Kentucky Derby Notes for 5/5/22

Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite Zandon gallops at Churchill Downs. (Coady Photography)

Calm Before the Kentucky Derby Storm

(Edited Press Release)

It was a quiet morning filled with routine gallops and no drama two days before the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1).

However, a storm is brewing with rain forecast to begin falling around 4 o’clock this afternoon and continuing into Saturday morning with thunderstorms likely all through the 13-race Kentucky Oaks Day card that begins at 10:30 a.m. (all times Eastern).

William Simon’s Barber Road, who is seeking his first victory of the year Saturday after four consecutive stakes placings at Oaklawn, went out to gallop at 6:45 a.m. with regular rider Elexander Aguilar aboard and trainer John Ortiz watching closely from his stable pony.

“He’s doing fantastic,” Ortiz said, “Elexander said he was really on the muscle. We’ll give him a walk day tomorrow. He’s fresh and happy.”

It has been a whirlwind week for Ortiz. Following Barber Road’s final work last Saturday, he flew to Arkansas where he won his third stakes at Oaklawn with Whelen Springs in the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes. He’s hoping for similar success Friday when he once again flies to Arkansas to saddle The Mary Rose in the Natural State Breeders’ Stakes before returning in time for the Kentucky Derby.

“I love this,” said Ortiz, who also won Wednesday’s St. Matthews Overnight Stakes with Top Gunner at Churchill.

In a change from his prior Derby preparation scenario, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher switched his trio of Roses-bound colts from their previous 7:30-7:45 special Derby/Oaks training period to an early go-out at 5:30 Thursday morning.

Charge It (with Hector Ramos up), Mo Donegal (Amelia Green) and Pioneer of Medina (Carlos Perez) came out of Barn 35 and down through the 5 ½-furlong gap in the dark, along with two of the barn’s Oaks fillies in Nest and Shahama. All five of the 3-year-olds galloped strongly out in the middle of the track, covering a bit more than a mile and a quarter in their exercises. Pletcher looked on from trackside.

“I just felt it was a little too chaotic to me here yesterday at 7:30,” the trainer said, referring to a crowded backside backstretch scene that has become part of the Derby/Oaks tradition. “I thought the alarm clocks would keep things quieter (for the horses), so that’s why we went this way. I’m happy with the way it worked out.”

At 6 a.m. Pletcher brought out his other Oaks filly (Goddess of Fire) for her gallop and then he was all done with the heavy lifting for the track’s two showcase events on tap over the next two days.

“They’ve all been to the paddock and also the gate,” he said. “We’re all good in that regard. Tomorrow my fillies will just walk the shed and the colts will gallop.”

It was a busy morning for trainer Brad Cox as he entertained all three owners of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, who were on hand to watch their horses each gallop 1 ½ miles during the special 7:30 a.m. training period with their regular exercise riders aboard.

Owner Al Gold was at the barn for the first time this week to watch his Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Cyberknife, named for the lifesaving device that helped treat his prostate cancer, train.

Barry and Joni Butzow, who named Zozos after their favorite restaurant in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, watched their colt gallop under Kelvin Perez.

And John Fort, who Cox credits for making the call to run Tawny Port in Lexington Stakes (G3) that secured him the Derby berth, watched his colt named for a Portuguese wine gallop under Edvin Vargas.

“They are doing well, moving great,” Cox said. “I’m happy with where we are. They all had great works. They stood in the gate last week and stood in the gate this week. We’re in a good spot."

On Thursday morning at 5:45, Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Epicenter repeated the same morning exercise as Wednesday, galloping around the track.

Ethereal Road galloped 1 ½ miles during the special 7:30 a.m. training time Thursday for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who already has four Kentucky Derby victories among his previous 49 starters. Lukas believes Ethereal Road has the ability to make a sustained run that could have him in the mix at the end of the classic.

“There are two things that will happen if you are in position I’ve learned after all these years,” Lukas said. “If you can make a sustained long run, you have a chance to hit the board or even win the thing. The other thing is the stretch. There are longer stretches in the country, but this stretch (at Churchill) seems to work against them. Maybe it’s the energy. The crowd seems to take a little something out of these horses. The 20-horse field definitely takes a lot out of them. This stretch right here, it’s a gut check for these horses. But, this is why I have some confidence we could get a piece of it. He has the right style.”

The two Derby colts who have called Barn 37 home this week under the watchful eye of trainer Tim Yakteen got their continued preparation for the American classic out of the way early Thursday morning.

Taiba, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner who is two-for-two in his very brief career, only walked the shedrow following his Wednesday training that included a blowout (:38.40) down the lane.

“He’s fine,” the trainer said. “He’ll go back to the track tomorrow.”

His stablemate Messier, who can claim three firsts and three seconds in six starts so far, did his business at the racetrack early, heading out at 5:30 for a strong gallop of a mile and a half under exercise rider Beto Gomez.

The big son of Empire Maker, bred in Canada and named for the exceptional Canadian hockey player Mark Messier, had been taking his turns on the track during the 7:30-7:45 Derby/Oaks training session previously.

“We went out earlier today because it’s quieter,” Yakteen said. “It’s calmer and better for the horse at this time. It all went smoothly and we’re happy.”

With owner Tami Bobo looking on, Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Simplification galloped a mile and half under exercise rider Ismal Ramirez for trainer Antonio Sano.

This will be the second Derby Bobo has attended, but it is a different ballgame this time around.

“I was here in 2012 with my daughter forTake ChargeIndy, who was the first horse I bought as a pinhooker,” Bobo said. “We had seats overlooking the paddock, but we didn’t know anybody. We didn’t even come back to the barn area.”

Bobo, a resident of Ocala, Florida, has been a regular this week at Barn 42 where Simplication has taken up residence, the same barn Secretariat was in the year Bobo was born.

White Abarrio was out for a routine gallop around the Churchill oval Thursday morning, and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.said all went as planned.

“He’s doing well,” Joseph said after the Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull Stakes (G3) winner went out with exercise rider Vincente Gudiel. “He had a good gallop this morning. He’s showing good energy and is moving well.”

IN the 2020 Derby, Joseph made his first training appearance with NY Traffic, finishing a respectable eighth at 12-1. But since that Derby — which was move to September at the height of the pandemic — Joseph said little has changed in the way he prepares a horse for a big race.

“Basically, you want to adopt the philosophy that it’s just another race — but of course most definitely it’s not just another race,” Joseph said. “You don’t want to overthink it too much, and you want to stay with the system that’s working for you.”

White Abarrio’s only career loss occurred at Churchill Downs, in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last November. He finished third, behind Smile Happy and Classic Causeway— two colts that he’ll face again in the Derby.

“From a numbers standpoint, that day he ran his best number, up to that point,” Joseph said. “It’s the only time he got beat, but if you watch the race, you’ll see that he didn’t get the best trip.

“We’re happy where we’re at. If he brings his ‘A’ game, we’re right there with them.”

With two days of training remaining until the Kentucky Derby, Jeff Drown’s Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner Zandon galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday morning.

“We’re ready,” trainer Chad Brown said confidently of the morning-line favorite.