June 22, 2024

Pitino to watch Goldencents train; Plesa ready to wear ‘game face’

Last updated: 4/30/13 5:21 PM

Pitino to watch Goldencents train; Plesa ready to wear
‘game face’

Santa Anita Derby star Goldencents was out for a gallop during the Oaks/Derby
training period Tuesday morning.

Exercise rider Jonny Garcia was up for the exercise, accomplished with the
colt’s usual panache during a full oval tour with a couple of furlongs farther
thrown in. Trainer Doug O’Neill positioned himself in the grandstand to watch
his charge and enjoyed the eyeful below him on the big Churchill strip.

The trainer noted that one of his several owners in the son of Into Mischief
was going to make his first appearance at the track Wednesday morning for

“Coach is coming out tomorrow,” O’Neill said.

And when you say “Coach” right now in the city of Louisville, it causes a
major stir and points to only one man — NCAA champion and recent basketball
Hall of Famer Rick Pitino. Though he owns only a small interest in Goldencents,
he’ll have a big impact among fans and media types coming up to Derby 139. And
it isn’t a case of beginner’s luck for Pitino. He has been in the game for
better than 15 years and has been seen at racetracks regularly from
Saratoga-to-Del Mar-to Churchill for most of that time.

Would Goldencents put on any kind of a special show for Pitino Wednesday?

“No, he’s not going to do anything special,” O’Neill said. “He’ll just train
along as he has been doing. But each of his gallops is pretty special all on
their own. He puts a lot into his mornings; a lot to each time he goes out on
the track.”

Goldencents, a winner of four of six starts and more than $1.2 million in
purses, will be handled by his regular pilot, Kevin Krigger, who will be making
his Kentucky Derby debut.

Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday galloped 1 1/2 miles under
exercise rider Peter Shelton Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr., who arrived in Louisville from his South Florida
base Monday afternoon, monitored the morning exercise. The Calder Race
Course-based trainer reported that Itsmyluckyday will gallop up to the Derby and
likely visit the starting gate on Wednesday. He has no plans to school the son
of Lawyer Ron in the paddock.

“Nothing bothers him, so I don’t see any reason to do that,” said Plesa,
whose Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull winner finished second behind Orb in
the Florida Derby last time out.

Itsmyluckyday is slated to be the second Derby starter for Plesa, who saddled
Three Ring for a 19th-place finish in 1999. The filly was bumped and had to be
steadied sharply just after the break.

“She never had an opportunity. I felt really bad for the owners. If after the
first eighth of a mile, you could hit pause and they could say, ‘Go on with the
race or take the horse out,’ I would say, ‘Take the horse out,’ because there’s
no way you’re going to overcome what had happened to her,” said Plesa, whose
filly went on to win the Acorn before a fall in the Belmont paddock before the
Mother Goose claimed her life.

Plesa said he and his wife, Laurie, will enjoy Derby Week, but come Saturday,
he’ll be wearing his game face.

“I’ll be miserable to be around, as my wife will attest to, on the morning of
the race,” Plesa said. “I don’t like to be bothered. Then, I’m focused and zoned
in. Things just disrupt that, and I don’t like it. That’s not my usual demeanor,
but for big races it is — not everyday races.”

Trainer Chad Brown liked what he saw when Fox Hill Farms’ Normandy Invasion
galloped 1 3/8 miles Tuesday morning. It was the Tapit colt’s first vigorous
exercise since he worked five furlongs in :59 Saturday morning.

“I thought he went super,” Brown said. “I was anxious to see him come out of
that work to see how he would be moving and he couldn’t be moving any better.
I’m getting excited about him.”

Brown was hoping for consistency and Normandy Invasion delivered.

“He galloped today the way he did prior to his last work,” Brown said.
“That’s all I was looking to see because he was moving super since he has been
at Churchill and in the week leading up to his final workout. When you’re
breezing a horse for a big race like this and he has a serious work like he did,
as a trainer you’re always curious to see how they’re coming out of there and
how they’re moving. He’s moving just like he was prior to the work and I was
excited to see him galloping today.”

Normandy Invasion earned the points he needed to qualify for a spot in the
Derby field with a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial on April 6 at

Calumet Farm’s Oxbow and Willis Horton’s Will Take Charge, the Derby duo
trained by D. Wayne Lukas, walked in the barn and grazed Tuesday morning. They
had an off day after working five furlongs Monday — Oxbow in :59 4/5 and Will
Take Charge in 1:01.

Will Take Charge rallied from mid-pack to win the Rebel on March 16 at
Oaklawn Park in his most recent start. A big, chestnut colt, Will Take Charge
appears built more for power than speed, and he ran from off the pace in all but
one of his seven races. But don’t expect him to be at the back of the Derby
pack, Lukas said.

“He lays a little closer than you think,” Lukas said. “When you look at him
physically in the paddock, you’d say, ‘This horse is definitely going to come
from way out of it.’ He’s got a little bit of a lick to him. I would say
midpack. He’ll be in touch.”

Lukas, who has won the Derby four times, said he doesn’t have a favorite
Derby winner.

“Not really, because I represented four different clients,” he said. “That’s
what made it special. Every time I won it, I never duplicated one of them. I got
Bill Young (owner of Grindstone) where he wanted to be, Gene Klein (owner of
Winning Colors), then Bob Lewis (owner of Charismatic) — right down the line.
It was special because I was able to have that association with people I really
am fond of.”

Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Frac Daddy and Charles Fipke’s Java’s War
each galloped 1 1/2 miles during the Derby and Oaks training session, picking up
the pace noticeably through the lane, and visited the starting gate.

“All of them went super,” trainer Ken McPeek said, referring to his Derby
team as well as Oaks contender Pure Fun.

Blue Grass Stakes winner Java’s War was ridden by regular exercise rider
Marvin Abrego and had a “great day,” according to McPeek.

“Today was probably as good as I’ve ever seen him go over this surface,” the
trainer said. “He really had great energy. He had a couple of light days in a
row and I may go light with him the rest of the week because I want to see that
kind of energy on Saturday.”

Concurrently, Derby jockey Victor Lebron was on Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac
Daddy, who continues to show off his aggressive nature in the mornings.

“I was worried he was going to run off that second mile there,” McPeek said.
“Victor had a tough time pulling him up.”

That aggression — or “high-spiritedness,” as Lebron calls it — could be a
concern for Frac Daddy in a chaotic 20-horse race that is preceded by a litany
of preparations and no small amount of pomp and circumstance in front of 160,000
screaming fans.

“He’s had a couple of episodes where things didn’t go his way and he didn’t
perform all that well,” McPeek said. “But I think we’re in a good spot. His last
race was super and he handled everything really well and I’m anticipating he’ll
do it again. He still needs to show he can handle adversity a little bit better
but physically he’s doing terrific.”

Frac Daddy earned four Kentucky Derby qualifying points as a juvenile when he
finished second in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs but had not added
to that total going into the Arkansas Derby. His disappointing efforts in two
Gulfstream Park stakes would have meant the end of the Derby road for many
horses but the owners and trainer still saw a raw talent that just hadn’t put it
all together yet.

“We gave him a sharp work right out of the Florida Derby and wheeled him back
in Arkansas,” McPeek said. “I was a little reluctant to do it — it was a bit of
an aggressive approach — but it was one of those deals where he needed to wake
up quick. Carter Stewart (of Magic City) said to go with it, wanted to make it
in, and we knew we needed to run second or third to make the race.”

If Frac Daddy runs big on Saturday, that bullet breeze at Gulfstream eight
days after the Florida Derby (five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 on April 7) will become
known as the critical turning point for a three-year-old many had written off.
Six days later, after a good week of increasingly strong gallops at Oaklawn
Park, he got up for second in the Arkansas Derby at 23-1.

“With him, nine-tenths of it was just getting in,” McPeek said. “He loves
this racetrack and the mile-and-a-quarter won’t be a problem. We just needed to
get him in and he punched his ticket there.”

Pick Six Racing’s Vyjack galloped 1 1/2 miles under trainer Rudy Rodriguez
Tuesday morning.

“The same routine. We aren’t changing anything,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been
doing that since Day One and he got us here doing that so I don’t think we need
to change anything.”

Vyjack cruised through his first four starts unbeaten and finished third, one
length behind Verrazano, in the Wood Memorial on April 6 at Aqueduct. The Into
Mischief gelding recovered from a minor lung infection discovered after the Wood
and has made a smooth transition to Churchill Downs. Rodriguez said the gelding
felt fine to him when they have been on the track in the morning.

“So far, so good. I’m very comfortable,” Rodriguez said. “He has been
galloping like that all along. He doesn’t show us anything that he doesn’t like,
but he’s still got to go and do it. We’re happy.”

Owner David Wilkenfeld purchased Vyjack as a two-year-old for $100,000 at the
May 2012 Fasig-Tipton sale at Timonium, Maryland. Vyjack proved to be a
difficult horse when he was being prepared for the track at the Fair Hill
Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, and Wilkenfeld decided that Rodriguez was
the right trainer for the assignment.

“I knew that Rudy could get on this horse in the morning and work with him,”
Wilkenfeld said. “I saw that he had some nice two-year-olds at Saratoga. It’s
worked out great. He’s done a terrific job. The horse has relaxed.”

GoldMark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm’s Mylute jogged one mile and galloped two
miles under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez at his usual time, just before 6 a.m.
(EDT). On Wednesday the Louisiana Derby runner-up will make his first appearance
during the Derby and Oaks training session so he can take advantage of time to
school in the starting gate.

Mylute ran his best race to date in the Louisiana Derby by settling early, as
opposed to expending precious energy establishing position toward the front of
the field, as he had tried to do in February’s Risen Star Stakes before
weakening to a seventh-place finish.

“We made a conscious change in his style — try to take him back off the pace
and make one run — and it worked well,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “So we’ve
followed that same pattern for the Kentucky Derby. He’s had his big work, three
weeks out, and he’s had his two minor works, which is how we did it for the
Louisiana Derby. His big work here was really nice, just as it was before the
Louisiana Derby, so we’re real comfortable with where we are.”

Being by Midnight Lute, the champion sprinter of 2007, it is easy to presume
that Mylute could have distance limitations. However, the change in tactics
helps to get the most out of Mylute’s speed by conserving him for the stretch as
much as possible. The nine-furlong Louisiana Derby was Mylute’s farthest test
yet and he passed most of the field in the final three-eighths.

“I have no fear regarding his fitness level or his understanding of getting a
true distance of ground,” Amoss said. “I know that he’s physically ready to do
that and that he’s had the training to do that.”

Sterling Racing’s Black Onyx galloped 1 3/4 miles under exercise rider
Aurelio Gomez during the Derby and Oaks training session.

“It was a little bit longer gallop, a little bit stronger at the end,”
trainer Kelly Breen said. “He came out of it looking dynamite.”

Black Onyx will be ridden by “Jersey” Joe Bravo, who has won both his starts
aboard the Rock Hard Ten colt since Breen took over as trainer this year. Bravo
— like Breen, a native of New Jersey — has 4,826 career wins, good for 34th
all time and 15th among active riders. He’s a 13-time leading jockey at Monmouth

“And he’s only 41 years old,” Breen said. “He’s had a great career and
horse-backing is second nature to him. It’s a plus to have a guy who knows where
the finish line is at and where the winner’s circle is at.”

Spiral winner Black Onyx will be Bravo’s third Kentucky Derby mount after
finishing 16th on both of his previous mounts — Spanish Chestnut in 2005 and
Atomic Rain in 2009.

“This is going to be my third Derby and the trainer’s third Derby, so
hopefully three’s a charm,” Bravo said. “He keeps improving day by day, just
looking at him. Don’t know how good he is but we’ll find out real soon. It looks
like we have plenty of pace in there. Another factor is going to be this
weather. We don’t know who is going to get a hold of a muddy track but we’re
going to find out about 7 o’clock Saturday night.”

Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger’s Falling Sky galloped 1
3/8 miles under exercise rider Cassie Garcea Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

“He was really into it. He’s always into it. He’s great,” trainer John
Terranova said. “He likes to go out there and train. He just loves it. It’s all

Falling Sky was purchased for $425,000 in January at the OBS Mixed Sale in

“He had run three times and had already won two of three starts. He won an
allowance race nicely at Gulfstream and we thought he’d stretch out nicely,”
Terranova said.

Falling Sky was entered in the seven-furlong Hutcheson at Gulfstream and the
1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay on February 2. His new connections opted
for the Davis and the son of Lion Heart won while stretching out around two
turns for the first time.

“Everyone thought we would run in the Hutcheson, but we did the 180 at the
last minute,” Terranova said. “We knew what we wanted to do and ended up going
to the route. That worked out nicely.”

Falling Sky came back to finish a distant third behind Verrazano and Java’s
War in the Tampa Bay Derby and went on to finish fourth in the Arkansas Derby.

“He’s a real honest horse. He obviously has real talent,” Terranova said.
“He’s a horse that’s a free-runner who likes to be out there. And he’s been
pretty competitive in each start.”

Trainer Dallas Stewart said Tuesday morning that his employees are on an
emotional high now that Golden Soul is assured a spot in the starting gate for
the Kentucky Derby. Because of defections Monday from the possible field, Golden
Soul moved into the top 20 horses, according to Derby points.

“They’re elated,” Stewart, said of his help. “They were excited. And they
know he’s a good horse, and everybody, obviously, wants to be in the race.”

Stewart said he is leaning toward a particular jockey for Golden Soul but
will wait until Wednesday, entry day, to cement the decision.

“Well, I think I’ve got it pretty much narrowed down,” Stewart said. “I mean,
we’ve got a couple of guys — one guy we’re real solid on. We’re just going to
wait. If something was to happen (further defections), then the owner (Charles
Fipke) wouldn’t step in and say, ‘Hey, how come we’re not using one of these

Golden Soul galloped Tuesday under exercise rider Emerson Chavez.

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