February 22, 2024

Always Dreaming gets new exercise rider, draw reins

Always Dreaming was still a handful in draw reins for new exercise rider Nick Bush (Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

If you’ve been watching Always Dreaming’s morning exercise on the Kentucky Derby (G1) live streaming or catching up on the TwinSpires.com workout video page, you’ll have noticed that the Florida Derby (G1) winner has been headstrong – to put it mildly.

So trainer Todd Pletcher knew that something had to be done to prevent Always Dreaming from pulling his head off in his gallops. He prescribed two changes: switching exercise riders to Nick Bush, who’s approaching his 10th anniversary with the barn, and adding “draw reins” for better control.

“The reins basically give the rider more leverage,” Pletcher explained. “It allows him to control his head more; to take it down.  Nick (Bush) is our draw rein specialist. That’s why he’s up.”

Pletcher also sent Always Dreaming out early, right after Churchill Downs’ training hours started at 5:45 a.m. (EDT), rather than the 8:30-8:45 window reserved for Derby and Oaks (G1) contenders. His two other Derby runners, Patch and Tapwrit, awaited their special training time.

Always Dreaming is toeing the borderline between high spirits and uncontrollable energy (Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

On a track that was still sloppy, Always Dreaming was ponied before breaking off into his gallop. According to Monday’s Derby notes, Bush still had his hands full in his tour of the oval, “working hard to keep his charge’s head down as the colt pulled and struggled just a bit with his new arrangement.” The Coady Photography photos are worth the proverbial thousand words.

Both trainer and exercise rider believed that the new arrangement was beneficial, while adding that Always Dreaming was eligible to do better on the second day.

“He’ll be better tomorrow. It’s going to be OK,” Pletcher said.

“Oh, he’s feeling plenty good,” Bush said. “In fact he’s all but jumping out of his skin. But he came back to me some as we went along.

“He was better with it. I think he was getting the idea. Come tomorrow, he’ll be better yet. He’ll get it and we’re going to be fine.”

In other Derby news:

Practical Joke keeps us guessing about whether he’ll wear blinkers (Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com)

Trainer Chad Brown has yet to determine whether Practical Joke, who tried blinkers in recent gallops and his last breeze, would make the equipment change in Derby 143.

“I’m not sure what I’m doing yet,” Brown said.

Practical Joke, the Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1) winner coming off a second in the Blue Grass (G2), did not sport the headgear Monday.

“The horse galloped fine,” Brown said. “He’s doing really well.”

Louisiana Derby (G2) hero Girvin, who walked the Keeneland shedrow Sunday after his Saturday five-furlong move in :59.60, took in another swim on Monday.

Since Girvin developed a right front quarter-crack more than a week ago, trainer Joe Sharp has been in a race against time. The first order of business was getting him sound, then to maintain the colt’s fitness despite missing his usual training routine. The swimming facilities at the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center (KESMARC) have come in handy in that regard.

“He’s doing well,” Sharp said. “He just went for a swim today.”

Sharp’s mentor, trainer Mike Maker, has Spiral (G3) upsetter Fast and Accurate ready to show early dash in the Derby. New rider Channing Hill was encouraged by his Sunday spin over the track.

“He went really well yesterday,” Hill said. “I can’t say that I was surprised, but I definitely had more horse than I thought I would. His workmate (GI-placed Adventist) is a good horse, so that made me even more confident and happy. I let his head go at the eighth pole and he handled the dirt really well.

“It’s exciting to pick him up. He’s going to have to run the race of his life to win, but as good as he breezed, it’s not out of the question. He has speed and we will likely go (to the front).

“I would not mind ‘War Emblem-ing’ the field at all and I know Mike knows how to get one ready.”

Gormley unwinds with trainer John Shirreffs after his flight (Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

Trainer John Shirreffs’ pair of Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Gormley and third-placer Royal Mo (21st on the points list and needing a defection) flew from Southern California early Monday and made it to the track in the afternoon.

Wood Memorial (G2) conqueror Irish War Cry, vanning from Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, was scheduled to pull into Churchill’s stable area later Monday afternoon.

“I’m very upbeat,” trainer Graham Motion said of his chances, “but anyone who knows me knows I’m anxious. I want to get him there in one piece. I want him to have a good week. I feel very good about his work and how he’s doing.”

Godolphin’s UAE Derby (G2) winner Thunder Snow, who arrived Sunday, was due to clear quarantine late Monday night. Barring an unforeseen problem with that clearance, the French Group 1 romper is expected to get acquainted with the track Tuesday morning.

The only horse ever to win the Kentucky Derby fresh off an international start was Venezuelan hero Canonero II in 1971. Venezuelan hopes this year revolve around Florida-based Gunnevera, whose co-owner Salomon Del Valle had seen Canonero in person, though not at the Derby. He made the trip to New York when Triple Crown-seeking Canonero finished fourth in the Belmont (G1).

“I’m very excited,” Del Valle said. “This is the best horse I’ve ever owned.”