Preparations continued on Friday for several hopefuls headed to the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby (G1). Four of those hopefuls put in their moves at Churchill Downs, home of the Run for the Roses, and Keeneland in nearby Lexington.
Trainer Mark Casse sent out Grade 1 runner-up State of Honor to breeze five furlongs over Churchill’s fast main track Friday morning. The bay son of To Honor and Serve was caught in 1:01.60 with jockey Julien Leparoux aboard.
State of Honor clocked splits of :13, :26 and :37.40 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:14 and seven-eighths in 1:27.80.
“State of Honor breezed very well,” assistant trainer Norm Casse said. “I’m very happy with how he looked on the track and he’s developing well for the Derby.”
State of Honor was last seen finishing second in the Florida Derby (G1). The Ontario-bred colt is looking for his first stakes victory in the Kentucky Derby, having placed in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and Mucho Macho Man Stakes this season.
Casse also has last year’s champion two-year-old male Classic Empire headed to the Kentucky Derby off a half-length score in the April 15 Arkansas Derby (G1). The Pioneerof the Nile colt visited the track for the first time on Friday since that victory.
“We brought Martin Rivera in from Florida to be Classic Empire’s main exercise rider,” Casse said. “Martin works with a lot of our younger horses on the farm and got along well with Classic Empire when we sent him to Winding Oaks this winter.”
Leparoux has the call on Classic Empire for the Kentucky Derby while Jose Lezcano will be aboard State of Honor.
After the renovation break on Friday at Keeneland, Irap posted a one-mile breeze in 1:44 on the fast dirt with Leparoux in the irons for trainer Doug O’Neill. It was the first of two scheduled works for the Tiznow colt, who broke his maiden when upsetting the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on April 8 at 33-1.
Irap started off at a two-minute lick, recording fractions of :15 and :29, then posted splits of :41.20, :53, 1:06 and 1:30.
“I thought he went great,” said O’Neill, who used Keeneland as his prime training base last spring with 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. “Julien was happy with it and Irap switched leads right on cue and finished well. I do that a lot with my two-turn horses. It was a good piece of work.
“He looks phenomenal. We love it here at Keeneland. This brings back a lot of good memories. It made a lot of sense to stay here because there are a lot of options with the (all-weather) training track. It worked last year and it was a no-brainer to stay here.
“(Jockey) Mario (Gutierrez) will work him next week,” O’Neill added. “It will be pretty much as the same as today with the two-minute lick and then three-quarters.”
Last year, O’Neill sent Nyquist out for his final pre-Derby work before the 1ST race of the afternoon at Keeneland.
“I’d love to do the same thing this year, but we had a little more clout last year. That is when the track is at its best,” said O’Neill, adding that Irap will ship to Churchill either April 29 or 30.
The Into Mischief colt was caught in fractions of :12.60, :24.80, :37.40 and :49.80 before galloping out in 1:01.60.
“He worked fine,” Brown said. “He worked an easy half, and I was happy with what I saw. He’s moving sound and happy. He’ll have a serious work next Friday at Churchill, weather permitting.
“The horse is full of himself. His energy level is great,” he added. “Since he arrived at Keeneland, he’s loved it here. That’s why we kept him here a little longer after the race.”
Practical Joke is scheduled to ship to Churchill on Monday.
Jose Ortiz held the reins on Tapwrit during the five-furlong breeze in 1:01.40. Tapwrit and maiden Wissam posted an opening quarter in :25 and cruised in tandem through the stretch. Ortiz gave Tapwrit mild encouragement in the final strides, galloping out in 1:14.80.
“We were looking for a good maintenance drill,” said assistant Ginny DePasquale, who is handling trainer Todd Pletcher’s Keeneland string. “He galloped out very well and Jose was very pleased. He had to keep him focused a little bit, but that is just him. That is why he was tapping him at the end. He has come a long way but you have to tell him, ‘This is what we are doing today.’ You have to keep him focused.”
Pletcher indicated he’s “drawing a line” through Tapwrit’s most recent effort, a fifth-place run in the Blue Grass.
“He got hung out pretty wide on the turn and ran kind of a flat race, but he seemed to come out well. Hopefully, he trains accordingly and comes back to his Tampa form,” Pletcher said.
In other Kentucky Derby news, Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Girvin was vanned to Keeneland on Friday. The Joe Sharp trainee is expected to train over the Polytrack training track, but his Saturday breeze could be pushed back to as far as Monday due to forecasted heavy storms in the area over the weekend.
“We are going to utilize the (all-weather) training track the next couple of days,” Sharp said. “We could push his work back to Monday. We are going to watch the weather.”
Thus far, five of the top 20 horses on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard are on the grounds at Churchill Downs: Classic Empire, J Boys Echo, State of Honor, Hence and McCraken. Three others – Untrapped, Lookin at Lee and Local Hero – hope to get in the race if there are any defections.
The exclusive training period for Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders at Churchill Downs begins Saturday from 8:30-8:45 a.m. (ET). The track will offer a live stream of the works, in conjunction with TwinSpires.com, that will be available at multiple sources including Twitter via @KentuckyDerby and kentuckyderby.twitter.com; Facebook at www.facebook.com/kentuckyderby; and www.kentuckyderby.com/workouts/live.
The Twitter stream, available globally to logged-in and logged-out users, also will feature a timeline of Kentucky Derby-related tweets alongside the live video.