In the aftermath of Saturday’s three-prep bonanza, trainers gave Sunday morning updates while discussing plans for their Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders.
Bob Baffert’s unbeaten Justify, who gave his Hall of Fame trainer an eighth Santa Anita Derby (G1) trophy, ran himself into favoritism for the Churchill Downs classic.
“He looks good,” Baffert reported the day after. “The track was really deep and loose yesterday and I was worried about that because he could have gotten really tired, but he acted like he wasn’t, and he handled it well.”
Speaking to Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman, Baffert revealed that Justify’s right front shoe had “spread,” or shifted out of position, in the running. And since the colt had gotten away from Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith on the backstretch, Baffert added that he’ll change bits to give “more control” at Churchill Downs.
“He’s still learning how to run, still a little green,” Baffert told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden. “He was out there (on the lead) by himself, looking at everything, taking it all in, but I like the way he responded when Bolt (d’Oro) made that run at him (in midstretch).
“Those two beat the rest of that field by a wide margin (6 1/2 lengths), so they’re serious horses. You just need racing luck (to win). You’ve got to have the racing luck.
“Justify and Bolt are the two best horses, and you have to give credit to Bolt. He doesn’t quit. He’s right there every time.”
Baffert won’t be drawn into whispers of another Triple Crown winner to follow in the hoofsteps of American Pharoah:
“Oh, no. That’s a long way off.”
Bolt d’Oro sustained a cut during the Santa Anita Derby, but owner/trainer Mick Ruis reported that it was thankfully minor.
“After the race there was a little blood by his front quarter on the right side,” Ruis said. “We washed it off and checked it out. It was like getting a splinter. No flesh came off, nothing like that. It just opened up a bit and in three days you won’t even know it’s there.”
Instilled Regard could not outfinish maiden winner Core Beliefs for third, and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer did not mince words about the disappointing fourth-placer.
“No plans,” the Hall of Famer said regarding his next race. “We had no excuse.”
Last year’s champion two-year-old male, Good Magic, who shipped from Florida to capture the Blue Grass (G2), will bide his time at Keeneland for the next couple of weeks or so.
“Right now that’s my plan,” trainer Chad Brown said, telling track publicity that the Curlin colt was in fine fettle the morning after. “He’ll have his first breeze back here in a couple weeks then (go) over to Churchill.”
Brown’s plans for his own whereabouts are less settled.
“Taking it day to day. I wish I knew. I love it here (at Keeneland). If I can stay, I will. Sometimes duty calls and I have to go back to my other division at Belmont, my home base. Not sure, but I’ll be around.”
The horseman also had word of his star three-year-old on turf, Analyze It, who stayed unbeaten with a dominant display in Friday’s Transylvania (G3). The Point of Entry colt could await the June 2 Pennine Ridge (G3), the local prep for his main summer aim, the July 7 Belmont Derby Invitational (G1).
Blue Grass runner-up Flameaway will van Monday to trainer Mark Casse’s barn at Churchill, where he will prepare for the Derby. Stablemate Determinant was none the worse for wear after finishing 13th of 14 in the Blue Grass, his dirt debut.
“We’ll see, I haven’t decided what I want to do with (Determinant) yet,” Casse said. “We’ve got a race picked out for Flameaway.”
Already expected to depart for Churchill Sunday was Sporting Chance, who was demoted from third to fourth for his rightward lurch that compromised Free Drop Billy. Aside from his costly disqualification, Sporting Chance was in good shape, D. Wayne Lukas’ assistant Tyler Peeples reported. With only 12 Derby points in his account, the Hopeful (G1) winner is 30th in the standings going into Saturday’s final scoring races, the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Lexington (G3).
Trainer Todd Pletcher will decide Monday where his Wood Memorial (G2) hero, Vino Rosso, will train up to Derby 144.
Based at Palm Beach Downs since his Aqueduct debut victory last November, the son of Curlin could return to Pletcher’s winter headquarters in Florida.
“We’ll make a final decision tomorrow,” the trainer said.
“He had been training well all winter and it was exciting to see him run the race we thought he could run.”
Plans call for Vino Rosso, who had finished third and fourth in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) respectively, to get in two timed works before the Run for the Roses.
Pletcher revealed that Saturday’s Bay Shore (G3) winner, National Flag, may be seen on the Kentucky Derby undercard, labeling the Pat Day Mile (G3) as “one race we’ll consider.”
But his undefeated Carter H. (G1) hero, Army Mule, probably won’t be sighted again until Belmont Day, with the June 9 Metropolitan H. (G1) “the most likely target,” according to Pletcher.
Wood Memorial runner-up Enticed is set to return to his winter base at Palm Meadows on Tuesday. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said that the Godolphin homebred, who was on the receiving end of some bumps from Vino Rosso in the stretch, exited the scrimmaging in good order.
“We ran very well,” McLaughlin said. “The horse that was on the lead (Old Time Revival) was difficult and we were a little closer than I thought we’d be. He (Enticed) broke well and laid second. We ran very well, and obviously Johnny (Velazquez on Vino Rosso) came over and definitely bumped us pretty hard twice down the lane.”
Hence the stewards’ inquiry, and an objection from Enticed’s rider, Junior Alvarado.
“But the stewards didn’t think it was enough to change the result,” McLaughlin commented, “so we had to finish second and we’ll move on to Kentucky. We have our points and he came out of it in good shape.”
The trainer explained the rationale for Enticed’s going back to Florida to gear up for the Derby.
“Mainly because of the weather, and it’s very quiet there in the month of April because of all the horses that have shipped out, so it’s almost like a private training center,” McLaughlin observed. “We’ll train there and point for the Derby. We’re doubtful that we’ll even work him at Churchill, because he won there last fall (in the Kentucky Jockey Club [G2]) and we already know that he likes the track.”
Wood fourth Firenze Fire, still winless in three tries around two turns, still hopes to advance to the Kentucky Derby if his 39 points are sufficient to make the field. Although 18th at the moment, his situation is precarious pending the Arkansas Derby (and to a lesser extent the Lexington).
“Obviously, we’re still on the bubble,” owner/breeder Ron Lombardi said. “We have to wait and see what happens next week, and let everything straighten out from there. We’re sitting at 18 right now, so we just have to see, but it’s been that way all season. We’ll just wait for the rest, but if we do get the points we’re going.
“As far as the race yesterday, I was disappointed with how he ran. We knew that the 4 horse (Old Time Revival) was going to go out to the lead, but I wanted him to be closer. We always break well, but we were too far back and he just didn’t have enough.
“It’s funny, a reporter asked me the other day about how I feel about the points system. I joked that if we were in, I’d be fine with it. I think it’s a good system, but I think it can be improved. Maybe horses that run more, or have higher earnings or a combination of both could get points, too.
“The way it’s set up, you could have a horse win one race at 30-1, and he’s in. Maybe change the points system itself? I really don’t have a problem with it, it works, but I think there are ways to improve it. We’ll just have to see.”