The Steve Asmussen-trained Combatant toured a half-mile in :49.60 at Churchill Downs on Monday, five days ahead of his tilt at the Kentucky Derby (G1). With exercise rider Angel Garcia aboard, the consistent closer galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.80.
“It went well,” the Hall of Famer said. “He’s spent a lot of time training here, so he’s comfortable with the surroundings. I thought he put in a very typical breeze for the week of the race.”
Asmussen also discussed the post position draw coming up Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. (EDT).
“It’s the Derby and 20 horses, so I’d rather him be towards the outside. However, that’s where he’s been all winter when I didn’t want him there, so I’m sure he’ll probably draw the inside this time.”
Combatant came through the Oaklawn Park series of preps, and after finishing second from post 1 in the Smarty Jones, he kept winding up outside. Breaking from post 9 in the Southwest (G3), he rallied for second. Combatant was third from post 10 on the Rebel (G2) and fourth from post 9 in the Arkansas Derby (G1).
Last year, Asmussen’s Lookin at Lee brought a similar running style from Oaklawn into the Derby, drew the rail, and took runner-up honors behind Always Dreaming.
“He does have a similar personality to Lookin at Lee,” Asmussen noted, “and I thought he did a really good job of making the most of his one hole last year. I do think that’s the type of trip we’d like to recreate with a very similar horse.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott will send out lightly raced Hofburg in Derby 144. Second in the Florida Derby (G1) in only his third start, the Juddmonte homebred is tied with early favorite Justify as the least experienced horses in the field.
But Mott draws a significant distinction between the two. While Justify did not begin his career until February, Hofburg had the advantage of getting in an educational fourth-place run at Saratoga last September. Thus he is not subject to the “Apollo curse,” that no unraced two-year-old since Apollo (1882) has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.
“If you believe in statistics, you’ll believe in it, and I definitely think there’s something to it,” Mott said.
“Even if a horse has one race as a two-year-old and they have that time, I think actually the time after the race is probably as important as the race at two. You have to let them regroup a bit after their first run or two and I think any horse that’s had a couple races early on and then had that time to develop and grow really benefit from it.”
The Monday update on Free Drop Billy was all about his future stud career. B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, which will stand Derby rival Bolt d’Oro upon retirement, has also secured the breeding rights to the Albaugh Family Stables’ Breeders’ Futurity (G1) hero.
“We are thankful for the opportunities Free Drop Billy has afforded us,” said Jason Loutsch of Albaugh Family Stables, “and we are extremely excited about his future stallion career at Spendthrift.
“Since his debut win, we have saddled him seven times in graded stakes competition across multiple tracks and he hit the board in six of those starts. He is the most honest and workmanlike horse we have ever owned. He just loves to train and always gives a big effort.”
Past Albaugh colorbearer Brody’s Cause also stands at Spendthrift.
“We are delighted to be working with the Albaugh family again to stand Free Drop Billy,” Spendthrift General Manager Ned Toffey said. “He’s a great-looking horse who’s proven to be talented, precocious and consistent and he’s from a proven sire’s family. He’s a very complete stallion prospect, and he’ll make a great addition to our roster.”
By Union Rags and out of the Grade 3-placed Giant’s Causeway mare Trensa, Free Drop Billy is a half-brother to Godolphin’s multiple Group 1 winner Hawkbill, from the further family of champion Cozzene.