March 20, 2023

Trainers mull possibility of ‘off’ track on Derby Day

Last updated: 5/2/13 7:06 PM

Verrazano aims to become the first Derby winner who didn’t race at two since Apollo in 1882
(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)

There was a one-Derby-horse-for-one-Oaks-horse swap at the Todd Pletcher barn
Thursday morning, but otherwise the stable’s collection of Kentucky Derby
runners turned in another good morning of training leading up to their runs in
Saturday’s American classic.

At the request of owner Mike Repole, Pletcher held back his Oaks
filly Unlimited Budget when his three other Oaks fillies went out with the first
set at 6 a.m. (EDT) to train. Instead, the conditioner had his fifth Derby horse
— Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Charming Kitten — go early with the fillies, while
Unlimited Budget went late with the colts during the 8:30-8:45 special training
period for Derby and Oaks horses, thus allowing Repole to be on hand and watch
his filly exercise.

In the 6 a.m. session, Charming
Kitten was handled by exercise rider Patti Krotenko for a 1 3/8-mile
gallop that started at the finish line and ended at the five-furlong pole. The
son of Ramsey stallion Kitten’s Joy will be ridden by Edgar Prado Saturday and
they’ll break from post 15 in the 20-horse field. The Blue Grass Stakes
third-place-finisher has been listed at 20-1 in the morning line.

Pletcher’s other Derby colts showed good energy in their training efforts and the conditioner gave them all a thumbs
up following their exercise.

Unbeaten Wood Memorial winner Verrazano, listed as the 4-1 second choice in the
Derby morning line, covered 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Humberto

Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary galloped 1 1/4 miles
for Nick Bush, while Arkansas Derby hero Overanalyze went the same distance
for Obed Perez. Finally, Blue Grass second-place finisher Palace
Malice galloped his 10 furlongs under Jake Nelson.

The trainer re-emphasized he was quite happy with the Derby post draws for
his colts (Revolutionary in post 3; Overanalyze in 9; Palace Malice in 10;
Verrazano in 14, and Charming Kitten in 15.) and then answered a question
about possible rain and the effects of an “off” track on his runners.

“The possibility of rain doesn’t
change anything we’ll do with them getting ready for the race,” he said. “That
will all be exactly the same.

“As to how they might do, well, none of them have
any experience on an ‘off’ track. I’ve never breezed one of them on one; just
never had the opportunity to.

Todd Pletcher tabbed Revolutionary as his runner
most likely to move up in the mud

(Cecilia Gustavsson/

“But of all of them, I get the impression that
Revolutionary might be the one to relish an ‘off’ track.”  

Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents continued to move
forward toward his Saturday date with Kentucky Derby destiny with another
good gallop at Churchill Downs during the special Derby/Oaks training period
following the track’s morning renovation break.

The bay son of Into Mischief first
visited the paddock under exercise rider Jonny Garcia, then put in a strong
gallop in the warm Kentucky sun. The horse’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, was a
pleased observer, as was his rider, Kevin Krigger.

Krigger, the only rider the horse has known in his six-race career, will
break from post 8 in the 20-horse Derby
field and has been listed as the 5-1 third choice in the morning line.

O’Neill had recovered from his
golfing date Wednesday at nearby Valhalla Golf Club with two of his colt’s
owners, one of them being University of Louisville NCAA champion basketball coach Rick Pitino.

“Someone said they’d heard I’d shot 71,” O’Neill said. “I said ‘Yeah,
but that was for the first four holes.’

“But that’s a beautiful golf course — world class. Even though I don’t play much golf, it was a treat to play there.
And Coach hits it pretty good. He’s a good golfer.”

With rain forecast for Derby Day and
the possibility of an “off” track looming, O’Neill was asked how he thought his
charge might handle such conditions.

“Well, he’s never raced on an ‘off’
track, so you can’t be sure about that,” he said. “But we breezed him on a wet
track that had been sealed one time this spring at Santa Anita and he skipped
right over it. He’s a sure-footed horse and nothing seems to bother him.

“And from what I know about this
track, it handles water real well. As long as we don’t have any gushers just
before or during the race, I think we’ll all be all right.”

Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger’s Falling
Sky galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Cassie Garcea “as good as we could
want it,” trainer John Terranova reported.

Falling Sky is a son of 2004 Derby runner-up Lion Heart
(Bob Newell/

Falling Sky, who won the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in his 2013 debut,
has come up short after setting the early pace in his two most recent races, a
third-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby and a fourth the Arkansas Derby. The 1
1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby will be Terranova’s main
concern Saturday.

“Obviously with all of them, and with him, maybe more so from what we’ve seen,
distance is the question mark,” Terranova said. “We’ll see. He seems to love
Churchill Downs. He trains brilliantly over the track, so we’ll see what he can

Terranova may have lingering doubts about the Derby distance, but he remains
very confident in the son of Lion Heart’s talent.

“We’ve obviously got some concerns, but at this point, I wouldn’t have changed
anything we’ve done coming into the race. The horse gives us 100 percent. I have
no doubts he’s a very good horse who will try and give us an honest effort.
We’re just hoping for a nice clean trip and a little bit of racing luck,”
Terranova said.

“I think the post (13) is fine. We drew outside some
potential speed horses. I’m not concerned with the rain. An off track may
actually help him.”

Luis Saez, who won an allowance race at Gulfstream aboard Falling Sky in
December, has the Derby mount.

Charles Fipke’s Golden Soul hasn’t raced on an off track, and
trainer Dallas Stewart said Thursday that he’d prefer dry conditions for the
Kentucky Derby.

“I think most trainers are looking at the weather,” Stewart said. “I don’t know,
are we fretting? Are we concerned? It is what it is, as they say. But I hope
(rain) misses.”

Golden Soul, by Perfect Soul out of Hollywood Gold by Mr. Prospector, hasn’t
worked on muddy tracks but has galloped often in mud, Stewart said.

“He’s out of a Mr. Prospector mare. They tend to run well in the mud. Perfect
Souls — I don’t really know.”

The Churchill Downs track handles water well, said Stewart, who is based at the

“It’s the best on training, this and the Fair Grounds, in my opinion.
They do a great job. You know, we’ll just have to see if it rains during the

“If it’s raining while we’re not training or racing, they keep it sealed, and
the water runs off, which is good. We’ll just have to see. Nobody can predict
the weather.”

Golden Soul galloped Thursday under exercise rider Emerson Chavez.

Fipke’s Java’s War and Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Frac Daddy both came out during the Derby and Oaks training session for
what trainer Ken McPeek described as “an easy day.”

Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy — consistently the more aggressive of
the duo this week — jogged one mile and galloped one mile under exercise
rider Hugo Garcia. Meanwhile, Blue Grass winner Java’s War jogged
two miles with exercise rider Marvin Abrego aboard.

Frac Daddy was outfitted with earplugs, which he has worn every day
during training and will also wear to the gate Saturday.

“It’s just to keep him calm,” McPeek
said. “Every now and then he’ll hear a noise and he gets a little spooky. It
helps him to keep quiet. He’ll probably wear them all the way to the gate on

Once Frac Daddy arrives at the gate,
the rider aboard his escort pony will be responsible for removing the earplugs.

In other Derby news:

Sunrise Stable and Partners’ New York-bred colt Giant
Finish arrived at Churchill Downs at 8:48 a.m. Thursday after a 12-hour trip
from the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.

Ray Handle, assistant to trainer Anthony Dutrow, accompanied Giant
Finish on his journey and led the chestnut son of Frost Giant off truck to his
stall in Barn 42. Handle, 24, stayed with Giant Finish in the back of the truck
and said the colt handled the trip well.

“He was so great about it. Just
professional. That’s how he is about everything,” Handle said. “He’s a cool

Giant Finish was third in the Spiral at Turfway Park on March 23. When a few horses with more qualifying
points were declared from the field this week and Giant Finish moved up to the
20th and final position, the ownership group decided to enter him in the Derby.

While compiling a 2-1-1 record in his
five career starts, Giant Finish has shown that he prefers being on or near the

“He’s a little bit of a one-paced
type of horse,” Handle said. “He doesn’t really get tired, but he doesn’t have a
great kick. He’ll probably be forwardly placed and hopefully he can out-stay
them and be there at the finish.”

Jose Espinoza will ride Giant Finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Lines of Battle is expected to clear quarantine and head to the main track early Friday morning
(Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins)

The well-traveled Lines of Battle, owned by Joseph Allen, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, walked the shedrow in the quarantine
barn Thursday morning.

The Kentucky-bred son of War Front
arrived from Ireland on Wednesday and entered the quarantine area at Barn
48. T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O’Brien, said the colt will go out
on the track under exercise rider Laura McInerney at about 6 a.m. Friday
morning after clearing quarantine.

“He walked this morning and he’ll
walk this evening. That’s all we can do today,” Comerford said. “He’s not going
to do a whole lot when he goes to the track, just canter around there. He’s got
all his galloping done.”

Lines of Battle earned his
Derby qualifying points with a victory in the U.A.E. Derby on March 30 in
Dubai. He returned to O’Brien’s Ballydoyle training center in Ireland before his
trip to Kentucky.

O’Brien will not attend the Kentucky Derby. He has three starters in the Two
Thousand Guineas, the English classic Saturday
at Newmarket: Cristoforo Colombo, George Vancouver and Mars. He also has
three fillies entered in the One Thousand Guineas on Sunday: Moth, Snow Queen
and Magical Dream (who is uncertain to line up).

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