Kentucky Derby Notes and Workouts for 4/30/22
Pletcher Contingent Avoids Incident in Final Derby Works
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is known for his cool demeanor, but the seven-time Eclipse Award winner had his heart skip a beat on April 30 as his Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders put in their final serious moves at Churchill Downs in preparation for the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Getting through the last major workouts without incident is always the objective for every horseman with a Derby contender, and a potential disaster was indeed averted Saturday morning when a horse got loose on the track just as the Pletcher-trained duo of Charge It and Pioneer of Medina broke off for their breeze in company. With the yellow caution lights flashing and sirens going off, Charge It and Pioneer of Medina were able to complete their half-mile work in :47.40 – clocking splits of splits of :12.20, :23.60, and :35.80 with gallop out times of :59.60 and 1:12.40 – without issue as the loose horse, a workmate of an Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender who unseated their rider, ran off the gap into the barn area.
“Thankfully I had both riders on the radio and I was able to (see) the loose horse out of the side of my eye and see him run off the track,” Pletcher said. “On the radio, I was able to tell Luis (Saez on Charge It) and Carlos (Perez) that it was safe to continue to go ahead and work and gallop out. Obviously not what you want to hear in the middle of a final Kentucky Derby breeze but no harm, no foul. I thought it was impressive for both.”
Pletcher also worked Wood Memorial (G2) winner Mo Donegal in company with My Prankster during the special training period with the son of Uncle Mo setting off moments after his barn mates completed their moves. Working on the inside, Mo Donegal covered four furlongs in :48.60 with a gallop out in 1:01.80.
“We were looking to do a little less with Mo Donegal,” the two-time Derby winning trainer said. “It looks like he's moving well and both works over the track I've been happy with. He’s a horse who doesn't require a whole lot of training and he's coming back in four weeks off the Wood, so we were just looking for a couple maintenance halves to keep him happy.”
Mo Donegal, who has won three of five lifetime starts, and Charge It, runner-up in the Florida Derby (G1), are both assured of a starting spot in the Derby field. Pioneer of Medina, however, still needs help in the form of a defection as the Louisiana Derby (G2) third-place finisher is currently listed as No. 21 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Wood Memorial runner-up Early Voting, 15th on the points list, is likely to train up to the Preakness Stakes (G1) according to trainer Chad Brown but a final decision is still to be announced.
“I suppose until (Brown) finalizes his decision we don’t know for sure,” Pletcher said. “Could there be a defection, usually, but we’re not rooting against anyone. We’re in a position where the horse has trained well, I think he’s earned his way in if he gets in. If not, we’ll go a different direction.”
Trainer Brad Cox sent two of his three Derby contenders out early Saturday morning with Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Cyberknife and Louisiana Derby runner-up Zozos working in company when the track opened at 5:15 a.m. ET.
Cyberknife broke off about a length behind Zozos and advanced on the outside of his barn mate before finishing up on even terms. Cyberknife was credited with six furlongs in 1:11.20 with Zozos clocked in 1:11.40.
“I feel like, they were well in hand this morning,” Cox said. “These horses breezed along well and galloped out good but yeah, you want to be able to do it and feel like you have a gear left and I feel like these horses this morning did. They got something out of it.”
At 7:30 a.m., Cox sent out Lexington Stakes (G3) winner Tawny Port, with newly named jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., to work five furlongs in 1:01.60 outside of stablemate Shared Sense.
“There’s a lot of excitement leading into these final Derby works,” Cox said. “You start to get a little anxious as the days near closer to the Derby. Things went very smooth this morning.”
Jockey Florent Geroux was aboard Cyberknife for his work Saturday and said he has felt a noticeable improvement in the quirky colt of late.
“He’s very playful and will try and throw you off and things like that,” Geroux said. “But honestly, I’ve seen a lot of improvement the last few weeks with him especially. It seems like the more he races, the better he gets mentally.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek was satisfied with the final maintenance work for his two Derby hopefuls –Magdalena Racing’s Tiz the Bomb and Lucky Seven Stable’s Smile Happy– despite a slight change in plans on the track.
They cruised together under the Twin Spires on Saturday in :48 for the half-mile and galloped out five-eighths in 1:00.20, with Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard Tiz the Bomb and Corey Lanerie on Smile Happy. The first quarter was clocked in :23.80.
“I had him at 12s all the way around,” Hernandez said of Tiz the Bomb, the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) winner at Turfway Park. “Just kind of a maintenance half the Saturday before Derby. Just one of those deals that he did his half and galloped out just like we wanted him to. Now it’s all about getting to the Derby in good order.”
The two also worked together a week earlier, with Tiz the Bomb taking the position out in front. This time, plans called for them to swap roles, putting Smile Happy ahead, but that didn’t happen.
"It’s like the coach who calls the play, and everybody is supposed to do this and that, but that’s not what we called,” McPeek said. “Corey said he was worried about Brian’s horse getting a little keen in front of him. He was afraid they were going to go too fast. We wanted a 12s workout, and I think that’s how it played out. I wanted them to go 12s, kind of side by side, and not totally engage. I think they ended up going that, to 48. But no, that’s not the play I called.
“It happens,” McPeek continued. “Brian’s horse is doing exceptionally well, and Corey was worried they were going to go too fast, because I was adamant that I didn’t want them to go too fast. They didn’t need to go down there in :46.”
Other Derby contenders on the Churchill tab included Barber Road, going a half-mile in :48.80 under trainer John Ortiz’s exercise rider Elexander Aguilar; Classic Causeway with a strong six-furlong move in 1:13.20 outside of three-time winner Sounion; and Rebel Stakes (G2) winner Un Ojo working a half-mile in :47.60 under jockey Colby Hernandez.
“We’re ready,” Ortiz said of Barber Road. “We’ve had a really strong campaign leading into the Derby and he has a lot of good seasoning underneath him. We know we have a fit horse and will be ready for the mile and a quarter.”
While Kentucky Derby horses populated the work tab at Churchill Downs,Calumet Farm’s homebred Happy Jack, 20th on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard, was 75 miles east at Keeneland, where he worked a mile in 1:39.60 over a fast track under jockey Rafael Bejarano.
The son of Oxbow arrived at Keeneland the previous weekend from trainer Doug O’Neill’s Southern California base.
“We’ve had some good fortune doing this before,” O’Neill said about shipping to Keeneland prior to heading to Churchill for the Derby. “We did it with (2016 Derby winner) Nyquist where we came here and did our final prep. It’s so quiet; the track’s got a good cushion so it’s a little bit demanding, which we think they get a little bit better exercise out of it. Very happy with the way it went this morning.”
O’Neill, who also won the Derby in 2012 with I’ll Have Another, said working Happy Jack a mile was a good test.
“He’s a horse who’s got the potential but he hasn’t put up the numbers that we need to be a huge player in the race,” O’Neill said. “We wanted to ask him firmly and make sure he was fit and ready. To me, he answered that question, and he’s ready.”
Happy Jack is scheduled to leave Keeneland for Churchill around 1 p.m. Sunday.
C2 Racing Stable LLC and La Milagrosa Stable LLC’s White Abarrio wowed trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. while breezing a half-mile between races during an impromptu workout on Saturday afternoon’s program at Gulfstream Park.
The Florida Derby (G1) winner covered the four-furlong distance in :48.23 over a fast track between Races 10 and 11 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.38 and seven furlongs in 1:25.15.
“Wow. That’s all I can say is ‘wow,’” Joseph said. “He worked super. He worked super.”
White Abarrio had been scheduled to breeze in the morning before heavy rains and a sloppy track prompted Joseph to postpone the son of Race Day’s final workout for next Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Joseph initially decided to postpone the breeze until Sunday morning but called an audible later in the day after the rains subsided and the racetrack dried out under mostly sunny skies during the afternoon.
Exercise rider Vincente Gudiel was aboard for White Abarrio’s third workout at Gulfstream since his 1 ¼-length victory over Charge It in the April 2 Florida Derby. White Abarrio broke off at the 3/8ths pole and posted fractions of :12.66 and :24.24 seconds on his way to his final clocking.
"I’m so appreciate of Gulfstream Park for helping us out and all the track crew for a great job. I can’t thank them enough,” said Joseph, whose Derby candidate is scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs Sunday.
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