March 20, 2023

Connections talk Derby tactics

Last updated: 5/2/13 4:23 PM

Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable’s Orb, the 7-2 morning-line favorite for
Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, galloped 1 1/4 miles under exercise rider Jennifer
Patterson Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Shug McGaughey, whose Florida Derby winner drew the 16 post position,
has envisioned what jockey Joel Rosario might expect during the running of Derby

“I think there’s going to be horses that show a little more speed than maybe
it shows on paper. I’m just going to tell Joel to play the break and see what
happens and try to hold some kind of position so when the time comes we got a
chance to make that run,” McGaughey said.

“Hopefully, he’ll get a clean trip around the first turn, which I think is
very important. That’s where all the jamming up comes. Going down the backside,
hopefully, he can ease in and save a little ground, but not be down in there and
not be able to make a run when the time comes.”

One race prior to the Derby on Saturday’s card, McGaughey is slated to saddle
turf star Point of Entry for a highly anticipated clash with Horse of the
Year Wise Dan in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. With so much attention
focused on Orb during Derby week, the multiple Grade 1 stakes winner has been
training at Churchill somewhat under the radar.

“He’s not under our radar,” McGaughey said. “We’re looking forward to running
him. He’s been a great pleasure around here for us and he still is. I don’t know
how he could be doing any better. We’ll see how it goes.”

Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday, runner-up to
Orb in the Florida Derby, galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Peter

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said the Gulfstream
Park Derby and Holy Bull victor will be better prepared for a rematch
with Orb Saturday.

“The whole plan was to get him here on the first Saturday in May in the best
possible condition he could be in, and part of that process was 62 days between
the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby.

“As important as it was for us to win the
Florida Derby, it wasn’t our goal. Our goal was always to win the Kentucky
Derby,” Plesa said.

“In my mind he probably wasn’t 100 percent fit for the
Florida Derby. He was probably closer to 95 percent fit. When you’re running
against a horse like Orb, you better be 100 percent fit.  So going into
this race, I don’t think, I know my horse is 100 percent. It’s going to be an
interesting race for everybody involved.”

Plesa raised the possibility that the early pace of the Derby may be slower than
years past.

“Since the point system has been put into effect, it kind of takes a couple
factors out of the race. Certainly, a sprinter is not going to be in this race
and a filly isn’t going to be in this race. So with that being said, that does
change the pace on paper,” Plesa said. “It looks like the pace may be a slower
pace than we’ve seen in the past. As far as my horse is concerned, my horse has
tactical speed and can do whatever needs to be done.”

Elvis Trujillo has the return mount aboard Itsmyluckyday.

Four-time Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said
he is weighing strategy for a race even before the post position draw is over.

“You know, when you’ve got five or six or seven holes sitting out there, you
say, ‘You know what? I got so and so in hole five and so and so in seven, and
six is still available; I’d like to get right between those two,’ ” Lukas was
saying Thursday morning, “If you get the two — there’s not much speed (nearby) 
— we can live with that. So you start analyzing it immediately.

“Of course, you lay awake all night and analyze it.”

Calumet Farm’s Oxbow, who generally shows early speed, drew post 2, and Willis
Horton’s Will Take Charge, a late runner, drew 17. Lukas said he’ll continue
to weigh race plans for them until meeting with Gary Stevens, Oxbow’s jockey,
and Jon Court, Will Take Charge’s rider, for strategy sessions.

“I get into it pretty good,” Lukas said of his strategizing. “Once I talk to
Gary and Jon, I’ll pretty much turn them loose and say, ‘Look, this isn’t going
to be a Hollywood script. I mean, this is not going to happen the way I’m
describing it to you, but make the best of it. I always tell ’em at the end,
‘Hell, just do what you want.’

The sessions also will be for psyching up the riders, Lukas said.

“It’s the coach in me,” said Lukas, who was a basketball coach before becoming a
trainer. “We have a little locker-room talk. You know, play ‘Rocky’ tapes and
give ’em B-12 shots.”

Oxbow, under exercise rider Rudy Quevedo, and Will Take Charge, with exercise
rider Taylor Carty aboard, galloped Thursday.

Gold Mark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm’s Louisiana Derby
runner-up Mylute went to the track at 5:45 a.m. (EDT) for some light exercise under
regular exercise rider Maurice Sanchez.

“We galloped two miles,” Sanchez
said. “I warmed him up jogging one mile the wrong way, then the two miles. It
was a nice, easy morning. He’s very relaxed.”

Sanchez has played a major role in Mylute’s emergence as a Kentucky Derby
contender. After finishing seventh in the Risen Star Stakes — the second in a three-race series of graded
stakes at Fair Grounds — trainer Tom Amoss and Gold Mark
general manager Todd Quast agreed that further adjustments to both his equipment
and style might help the Midnight Lute colt realize his full potential.

“In his training before the Risen
Star he was very laid-back, very lazy,” Quast said. “That’s why we put all the
equipment on him — the blinkers and the shadow roll. We did that on purpose,
knowing that we were going to have a chargier horse. We put an aggressive gallop
rider on him to train him in the mornings to get into him while he worked. In
the Risen Star it was counter-productive and Shaun (Bridgmohan) had to fight

“But we knew we were only about 80 percent and we knew we were trying to peak in
the third race off the layoff. After that race Tom and I decided we needed to
adjust and what we did was take the blinkers off and put Maurice — a more mellow
gallop rider — back on him. We went back to the slow, long-distance gallops,
doing the works so they were slow early.”

Mylute stalked the pace in the Risen Star, laying fourth in the early going but
leaving himself with nothing left to kick home. In the Louisiana Derby, having
trained to relax early, Mylute was as much as 11 lengths off the pace down the
backside and saved his best running for the stretch, collaring Revolutionary approaching the sixteenth-pole but without quite being
able to go by.

“If you had to fault him anywhere it would be that he kind of hangs a
little bit,” Quast said.

However, Amoss tried to address that
by setting up Mylute to pass horses in his last major work before the Derby, the
half-mile in :47 4/5 on April 21.

“He started eight lengths behind a pair and finished eight lengths in
front,” Quast said. “He had his ears perked and went right on by.”

Mylute came back to breeze an easy half-mile in :50 3/5 last Saturday.

Sterling Racing’s Black Onyx galloped 1 1/2 miles during the Derby
and Oaks session while under regular exercise rider Aurelio Gomez.

Trainer Kelly
Breen was concerned that with the largest throng of morning onlookers yet his
Spiral Stakes winner might finally get fazed by all the attention.
Turned out, there was nothing to worry about.

“He jogged along the outside fence like those people have been there every day
of his life,” Breen said. “His attitude around here is so laid-back. Things
could be a lot worse going in here.

“You could have a high-anxiety horse that’ll
be in that one post for a long time, but he’s been soaking it in. He’s just laid
back, like it’s his fourth Kentucky Derby.”

Breen is the one who will be represented in his fourth Kentucky Derby but that
experience hasn’t helped to calm the nerves. The trainer joked that whatever his
mellow horse has been taking, he could use some it himself.

And yet, with all there is to worry about the week of the world’s most famous
horse race, Breen refuses to lose sleep over Black Onyx’s post draw. Post
position 1 has come to be accepted as the most dreaded, even though it has produced
eight winners, tied for second-most behind the 10-hole (nine winners).

If the
rail was good enough for Derby winners like War Admiral, Citation, Needles and,
most recently, Ferdinand, then perhaps having the right horse is what really

“It might not be an ideal post but I think we have a game plan,” Breen said.
“The horse is doing well and horses have won from the 1 post before. It has
happened. It doesn’t concern me as much as you would think.

“There are things I’m seeing from the horse that have me at ease. You could have
a super-nervous horse that’s anxious to go and you’re going to have to try to
throttle him down. You’re going to have 150,000 people and this horse here, he’s
like, it’s old hat.”

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