for the first time Saturday at 8:30 a.m. (EDT) during the Oaks and Derby training session after the renovation break. Assistant trainer Matt Williams will supervise Ocho Ocho Ocho until Cassidy arrives Monday.

Scheduled to work at Churchill Downs Saturday are Louisiana Derby (G1) victor International Star (Fusaichi Pegasus), Wood Memorial (G1) runner-up Tencendur (Warrior's Reward) and multiple Grade 2-placed Keen Ice (Curlin).

Weather will play a factor in when Tencendur has his breeze on Saturday (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
"Mother Nature is going to dictate," trainer Mike Maker said of International Star's scheduled move. "If the weather is good we'll go at 8:30 (a.m. [EDT])."

If there are showers Saturday morning that muddy the track, as currently expected, then International Star's breeze would "most likely" be pushed back to Sunday, the trainer said. Another possibility -- less likely but also under consideration -- would be to train Saturday at Trackside Louisville as soon as the track opens to beat the rain.

Exercise rider Blair Golen said that jockey Manny Franco will be in from New York to breeze Tencendur, who will work in company with stablemate Wake Up in Malibu. Trainer George Weaver typically sends Tencendur out with a workmate for his breezes.

"We do that with him because he gets a little distracted out there by himself and it just keeps him focused," Golen said.

With rain in the forecast, Golen said Weaver has not decided what time he will have the colt do his five-furlong work.

"We might go at 6 o'clock or we might go at 8:30," he shrugged. "We're going to keep an eye on the weather. We're all going to be here early and decide at 4:30 or 5 in the morning."

Golen chuckled at a question about the chilly morning at Churchill Downs Friday.

"We were in New York. He's trained in 5-degree temperatures, so 37 is nothing for him," she said. "He handled the winter very well and he's a New York-bred who grew up at Phil's farm near Saratoga. This weather is not a big deal to him."

Wood Memorial scorer Frosted (Tapit) and Grade 2 winner Upstart (Flatter) are scheduled to work at Palm Meadows Saturday and arrive under the Twin Spires Tuesday, while U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) romper Mubtaahij (Dubawi) is scheduled to work at Arlington and arrive Monday. Grade 2 conqueror El Kabeir (Scat Daddy) is slated to work at Belmont Park, weather permitting, and arrive Monday.

For the full Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks (G1) tracknotes for April 24, please click here.

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Frammento breezes :48 half-mile, needs one defection to make Derby

Frammento took a spin around Keeneland on Friday (Keeneland/Coady Photography)
On a fast main track after the renovation break at Keeneland Friday morning, Mossarosa's Frammento (Midshipman) and jockey Joe Bravo worked a half-mile in :48. Clockers caught the chestnut colt in fractions of :12 1/5, :24 and :48, galloping out in 1:02 2/5. Click here for a replay of the work.

Frammento is 21st among point earners vying for a spot in the starting gate for the May 2 Kentucky Derby (G1), which is limited to 20 horses. He ran sixth in his stakes bow, the Holy Bull S. (G2), and filled the third spot in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) next out, both at Gulfstream Park, before shipping to Keeneland to be fourth in the Blue Grass S. (G1) last out.

Trainer Nick Zito, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, was pleased with the move in which Frammento had company from stablemate Heliodoro (Quality Road) and rider Alejo Carpio to his inside until the horses reached the top of the stretch, which Zito said "was just to make him pay attention."

"It was very professional, very even. That's what you want," Zito said about the breeze. "He's a true mile and a quarter horse. If he gets in there, he'll do some damage going a mile and a quarter."

Zito said Frammento would ship to Churchill Tuesday. If the colt does not run in the Derby, Zito said his next targets would be the Preakness S. (G1) and Belmont S. (G1).

Also at Keeneland on Friday, WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stables' Blue Grass victor Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) and exercise rider Patti Krotenko arrived at the Lexington, Kentucky, venue's main track about 10 a.m. (EDT) accompanied by assistant trainer Tristan Barry on a lead pony and galloped about 1 1/2 times around the oval.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. Saturday, the Todd Pletcher trainee colt is scheduled to have his final breeze for the Kentucky Derby.

"We're real excited about next weekend," said WinStar Racing Manager Elliott Walden, who watched Carpe Diem Friday from the Keeneland boxes.

The early Saturday work is designed to avoid the possibility of heavy rains in the forecast.

"I don't have any real concern about this race track," Walden added. "If it holds like it's held all meet, it's going to be a great race track in the morning whether it rains or not."

Carpe Diem, who has won four of five starts and has earned more than $1.5 million, is the third-leading point earner among horses taking aim at the Kentucky Derby.

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Graded Recaps

Kitten makes her Point in Bewitch

Kitten's Point has hit her stride since stepping up to 1 1/2 miles (Coady Photography)
Augustin Stable's homebred Kitten's Point (Kitten's Joy) collared rail-skimming Cay Dancer (Danehill Dancer) in the final yards of Friday's $150,000 Bewitch S. (G3), the closing day feature at Keeneland. The Pennsylvania-bred five-year-old gave trainer Graham Motion his third consecutive victory in the 1 1/2-mile turf marathon, following Strathnaver (2013) and Inimitable Romanee (2014).

Under Edgar Prado, Kitten's Point settled just about in midpack as Lots o' Lex (Kitalpha) opened up through fractions of :25, :50 2/5 and 1:16 1/5 on the good course. By the time the leader reached the mile mark in 1:42 2/5, Kitten's Point was creeping into a closer fifth on the outside. Meanwhile, the stalking Cay Dancer enjoyed a dream run up the fence, accosting Lots o' Lex rounding the far turn and grabbing a brief lead in midstretch.

But Kitten's Point was rolling wider out and nabbed the 11-1 Cay Dancer by a half-length in a final time of 2:30 1/5. The 5-1 fifth choice returned $13.60. A pair of 40-1 shots rounded out the minor awards -- Maria Maria (Curlin) got up for third, with Courtesan (Street Sense) back in fourth. White Rose (Tapit), the lukewarm 4-1 favorite, rallied from far back for sixth in the 14-distaffer field.

Kitten's Point improved her resume to 15-5-3-2, $434,565. A near-miss second on this course in the 2012 Jessamine (G3), she scored her first graded victory in the 2013 Herecomesthebride (G3) at Gulfstream, and headed to the sidelines after a third in the Ashland (G1) on Keeneland's Polytrack. She resurfaced in good form back at Gulfstream, where she missed by a whisker in the 2014 Honey Fox (G2). Kitten's Point didn't earn another stakes credit until stretching out to 1 1/2 miles for the January 18 Astra at Santa Anita, and profited by the added ground to win convincingly. She was most recently third in the March 28 Orchid (G3) over this trip at Gulfstream.

The chestnut is out of the winning Rendezvous Point (Kingmambo), who has also produced Port Morsbey (Pleasantly Perfect), a stakes winner over hurdles. Rendezvous Point is a half-sister to Grade 2-winning sprinter and sire Five Star Day (Carson City). This is also the family of multiple Grade 1 star and $2.8 million-earner Marquetry (Conquistador Cielo).

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Racing Headlines

Kentucky Oaks hopefuls take to the track ahead of rainy weekend

Angela Renee pleased Pletcher with her Friday move (Rickelle Nelson/
Trainers of Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders weren't the only ones trying to beat the rain heading into the Blue Grass State on Friday. Six Kentucky Oaks (G1) hopefuls took to Churchill Downs' fast main track on Friday, putting in moves ahead of the forecasted wet weekend weather.

Working toward the Oaks with half-mile breezes for Todd Pletcher were Angela Renee (Bernardini) and Eskenformoney (Eskendereya). Working five furlongs were Forever Unbridled (Unbridled's Song) for trainer Dallas Stewart, Sarah Sis (Sharp Humor) for Ingrid Mason, Oceanwave (Harlan's Holiday) for Wayne Catalano and Condo Commando (Tiz Wonderful) for Rudy Rodriguez.

Angela Renee and Eskenformoney got in their final major work before next Friday's $1 million contest by working a half-mile in company shortly after 6 a.m. (EDT) Friday morning.

First up for Pletcher was Grade 1 heroine Angela Renee with jockey John Velazquez aboard. Working in company with maiden winner Curalina (Curlin), Angela Renee worked a half-mile in :47 4/5, the fourth fastest of 78 at the distance. Fractions for the work were :12 2/5 and :24 2/5 with a five-furlong gallop-out time of 1:00 1/5.

Dual Grade 2-placed Eskenformoney, with jockey Javier Castellano aboard, worked a half-mile in :48 2/5, the 19th fastest of 78 at the distance. Working in company with the maiden Roberta Turner (Smart Strike), Eskenformoney produced fractions of :11 3/5, :23 3/5 and :36 while galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 3/5.

"I was very happy; they both went well," Pletcher said. "We will watch the weather and they may have easy jogs in the morning."

Grade 1 victress Condo Commando logged five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 Friday morning under trainer Rudy Rodriguez. It was the second-fastest of 30 works at that distance.

The Churchill Downs clockers caught the dark bay filly's splits in :12 2/5, :24 4/5, :37 and :48 3/5; she galloped out six furlongs in 1:16 4/5.

"It was pretty much what we were looking for," Rodriguez said. "She looked like she was very nice and comfortable so hopefully that will take us there. She looked like she did it pretty good."

Condo Commando is a willing workhorse, according to trainer Rudy Rodriguez (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
Rodriguez said that was a typical breeze for Condo Commando, whom he said was a willing workhorse.

"She looked like she got over the track pretty nice," he said. "Now she's got to do it the day of the race."

Rodriguez said it is possible that he might give the filly another short breeze next week to put her on her toes for the Oaks. If he does, Rodriguez would be following a pattern often used by two trainers he worked for, Bobby Frankel and Rick Dutrow Jr.

"Maybe I'll do it. Who knows? I've got to see how she comes back and I'll let her tell me what she wants to do," he said. "If I need to blow her out a little bit I'm going to do it. We've got a long way to go, so we'll take it day by day."

The first horse to work on the busy Friday morning at Churchill Downs was Forever Unbridled for trainer Dallas Stewart.

Working on her own with exercise rider Emerson Chavez up, Forever Unbridled covered five furlongs in 1:01, the third fastest of 30 for the morning at the distance. Fractions were :12 1/5, :24 1/5, :36 1/5 and :48.40 with a six-furlong gallop-out time of 1:15 4/5.

It was the third work under the Twin Spires for Forever Unbridled since finishing third in the March 28 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).

"Beautiful. Now all we have to go is get in," Stewart said of the daughter of 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever.

Forever Unbridled is 15th on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard and needs one defection by entry time Tuesday to gain a spot in the starting gate.

With owners Gary and Mary West looking on from the backside, Fantasy S. (G3) runner-up Oceanwave breezed five furlongs in 1:02 during the Oaks-Derby training session, finishing on even terms with workmate Purse Strings (Tapit), a maiden four-year-old filly.

Churchill Downs clockers caught Oceanwave's splits in :12 4/5, :24 2/5, :36 and 48 3/5, with a six-furlong gallop-out of 1:18 1/5.

Oceanwave had a five-furlong maintenance work (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
"We just wanted to get a little air in her," trainer Wayne Catalano said. "She already worked last week so we didn't need much. It was just a nice maintenance five-eighths. We were just getting her over this track. We didn't let her work much so she still had some horse left."

Catalano originally scheduled the work for Saturday but moved it up because of the wet forecast.

"I was maybe going to go tomorrow but it looks like it'll be raining and I didn't want to take a chance," he said.

The trainer declined to assess his chances until the draw but said that for now he is pleased with how his filly has done at Churchill Downs.

"She's eating good, doing good, and we're happy with her," Catalano said.

Grade 3 vixen Sarah Sis worked five furlongs under Florent Geroux in 1:02 3/5 after the morning renovation break Friday. Working on her own, the dark bay filly produced fractions of :12 2/5, :24 4/5 and :37 while galloping out six furlongs in 1:16 4/5. The move was the 19th fastest of 30 at the distance.

"She had a nice gallop yesterday and a relaxed work today," trainer Ingrid Mason said of her first Kentucky Oaks starter. "I said I would never come to the Derby or the Oaks unless I had a horse to run in it, and now I'm here."

Like so many others, Mason moved the work up a day because of a gloomy weekend weather forecast.

"We kept looking at the weather and we didn't want to take a chance of working on a sealed track, so we moved it up a day," she said.

Sarah Sis, who will be ridden in the Oaks by Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, enters the Oaks off a fifth-place finish in the Fantasy. That represents her only off-the-board finish in seven starts.

"She had a rough trip," Mason stated. "The inside was dead that day and when the opportunity to move outside came, it quickly evaporated. It was not the rider's fault. Sometimes things like that happen."

Mason said Sarah Sis would walk Saturday and return to the track Sunday and would have paddock and gate schooling next week leading up to the Oaks.

On the West Coast Friday, Santa Anita Oaks (G1) heroine Stellar Wind (Curlin) prepped for the May 1 Kentucky Oaks at Santa Anita Park by working six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 for trainer John Sadler. The move came in company with the stakes-placed filly Scooter Bird (War Pass).

"It was designed with the workmate about a length in front just to give her a target," trainer John Sadler said. "She settled there a length behind until about the quarter-pole and she was probably three or four lengths in front at the end. It was very similar to her final work before the Santa Anita Oaks.

"She galloped out very well. I was very happy and Victor was very happy. We were both very happy."

"Awesome," Espinoza agreed. "She went really good today. Last time she worked good, but this time she was amazing, exactly what John wanted. She's ready to go."

Stellar Wind will depart for Kentucky early Sunday morning aboard an H.E. Tex Sutton charter flight. Sadler will arrive in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday and be on track Tuesday.

"I've done it lots of different ways," Sadler said of preparing for the Kentucky Oaks. "This year I just thought I would stay out here with the good weather for the final work. I'm very happy with the way things are going and with all of her preparations."

In other Kentucky Oaks news:

The Larry Jones-trained tandem of Kentucky Oaks threats -- Fair Grounds Oaks winner I'm a Chatterbox (Munnings) and Ashland (G1) diva Lovely Maria (Majesticperfection) -- was scheduled to van to Churchill Downs from Keeneland Friday afternoon.

Puca's weekend work depends on the weather (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
"I've got one in the 2ND race at Keeneland today and we'll be on our way as soon as he runs," Jones said. "We should be there about 4:30 (p.m. [EDT]). We already came over (Thursday) to set up their stalls so everything's ready for them."

The trainer reported that both fillies galloped 1 1/2 miles at Keeneland Friday morning and will test the Churchill Downs surface Saturday during the Oaks and Derby training period following the renovation break. Jones plans to work both fillies under the Twin Spires on Sunday.

I'm a Chatterbox will be ridden by Florent Geroux in the Oaks. Lovely Maria will be ridden by Kerwin Clark in the Oaks.

Trainer Bill Mott plans to work Puca (Big Brown) Saturday, but could push the work back to Sunday because of weather.

"I talked to Bill this morning and the plan is to breeze tomorrow," said Jerry Crawford, president of owner Donegal Racing. "If not tomorrow, though, it's no problem if we push it back to Sunday."

Puca hasn't won since breaking her maiden by 16 lengths in October but proved she belonged in the Oaks by finishing a clear second time out in the Gazelle S. (G2) at Aqueduct.

"She could move forward off that race at the same 1 1/8-mile distance," Crawford said.

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Keeneland reports declines in attendance, handle as spring meet concludes

Keeneland wrapped up its soggy spring meet on Friday (Keeneland/Coady Photography)
Keeneland successfully concluded its 2015 spring meet on Friday, yielding a number of positive results: consecutive Saturdays of near-record crowds that contributed to the track's fourth-highest spring meet attendance; the consistent performance of the new dirt surface despite near-record rainfall during April; and a blockbuster opening Saturday which featured both the $1 million Blue Grass S. (G1) and $500,000 Ashland S. (G1), won by Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) and Lovely Maria (Majesticperfection), respectively.

On-track attendance for the 15-day spring meet, held April 3-24, totaled 250,451 to rank as the fourth-highest spring meet attendance. Last year, 270,093 attended the 15-day spring meet; the record spring meet attendance, posted during the 16-day meet in 2013, is 278,415. Average daily attendance this spring was 16,697 compared to last spring's record 18,006.

Heavy rainfall on seven of the meet's 15 race days adversely impacted attendance. Lexington, Kentucky, has recorded nearly 11 inches of rainfall to date this month to rank as the second-wettest April in history. Rain fell on four of the meet's first five days of racing, including opening Friday when severe weather forced the cancellation of Keeneland's final four races to mark the first time in track history that racing was canceled due to inclement weather.

Keeneland hosted its third- and fourth-largest single-day crowds ever on consecutive Saturdays during the spring. On April 11, 37,193 fans attended Coolmore Lexington Day, which moved up a week on the stakes calendar and featured four stakes including the Jenny Wiley S. (G1) and Lexington S. (G3). That attendance figure was bested the following Saturday, April 18, when 37,737 fans enjoyed a sun-splashed race day highlighted by the Elkhorn S. (G2).

"I never cease to be impressed by the enthusiasm of our fans, the strong support of our horsemen and the hard work of the Keeneland team that combine to produce the ultimate racing experience," Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. "The fact that we had a crowd of more than 12,000 people on track for opening Friday, when the Lexington area experienced flooding rains, speaks to their passion for Keeneland and horse racing. We are extremely grateful to the community and to the horse industry." 

On-track wagering totaled $16,142,325 down 14.73 percent from last spring's $18,931,643. Average daily on-track handle was $1,076,155, also down 14.73 percent from $1,262,110 in 2014.

All-sources wagering on Keeneland's spring meet was $117,617,108, down 14.79 percent compared to $138,033,442 last spring. 

This meet was the first spring meet to be held over Keeneland's new dirt track. The track's consistent performance and ability to drain quickly and safely in the face of this month's near-record rainfall drew praise from participating trainers.

"The dirt track was put to the ultimate test this spring, but its ability to handle the rain resulted in only one day in which it was rated 'sloppy' and that was opening day, when we received more than seven inches of rain in a 24-hour period," Keeneland Vice President of Racing W. B. Rogers Beasley said. "The composition of our dirt surface coupled with the innovative drainage system and the diligent work of our track crew, who often worked through the night, kept it in top-notch condition for racing and training."

Average daily purses of $588,192 continue to rank among the top in the country.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey took home a record 15th Keeneland leading owner title (Keeneland/Coady Photography)
Many of North America's leading riders were part of the Keeneland jockey colony during the spring, led by current national and spring meet leading rider Javier Castellano, along with John Velazquez, Irad Ortiz Jr., Mike Smith and Joel Rosario, who recorded his 2,000th career win on April 23 at Keeneland.

Counted among the top trainers stabled at Keeneland were national and spring meet leader Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Michael Maker, Kiaran McLaughlin, Bill Mott, Larry Jones, Shug McGaughey and Mark Casse.

"One of the things that is so special about Keeneland is that it brings together the sport's top owners, trainers and jockeys, many of whom never get the opportunity to compete against one another at any other time during the year," Beasley said. "We thank them for their loyal support of Keeneland racing."

In addition to spectacular racing, Keeneland fans participated in a full calendar of unique special events which offered something for all ages and interests. Capacity crowds turned out for College Scholarship Day on opening Friday; had their commemorative Maker's Mark bottles, which honored legendary University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp, signed by four of Coach Rupp's All-American players on April 10; and enjoyed the stories shared by Hall of Fame and Kentucky Derby-winning jockeys at the "It's My Derby" event on April 17.

Keeneland hosted U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg and active and veteran military service members and their families for Military Day at the Races on April 19.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey won 11 races during the spring meet, highlighted by two three-win days, on their way to a record 15th Keeneland leading owner title, eclipsing the 14 titles earned by T.A. Grissom, either singly or in partnership with J.E. Grissom, from 1954-1977.

Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano earned his first riding title, compiling 21 wins during the 15-day meet. His impressive stats were boosted by four graded stakes victories -- Maker's 46 Mile (G1) (Jack Milton), Jenny Wiley (G1) (Ball Dancing), Ben Ali (G3) (Protonico) and Transylvania (G3) (Night Prowler) -- and five three-win days during the Spring Meet.

The race for leading trainer was decided in the final races on closing day. Seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher tallied 10 wins to collect his fourth Keeneland training title. Wesley Ward, Michael Maker, Chad Brown and Kiaran McLaughlin finished in a four-way tie for second with eight wins each.

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Castellano earns first Keeneland riding title, Ramseys take record 15th owner title

Javier Castellano was honored in the winner's circle after earning his first Keeneland riding title (Keeneland/Coady Photography)
Javier Castellano has ridden more than 4,060 winners and the earners of more than $220.6 million, received the Eclipse Award as North America's outstanding jockey in 2013 and 2014, and has four Breeders' Cup victories to his name. He is the year's leading rider by wins and earnings, and on Friday he added another notch to his impressive resume.

Castellano clinched his first Keeneland leading rider title, visiting the winner's circle 20 times through the first 14 days of the 15-day Keeneland season. He won four graded stakes -- Maker's 46 Mile (G1), Jenny Wiley (G1), Ben Ali (G3) and Transylvania (G3) -- and had five three-win days during the spring meet.

"I'm very blessed," Castellano said. "The Keeneland meet is very prestigious and I'm very lucky to ride good horses and have a lot of support from Mr. (Ken) Ramsey and a lot of owners, and top trainers Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown and Shug McGaughey, Mike Maker and everyone. I've been on a lot of good horses. I've been very lucky and fortunate."

On Friday, Castellano will ride Hellenistic in the Bewitch (G3). With a win, he will equal Jerry Bailey's Keeneland meet record of five graded stakes wins set during the 2005 Spring Meet.

"It's a great achievement to be mentioned with that level of jockey like Jerry Bailey," Castellano said. "That keeps me going and motivated to win races and be competitive."

The native of Venezuela has had success at Keeneland with 124 career wins, including 26 stakes victories, through April 24. His first mount at the track resulted in a victory when Proper Gamble won the 2002 Beaumont S. (G2).

Castellano said claiming his first leading rider title caught him a bit off guard.

"You don't think about (the wins) in the moment, you just go with the flow," he said of his success at the spring meet. "The more you win, the more you want to win more races. It's momentum. You try to focus on each race and do the best you can for each horse, and at the end of the day you realize you've had a good (meet).

"I've been very lucky and got to ride a lot of cool horses," Castellano added. "I'm very fortunate to be in this position."

On a sidenote, the spring meet also saw jockey Joel Rosario score his 2,000th North American win when he rode Dating Lady Luck (Arch) to win Thursday's 2ND race. Al Stall Jr. trains the three-year-old filly, who won the 1 3/16-mile turf contest by three-quarters of a length in 1:56 4/5. Rosario also won the third race on Tale of Verve and the fourth on Mighty Moon.

Horses owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey won one race Thursday to push their meet-leading total to 11 with starters in five races entering Keeneland's closing day on Friday. That was enough to award the Ramseys with their record 15th leading owner title at Keeneland.

The Ramseys needed 15 years to set the record. Through 2014, they were tied with T.A. Grissom, who earned 14 leading owner titles between 1954-1977, recording titles singly and in partnership with J.E. Grissom.

The Ramseys have won or shared seven spring meet leading owner titles (2004, 2006, 2010-2013, 2015) and eight fall meet titles (2000, 2002, 2007-09, 2012-14). The couple received Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner and breeder in 2013 and 2014 and as outstanding owner in 2004 and 2011.

As the Keeneland meet wraps up, horsemen offered their opinions on the venue's new dirt track, which was given a stiff test thanks to the second-wettest April on record in Lexington, Kentucky.

Nearly 11 inches of rain fell during the spring meet, including seven inches in a 24-hour period that covered opening day. Despite the torrential rain, which caused standing water in the infield, the new track drained well.

"I've never seen a course drain like this one does," said trainer Larry Jones, who sent out Lovely Maria (Majesticperfection) to win the Ashland S. (G1) the day after the deluge. "Over that day's period of time, we had between seven and eight inches of rain, and the very next day -- the day of the Ashland -- (we had) a dry, fast track.

"It's like draining a bathtub, getting water off this thing. It's unreal how it does. It's fabulous."

Over the summer of 2014, Keeneland installed a new dirt track that uses a unique drainage system along the inside and outside rails that works in tandem with the existing system beneath the track. The first of its kind in North America, the system is designed to collect and discharge water consistently away from the track.

"(The track has) held up really good," Keeneland Track Superintendent Javier Barajas said. "I'm really impressed with how it absorbs the water and goes right down to the inside (of the track) and then washes away pretty good. Even with all these rains, only one time has (the track) been sloppy.

"The composition of the race track combined with the drainage and the hard work of the track crew, it really all goes together. It's not just one component. I'm really fortunate that I got handed a track with great composition. You can be the best or worst track (superintendent) but it all has to do with the composition of the dirt that makes you look good or bad."

The dirt surface, which comprises sand, silt and clay native to Kentucky, has been well-received by trainers.

"I love the surface here," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has kept Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) in training at Keeneland following his win in the April 4 Blue Grass S. (G1). "(Keeneland) has done a tremendous job with the new surface here."

Barajas praised his team for their efforts this spring, which includes arriving at the track at 3 a.m. (EDT) and working on the track long after each day's final race. The crew has also spent significant time keeping the turf course, Polytrack training track and horse paths in top-notch condition.

"You can always bet that if Keeneland does something they're going to do it right," Jones said. "They set the standard. Once again, they have done it. They hit it dead in the bull's-eye. I've never seen a dirt course like this ever."

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Military Attack tries QEII Cup for third straight year

Military Attack (Oratorio) will contest Sunday's HK$20 million Queen Elizabeth II Cup (HK-G1) for the third straight year but for the first time under the care of trainer Caspar Fownes, who is approaching the 2000-meter race with cautious optimism.

"It's no secret he's had his problems over the past few months," Fownes said of the horse who won the QEII Cup in 2013 and was a neck runner-up to Designs On Rome (Holy Roman Emperor) last year for John Moore, "but I think he's quite comfortable in himself at the moment.

"He's had the niggling problems that good horses tend to have. Sore feet, bit tight in the joints but I think we're on top of them. He looks really healthy, his bodyweight's good and I was pleased with his trial and how he worked on Wednesday."

Fownes acknowledges the quality of Military Attack's opposition, headed by Designs On Rome and Australia's Criterion (Sebring), but is not bowing to either.

"You don't ever concede defeat before the start," he said. "(David Hayes') horse Criterion is looking really good and we've got the defending champ Designs On Rome but there wasn't much between the three of them in December.

"Who knows, Designs On Rome might be less sharp on the day after the trip to Dubai, and, from gate 2, Military Attack gets his chance. He'll go forward, taking advantage of the gate. On his trial he's going to be very competitive. He's a lot, lot better than he was last run and I think he's about where he was last December."

The seven-year-old has had four starts for Fownes, including a short-head second to Designs On Rome, with Criterion a length third, in December's Hong Kong Cup (HK-G1). He won his stable debut last October and was also a photo second to Blazing Speed (Dylan Thomas) in the Jockey Club Cup (HK-G2) before December's international Group 1.

He returned to racing on March 1 and sported blinkers for the first time when fourth to Designs On Rome in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (HK-G1), and the blinkers will stay on.

"We'll leave the cups on. Zac (Purton) felt that he was distracted by all the signage in December's big race and that might have cost him the race," Fownes said.

Hayes reiterated his enthusiasm for Criterion's prospects while acknowledging that the local duo, that beat him home in the Hong Kong Cup, would again provide a stiff test for his recent Randwick Group 1 winner.

"I have great respect for the two local horses," Hayes said," but I really think Criterion's going to run a terrific race. Everything looks to have gone very well. He's a tick under 500 kilos (kilograms) which is the same weight as when he won the Queen Elizabeth at Randwick.

"He's had an uninterrupted prep this time around, in contrast to December. He's eating and drinking well and while the two weeks between runs, with the travel, is always some concern I'd say I'm less worried about that now than I was before he came here."

Criterion cantered on the dirt this morning, covering the final 800 meters in a relaxed :59 1/5, including splits of :30 1/5 and :29.

Japan's Staphanos (Deep Impact) also put in a routine canter on the all-weather track and moved well under assistant trainer Kazuo Fujiwara before going off to the 1000 meter start for a walk through the starting gate. Staphanos clocked 1:01 3/5, with splits of :32 2/5 and :29, for 800 meters.

"The horse was not shying at the gate or the stall handler. Everything has gone as planned," Fujiwara remarked. "He has been a bit tense at times here but is now back in good form -- he is in a good mood. The trainer (Hideaki Fujiwara), who will arrive tonight, made the decisions whether to work him on turf or all-weather and whether he needs the stall handler. I think he has now adapted to the new surroundings. He walked very dynamically on the grass, too."

Red Cadeaux (Cadeaux Genereux) continued his prep with an easy canter on the all-weather track this morning. All appears to have gone smoothly with Ed Dunlop's popular world traveler.

Meanwhile, the Pascal Bary-trained Smoking Sun (Smart Strike) was recalcitrant again. The dark bay six-year-old has developed a habit of stopping in the home straight and this morning connections applied blinkers. They seemed to help inasmuch as his rider was able to get the French contender moving again with much more ease than on previous days.

He did put in some solid work down the backstretch, clocking :51 2/5, with splits of :26 3/5 and :24 4/5, for 800 meters.

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Custom Cut, Western Hymn, Master Apprentice score at Sandown

On a roll last term when rattling off a trio of pattern-race successes, Custom Cut (Notnowcato) defied a penalty for the latest of those in Newmarket's Joel S. (Eng-G2) to regain the winning thread in Friday's Sandown Mile (Eng-G2).

Coaxed to a peak by David O'Meara last summer, the Moyglare cast-off built on listed wins in Windsor's Midsummer S. and Pontefract's Pomfret S. when adding Leopardstown's Desmond S. (Ire-G3) over this trip in mid-August. Nine days after that foray back to his native Ireland, the bay turned back the challenge of the subsequent Woodbine Mile (Can-G1) hero Trade Storm (Trade Fair) to win the nine-furlong Strensall S. (Eng-G3) at York before reverting to a mile to annex the Joel.

Disappointing when only eighth on his final outing in the Queen Elizabeth II S. (Eng-G1) at Ascot on Champions Day, Custom Cut proved that was a blip with this typically tenacious effort in a renewal lacking the kind of potential it has advertised in recent times. Always close to the early pace, he was committed on the front end with over 2 1/2 furlongs remaining by Daniel Tudhope and stayed on grimly as the similarly penalized Here Comes When (Danehill Dancer) tried to make a fist of it.

"He is every jockey's dream, as he travels so well and gives you everything," Tudhope said. "He's still an improving horse and this is a good start to this season. He had a hard campaign last year and you can put his final run behind him, as we went too hard early on that day and it probably took its toll on him. I think Group 1s are probably on the agenda and, as he switches off, it will give him every chance of staying a mile and a quarter."

Connections are eyeing a tilt at the Lockinge S. (Eng-G1) at Newbury May 16, where he is likely to renew rivalry with the runner-up.

Western Hymn (High Chaparral), gelded since his fourth placing in Ascot's Champion S. (Eng-G1) in October, returned to the scene of his success in last year's Classic Trial (Eng-G3) to upset his more-fancied Newmarket rivals Postponed (Dubawi) and Cannock Chase (Lemon Drop Kid) in the Gordon Richards (Eng-G3) at Sandown.

At home on testing ground when registering a workmanlike success on this card 12 months ago and when impressive in the Prix Eugene Adam (Fr-G2) at Maisons-Laffitte in July, the dark bay had also at times looked an awkward conveyance with his high head carriage. Sixth when failing to handle Epsom's contours in the Derby (Eng-G1), he never threatened on his last two starts when fourth in the Prix Guillaume d'Ornano (Fr-G2) at Deauville in August and in the Champions Day feature, but arrived here with a gelding operation offering some hope that his kinks had been removed.

Settled in second early by Frankie Dettori as the favorite, Postponed, led at a sound clip, Western Hymn was edged ahead of that rival approaching the quarter pole and kept on despite the runner-up's game persistence as Cannock Chase wilted on this comeback.

"He is a good horse and when he got there he ran around a bit, so he's got his own mind as well as an engine," his rider said.

Trainer John Gosden commented, "He's been off a long time and got stuck in bottomless ground at Deauville and it was pretty bad at Ascot in the big race there, so it's good to have him back and see him running his race. I think the horse in front is a pretty good horse and it was noticeable that Postponed came back again when our fellow was idling in front, but having said that he's beat him fair and square."

Connections are looking at the Hardwicke S. (Eng-G2) at Royal Ascot June 20.

An upset ensued in Friday's renewal of the Classic Trial. Sent off the outsider of the quartet, having finished last of nine when put to a proper test in the Criterium International (Fr-G1) at Saint-Cloud in late October, Master Apprentice (Mastercraftsman) made all to upstage his flashier peers and reward jockey David Probert's enterprise in this Derby prep.

Earning a crack at the Saint-Cloud end-of-term highlight with an all-the-way maiden success over an extended mile at Windsor in early October, the gray failed in his bid to dominate that contest and faded out of the action in the last furlong. Shadowed throughout by Snoano (Nayef) on this return, he had begun to dispatch with that rival approaching the furlong pole as Ballydoyle's Cape Clear Island (Fastnet Rock) stayed on to emerge as the sole threat. As Snoano cracked and the 4-6 favorite Commemorative (Zamindar) proved a huge disappointment well adrift, Master Apprentice kept finding to cause the upset.

"He's comfortable going a mile and a quarter, so we'll look at the Tercentenary S. ([Eng-G3] on June 18) at Royal Ascot or, if he wants further, the King Edward VII S. ([Eng-G2] June 19)," trainer Andrew Balding commented.

"We always felt he was more a Royal Ascot horse than an Epsom one. We got away with this ground today, but he's fairly versatile with regards to that and he has a good engine."

His rider added, "It was quite a smart performance in a tactical race and he put it to bed sharpish when I asked him. Last year going to a Group 1 was a big stretch for him, but the way he won there suggests he's going to progress further."

Master Apprentice is out of a half-sister to dual Group 1 winner Lillie Langtry (Danehill Dancer).

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Inaugural William Walker headlines opening day of Churchill Downs' spring meet

Blofeld was last seen posting a five-length score in the November 2 Nashua (Adam Coglianese Photo)

Kentucky Derby week begins with Saturday's opening-night program at Churchill Downs, featuring the inaugural running of the $100,000 William Walker for three-year-olds. The six-furlong event features the return of multiple stakes hero Blofeld (Quality Road), who captured all three starts before heading to the sidelines last fall.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, the Nashua (G2) and Futurity (G2) winner figures to be a heavy favorite against five challengers. John Velazquez will be back aboard Blofeld, who is making his first outing in 174 days.

The William Walker is named for African-American jockey and 1877 Kentucky Derby winner William "Billy" Walker. The first race post time is 6 p.m. (ET) and the William Walker, the seventh of 11 races, is scheduled for 9:05.

The other stakes winners in the field are Cinco Charlie (Indian Charlie) and Weast Hill (Rockport Harbor). Senor Grits (Elusive Quality) will enter on the upswing for Ian Wilkes following a third in the Swale (G2) at Gulfstream Park and Bob Baffert will be represented by maiden winner Holiday Camp (Street Boss), who makes his first appearance since an unplaced effort behind stablemate American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) in the Del Mar Futurity (G1).

Gates open at 5 p.m. and guests entering through Gates 10 and 17 will be welcomed with an opportunity to walk the "Hollywood Style Red Carpet" and be interviewed by Red Carpet hosts. Dress to impress cocktail attire and fashionable headwear are encouraged. The night's entertainment lineup will include Sam Sneed on the Plaza Stage beginning at 5 and Tony and the Tan Lines beginning at 8.

The $2 million Kentucky Derby on May 2, and the $1 million Kentucky Oaks the day before, are the main highlights of the 38-day spring meet that runs through June 27. Those days will also feature outstanding undercards.

The $300,000 La Troienne (G1), $400,000 Alysheba (G2), $200,000 Eight Belles (G3), $150,000 Edgewood (G3) and $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) are supporting features on Oaks Day, and the Derby Day program offers the $300,000 Humana Distaff (G1), $500,000 Churchill Downs (G2), $300,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2), $250,000 American Turf (G2) and $200,000 Pat Day Mile (G3) (formerly known as the Derby Trial).

"Downs After Dark" programs are scheduled for June 13 and June 27. June 13 features the premier event of the spring meet for older horses, the $500,000 Stephen Foster H. (G1), as well as the $200,000 Fleur de Lis H. (G2), $100,000 Matt Win (G3) and $100,000 Regret (G3). On the June 27 closing-day card, the $200,000 Firecracker (G2), $100,000 Bashford Manor (G3), $100,000 Debutante and $65,000 Kelly's Landing will be in the spotlight.

Churchill Downs will also feature "Twilight Thursdays" featuring a 5 p.m. first-race post along with food and drink specials.

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Wicked Strong should find Excelsior distance suitable

Wicked Strong should appreciate stretching back out to two turns in the Excelsior (NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)

Wicked Strong (Hard Spun), last season's Wood Memorial (G1) and Jim Dandy (G2) winner, stretches out to two turns for his second start of the season Saturday in the $200,000 Excelsior (G3) at Aqueduct. The 103rd running of the venerable stakes for older horses will be run over 1 1/4 miles for the first time since 1993.

Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Wicked Strong turned in other solid performances at three, finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Belmont (G1) and second by a nose in the Travers (G1). However, in his sophomore finale in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Centennial Farms charge was in tight around the far turn, clipped heels with a rival and lost jockey Rajiv Maragh.

The pair were reunited on March 7 for the one-mile Gulfstream Park H. (G2). Wicked Strong tracked in third most of the way but settled for fourth, beaten one length by Honor Code (A.P. Indy).

The first four across the wire in the $98,000 Stymie on March 22 -- Turco Bravo (Caesarion), Cousin Stephen (Proud Citizen), North Slope (Elusive Quality) and Micromanage (Medaglia d'Oro) -- renew acquaintance in the Excelsior. Also lining up are Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2) winner Red Rifle (Giant's Causeway), fifth in the New Orleans H. (G2) last time; Stormin Monarcho (Monarchos), recent winner of the $98,000 Mr. Sinatra; and Empire Classic hero Effinex (Mineshaft), a recent allowance scorer.

In other graded stakes action on Saturday:

Santa Anita

Quick Casablanca (Until Sundown) goes for a repeat win in the $100,000 Last Tycoon (G3) at Santa Anita. The Chilean-bred upset the race by a head at 16-1 last season when it was contested at nine furlongs, but the deep closer will get extra ground to work with this time as the race has been elongated to 1 1/4 miles.

Following the Last Tycoon, Quick Casablanca placed as the favorite in the Charles Whittingham Memorial (G2) and San Juan Capistrano (G3), but missed the second half of the season. He returned on April 4 to finish eighth in the $82,000 Thunder Road, a one-mile heat undoubtedly too short for him.

Returning from a layoff is Del Mar H. (G2) winner Big John B (Hard Spun), who subsequently finished third in the John Henry Turf Championship (G2) and ninth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) following his Del Mar score in August.

Abbey Vale (Moss Vale) goes for his first stakes win after win two of three allowance attempts since his importation from Ireland. Also looking for his first stakes win stateside is Ganesh (Sulamani), a multiple Group 1 winner in Brazil who also found the Thunder Road too short in his U.S. debut.

Others of note are recent San Luis Rey (G2) third Power Foot (Powerscourt); the front-running Joes Blazing Aaron (Graeme Hall); and Si Sage (Sageburg), who is multiple graded-placed on this course.

Gulfstream Park

Grand Tito (Candy Ride) will hope to come out on top for the first time in a graded stakes at Gulfstream Park this season in the $100,000 Miami Mile (G3). The five-year-old has earned a piece of the purse in four other graded turf stakes this season, finishing second in the Ft. Lauderdale (G2) and Canadian Turf (G3), third in the Appleton (G3), and a close fifth in the Gulfstream Park Turf H. (G1).

His most serious challengers appear to be last-out allowance winners Middleburg (Lemon Drop Kid), Shatak (Cryptoclearance), and Inchcape (Indian Charlie), as well as multiple stakes winner Storming Inti (Stormy Atlantic), who finished fourth in his March 6 comeback following a layoff of more than six months.

Also at Gulfstream on Saturday, Grade 1 queen Discreet Marq (Discreet Cat) will be an overwhelming favorite to take the $75,000 Powder Break over a mile on turf, which marks her first start since her third-place effort in the Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar in November.

Multiple stakes winner Mr. Jordan (Kantharos), coming off his first career defeat in the $58,000 Tamarac on March 27, will also be heavily favored to get back in the win column in the $60,000 Tarpon, a one-mile test for three-year-olds.

Golden Gate Fields

Runner-up in its past two editions, Summer Hit (Bertrando) will attempt for a third to capture the $100,000 San Francisco Mile (G3) over the turf at Golden Gate Fields. The multiple Grade 3 scorer, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by Russell Baze, was recently second in a six-furlong allowance in his first start since last June.

Pepper Crown (Peppered Cat) is back to defend his San Francisco Mile crown after denying Summer Hit by three-quarters of a length at odds of 46-1 a year ago. The five-year-old has been much more active than Summer Hit since last year's race, winning or placing in nine of 12 starts. Most recently, he took an off-the-turf allowance by a neck on April 5.

Are You Kidding Me (Run Away and Hide) debuts for trainer Neil Drysdale after capturing the Kent (G3) at Delaware Park for Roger Attfield. Other notables in the lineup are stakes winners G. G. Ryder (Chhaya Dance) and Edge of Reality (Lawyer Ron).

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In brief

Shared Belief (Candy Ride) is back at his Golden Gate Fields base after suffering an injury to his right hip in the Charles Town Classic (G1) last Saturday and could be sidelined 60 to 90 days, assistant trainer Dan Ward said Friday. The multiple Grade 1-wininng millionaire and champion will ultimately move from Golden Gate to the Pegasus Training and Equine Rehabilitation Center in Seattle for further recovery...

Grade 1 heroine Sam's Sister (Brother Derek) clocked five furlongs under Rafael Bejarano for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer on Friday in :59 4/5 over the fast main track at Santa Anita Park. The chestnut miss was last seen running fifth at Keeneland in the Madison S. (G1) on opening weekend...

Trainer Doug O'Neill's front-running Birdlover (Byron) seeks her third consecutive win as she heads a field of eight fillies and mares in Sunday's $100,000 Wilshire S. (G3) going one mile on Santa Anita Park's turf. The five-year-old mare only raced twice in 2014, finishing up the season with a close head second in the Wishing Well S., and returned one year later to take that about 6 1/2-furlong contest on the downhill turf by a half-length February 8. The British-bred chestnut followed up by wiring a one-mile turf allowance by 2 1/4 lengths last out on March 22, and will likely employ a similar strategy when breaking from the far outside in Sunday's Wilshire under jockey Rafael Bejarano. The Richard Mandella-trained Indecise (Pleasant Tap) appears set for a big effort in the Wilshire after also returning from a year-long hiatus to be second in the Wishing Well most recently. The six-year-old bay mare was making her stakes bow in that spot and retains the services of Flavien Prat on Sunday. Mandella will also be represented in the Wilshire by last year's John C. Mabee S. (G2) heroine Moulin de Mougin (Curlin), who ran an even ninth in the Thunder Road S. going a grassy mile on April 4, her first start since clipping heels and falling at odds of 5-1 in the Rodeo Drive S. (G1) last September. Also in with a chance Sunday are La Canada S. (G2) victress Thegirlinthatsong (My Golden Song), third in both the Santa Margarita S. (G1) and Santa Maria S. (G2) in her past two; Blingismything (Arch), third in the Las Cinegas S. (G3) and Buena Vista S. (G2) in her last two races; and Grade 2-placed Uzziel (Harlington), who ran second behind dual champion Beholder (Henny Hughes) in the Santa Lucia S. on April 10...

Rontos Racing Stable's Social Inclusion (Pioneerof the Nile), third in last year's Preakness S. (G1), will make his highly anticipated four-year-old debut in Sunday's 3RD race, a one-mile allowance for older horses, at Gulfstream Park. The bay colt has not run since finishing seventh in last July's Haskell Invitational (G1). Formerly in the care of trainer Manny Azpurua, he was transferred to the Chad Brown barn after that race and will make his first start for that conditioner Sunday. "He's doing really well," Brown said. "We're just taking our time with him. He's a pleasure to train. He's cooperated beautifully up to this point. We're excited to get him started." Social Inclusion emerged from his uncharacteristic effort in the Haskell, his first unplaced finish after going 2-0-3 in five prior starts, with an injury to his tendon. Upon receiving the talented runner, Brown made sure Social Inclusion received the appropriate medical attention and gave the colt plenty of time to heal. "When we got him in July, he had a tendon injury, so we immediately sent him to Kentucky to be evaluated by Dr. Larry Bramlage," Brown explained. "Then, of course (Bramlage) recommended a course of treatment and rest and a schedule for the horse, which we followed, and (Social Inclusion) did his down time at Dell Ridge Farm in Kentucky. They did a great job working with Dr. Bramlage. Eventually, he made his way down to me at the end of last year to begin training, and since then he hasn't missed a beat." Social Inclusion has trained for his return at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, and the colt has recorded eight published breezes since late February. He turned in a bullet five-furlong move on April 13 before most recently breezing five-eighths in 1:01 on April 19...

Sunday's C$125,000 Jacques Cartier S. at Woodbine is turning into a rematch of the November 23 Kennedy Road S. (Can-G2), as half of the 10-horse field are exiting that six-furlong contest for this one. Calgary Cat (Cowtown Cat) ended up winning that day, posting a two-length victory, with Bear No Joke (It's No Joke) crossing the line in third and Black Hornet (Pioneering) in fourth. Those latter two ended up reversing placings when Bear No Jack was disqualified to fourth while going for a title defense in the Kennedy Road. Stacked Deck (First Samurai) and Jose Sea View (Badge of Silver), the respective sixth and seventh in the race, also will be making their seasonal bows on Sunday. Pablo Del Monte (Giant's Causeway) has already returned from a long vacation, taking an allowance at Turfway Park on March 6 in his first start since running sixth in last July's Bing Crosby S. (G1) at Del Mar. The Wesley Ward pupil placed in last year's Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland en route to a sixth placing in the Preakness S. (G1), and keeps jockey Albin Jimenz aboard...

Aqueduct plays host to three stakes on Sunday, including two 6 1/2-furlong, $100,000 divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes in the Times Square and Park Avenue. The Time Square will kick off the card in the 1ST race and features five sophomore colts and geldings while the Park Avenue has attracted a field of 11 three-year-old fillies. Also on tap is the $100,000 Belle Harbor S., which drew Paulassilverlining (Ghostzapper). The bay miss ran fourth in her career debut but has yet to finish worse than second in five subsequent starts, including wins in last year's Matron S. (G2) and this season's Ruthless S. She'll face five rivals in the 6 1/2-furlong Belle Harbor, including last-out Marshua S. winner Lindisfarne (City Zip) and impressive maiden scorer Lakeside Sunset (Bellamy Road)...

Rosie Napravnik will receive the Special Award of Merit for her positive impact on the racing industry at the Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico on Thursday, May 14. Napravnik started her riding career in Maryland before becoming a leading jockey and setting new standards for women riders. She won her first race at Pimlico aboard Ringofdiamonds on June 9, 2005, swept the jockey standings at Pimlico and Laurel in 2006, and won her first stakes race on March 18, 2006, when piloting Reckless Ways to victory in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial H. at Laurel Park. Napravnik became the first women to win the Kentucky Oaks (G1), the first to win two Breeders' Cup races, and the first to ride in all three Triple Crown races. In 2012 she broke Julie Krone's record for single-season earnings. Moments after winning the last October's Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) aboard Untapable (Tapit), Napravnik announced she was expecting her first child and was retiring from riding. "I'm more than honored to be receiving the Award of Merit from the Maryland Jockey Club," Napravnik said. "To be in the same company as fellow riders Ramon Dominguez, Edgar Prado and legends such as Jerry Bailey and D. Wayne Lukas is so humbling. Maryland is where it all started for me. I was blessed to have the support of so many wonderful people, including Dickie Small and Holly Robinson. Maryland racing created so many incredible opportunities for me. Pimlico, Laurel Park and the Maryland Jockey Club will always have a special place in my heart." Seats at the Alibi Breakfast are limited. For more information contact

Horses continue to arrive daily and the track is primed for ThistleDown's 91st racing season, which will kick off on Monday, April 27. The 100-race day meet is expected to be one of the most exciting in recent ThistleDown history as a record daily purse average of $130,000 has attracted a strong stable of horses and trainers. The daily purse average is the highest of any Thoroughbred track in Ohio and marks an 18 percent increase over last year's daily average of $111,000. The season returns with 20 stakes races, including the Dr. T.F. Classen Memorial on May 2 and the Ohio Derby on June 20. The 1 1/16-mile Ohio Derby will showcase a $500,000 purse, its largest to date and up from just $100,000 in 2013. Typically conducted in July, ThistleDown's signature race has been moved up to claim an earlier spot on the summer calendar. The new date positions the Ohio Derby between the famed Triple Crown races and the prestigious stakes races that occur across the country later in the summer. The Best of Ohio series returns to ThistleDown on October 10 with its largest purse ever. The five stakes races will compete for a combined $750,000...

Dual Grade 1 winner Verrazano, who is currently covering his first book at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Kentucky, will be an addition to Coolmore's Australian roster later this year, where he will stand for A$13,750. Coolmore Australia will also add "TDN Rising Star" and Group 2 winner Rubick (Encosta de Lago) to its roster this year, and Holy Roman Emperor, sire of recent Australian Derby (Aus-G1) victor Mongolian Khan, returns Down Under after a five-year hiatus for a A$22,000 fee. Dual Derby winner Camelot, who stood for A$22,000 at Coolmore Australia last year, is absent from this year's roster.



APRIL 24, 2015

by Dick Powell

Is it better to be "Too much, too soon" or "Better late than never." The answer to this question will probably decide this year's Kentucky Derby (G1).

Too much too soon usually applies to the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and/or Juvenile champion. It is a horse that ran terrific early in his career but has trouble getting back to that effort at three. They are usually the type of horse that matures early but stops maturing. As the others catch up, that individual loses his edge even though he will probably still be bet on reputation.

The better late than never type applies to the three-year-old that suddenly gets good on the eve of the Derby and looks like he has finally put it all together. They just might be slow learners but could be horses that got a late start to their campaign due to physical setbacks. The question to answer is whether the recent stellar form a mirage or a sign of things to come.

Perhaps the best classic contenders are those that run well at two and then are able to recapture that form early in their three-year-old season. They have the least amount of questions going into the big race.

INTERNATIONAL STAR (Fusaichi Pegasus) has the most Derby eligibility points and while his highest BRIS Speed rating does not put him in the upper echelon this year, he seems to improve each start. His last six starts have seen his BRIS Speed rating go from 85 to 87 to 89 to 94 to 97 to 99 when winning the Louisiana Derby (G2) last out. Will another small move forward be enough to put him in the mix?

DORTMUND (Big Brown) looks perfectly managed since trying two turns, he has run 97, 101, 102 and 106 Speed figs. Will the 106 be too much of an effort or can he repeat that effort? If he can repeat it, he's in the top three.

CARPE DIEM (Giant's Causeway) won the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland in his second career start off a maiden win going 5 1/2 furlongs and then was a troubled second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He ran back to his two-year-old top last out in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) and it looks like a forward move could be coming.

AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) ran big as a two-year-old winning the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and ran back to that effort last out in the Arksansas Derby (G1). There is nothing not to like about him.

FROSTED (Tapit) showed some talent at two, ran poorly in his first two starts at three then exploded last out when winning the Wood Memorial (G1) and earning a monstrous BRIS Speed rating of 107. Will that race set him back or was it an indication that Kiaran McLaughlin's complete makeover transformed him into the horse to beat?

MUBTAAHIJ (Dubawi) is an immensely talented colt that prospered on Meydan's new dirt track in Dubai. He was sensational winning the U.A.E. Derby (G2) going 1 3/16 miles and his trainer, Mike de Kock, is one of the world's best. The colt is mostly an unknown but before you throw him out, watch the stretch run of the U.A.E. Derby again.

MATERIALITY (Afleet Alex) did not make his career debut until January 11 when he won on a sloppy track and then came back to win going two turns against a decent stakes field. Despite the lack of seasoning, he captured the Florida Derby (G1) and earned a BRIS Speed rating of 105 for Todd Pletcher. Yes, it helps to have two-year-old form since it gives a horse experience but this one might have enough raw talent to overcome it.

EL KABEIR (Scat Daddy) has had nine career starts and four already this year. He has strong early speed but has come from behind in his last two starts. He's been a better two-year-old than three-year-old but does have a win on the Churchill Downs main track.

UPSTART (Flatter) ran huge at two earning a BRIS Speed rating of 106 in the 6 1/2-furlong Funny Cide Stakes. Trainer Rick Violette has been trying to get to the first Saturday in May without using him too hard so he backed off him a little after winning the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) in January with a BRIS Speed rating of 105.

FAR RIGHT (Notional) has been the model of consistency but just doesn't seem fast enough with a career-best BRIS Speed rating of 96.

ITSAKNOCKOUT (Lemon Drop Kid) has a terrible pattern coming into the race of declining BRIS Speed ratings. After beating allowance foes at Gulfstream Park and earning a BRIS Speed rating of 102 going a mile, he came back with a 91 and an 82 last out. Not the way you want to come up to a big race.

FIRING LINE (Line of David) has a very strong pattern with a close second behind Dortmund in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) where he earned a BRIS Speed rating of 97. He followed that up this year with another close finish behind Dortmund (100) then went to New Mexico where he won the Sunland Park Derby (G3) and earned a 102.

DANZIG MOON (Malibu Moon) could be a key horse to evaluate. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream going a mile and earned a 92 BRIS Speed rating. Mark Casse shipped him up to Tampa Bay where he was a bad fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and his number regressed to an 81. Last out, he was second to Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass and earned a 99. Did Carpe Diem beat a bad field in the Blue Grass based on Danzig Moon's two prior races?

WAR STORY (Northern Afleet) could not win in three starts against stakes company at the Fair Grounds this spring and just doesn't look fast enough.

TENCENDUR (Warrior's Reward) is this year's Rorschach Test. Do you see a horse that jumped 15 points with his BRIS Speed rating and think he has to go backwards, or do you see a horse that is finally putting it together after getting off the Aqueduct inner dirt track? His 105 in the Wood makes him a major contender if you can make the case that it was not a fluke.

Spot Plays/Highlights/Weather


For Saturday

Aqueduct   (5th) Adirondack Posse, 7-2
    (6th) Carolinian, 3-1
Charles Town   (3rd) Dream Magic, 6-1
    (6th) Red Penny Princess, 7-2
Churchill Downs   (4th) You Should Be Here, 7-2
    (10th) Silvertron, 4-1
Emerald Downs   (3rd) Shadow Code, 4-1
    (8th) Seeking the Light, 3-1
Evangeline Downs   (3rd) Curley Joe, 9-2
    (5th) Permission Slip, 9-2
Golden Gate Fields   (5th) Zorrito, 6-1
    (8th) Hail Mary, 3-1
Gulfstream Park   (2nd) Comet Sixty Two, 7-2
    (6th) B.F. Forever, 7-2
Hawthorne   (2nd) Chica Silver, 5-1
    (3rd) Kisses from Ocala, 4-1
Indiana Grand   (1st) Unfaithful, 9-2
    (3rd) Poblanita, 9-2
Lone Star Park   (5th) Malacrianza, 3-1
    (10th) Valid Message, 6-1
Mahoning Valley   (2nd) Tynah Tyme, 3-1
    (6th) Midsummer's Eve, 4-1
Mountaineer Park   (4th) Wacky Indian, 9-2
    (6th) Goose No Fruit, 3-1
Parx Racing   (6th) Bobby C, 5-1
    (7th) Frame, 7-2
Penn National   (3rd) Dreaming of Andy A, 7-2
    (4th) Sully's Approach, 6-1
Pimlico   (6th) Trusted Choice, 3-1
    (7th) A Prettydixie, 3-1
Prairie Meadows   (2nd) Fantastical, 4-1
    (5th) Colerful Bride, 4-1
Santa Anita   (5th) Somethingaboutnick, 3-1
    (7th) Rule He Will, 3-1
Tampa Bay Downs   (3rd) Sunny Forest, 6-1
    (9th) Intense Intense, 7-2
Woodbine   (4th) More Than Bandeau, 7-2
    (5th) Why the Ring, 3-1

HANDICAPPER'S EDGE is compiled by Bloodstock Research Information Services. This newsletter may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Copyright 2011, Bloodstock Research Information Services. Information as to the races, race results and earnings was obtained from Equibase Company LLC and is utilized herein with the permission of the copyright owner, Equibase Company LLC.


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