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Posted 2024-05-03 10:05:53  
Finishing Touches Applied for Kentucky Derby

It was a quiet morning of routine training Thursday morning at Churchill Downs for the 21 entrants for the 150th running of the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI).

Among the owners on hand to watch their horses train was Peter Brant, who tasted Derby success in 1984 as a part owner of Swale. His hope this year is Sierra Leone, who he owns in partnership.

On the Longines Kentucky Oaks front, Willis Horton Racing’s Tapit Jenallie was declared out of the race, allowing Courtlandt Farms’ Our Pretty Woman to draw in off the also-eligible list for trainer Steve Asmussen. Joel Rosario has the mount.

Because of the first post time of 10:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) for Friday’s 13-race program, training hours will be abbreviated in the morning. The track will be open for training from 5:15-7:15 followed by a harrow break with the 7:45-8 window open for Oaks and Derby horses only.

CATALYTIC – Tami Bobo, Julie Davies and George Isaacs’ Catalytic went to the track Thursday shortly after the start of the 7:30 a.m. training period for Oaks and Derby horses.

With regular exercise rider Olaf Hernandez aboard, the Florida Derby (GI) runner-up galloped a mile-and-a-half for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.

“He also stood in the starting gate before his gallop,” said Joseph, who’s waiting to see the weather to map out his Friday training plans.

“It’s undecided,” Joseph said. “He’s scheduled to go to the track. If it rains, he might walk tomorrow. If the track’s good, he’ll go to the track. If the track’s nasty, he’ll just walk.”

Jose Ortiz will ride the lightly raced colt in the Derby from post 5. In the Derby advance wagering after two days, Catalytic is 40-1.

CATCHING FREEDOM/JUST A TOUCH – A host of “Team Cox” supporters were on hand Thursday to watch Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom along with Qatar Racing, Resolute Racing and Marc Detampel’s Just a Touch gallop at 7:30 a.m.

Trainer Brad Cox, who watched his horses train from the clocker stand near the five-eighths pole simply said, “Perfect.”

Both horses are scheduled to school in the paddock Thursday afternoon.

DOMESTIC PRODUCT/SIERRA LEONE -- Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner Sierra Leone has been metronomic in his training, going about his daily routine without a hitch and with eye-catching ability. The son of Gun Runner kept up that trend Thursday morning, coming out during the 7:30 a.m. training period and getting into another solid gallop twice around the Churchill Downs oval.

As has also been standard, stablemate and fellow Kentucky Derby entrant Domestic Product emerged after his comrade put in his morning work, coming onto the track just after 8 a.m. and galloping about 1 1/2 miles under the watch of trainer Chad Brown.

“Obviously we’re getting into the last couple days of training here,” Brown said. “My Oaks horses are done, the Derby horses will have one more routine gallop tomorrow. Sierra Leone looks super and I feel (Domestic Product) is flying under the radar a bit too. I was very pleased with both gallops. These horses both have so much energy and they’re moving well. In my position as a trainer that’s really all you can ask for.”

On hand to watch Sierra Leone Thursday morning was one of Brown’s top clients, Peter Brant, who owns the colt along with Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Brook Smith, and Westerberg. Brant owned a share of Claiborne Farm's 1984 Kentucky Derby winner Swale and has been impressed by Sierra Leone from Day One, as evidenced by the colt’s $2.3 million price tag as a yearling.

“He is a special horse and I’m confident that he should be here,” Brant said. “It is a difficult race (the Kentucky Derby). You have to have a good trip, you have to have a good rider, it’s all very complicated. But I’m just proud of him to be here. It’s one of those situations where an outstanding individual like him comes along and he runs to what he looks like, that doesn’t always happen.

“A lot of times you buy an expensive horse like that and they can’t run. We’re very, very lucky he’s made it this far and Chad has done a fantastic job. He wouldn’t bring the horse here if he didn’t feel he was up to it. We’re looking forward to this race but also looking forward to the future of taking care of this horse.”

DORNOCH/SOCIETY MAN – Though he considered giving the colt a walk day Thursday, trainer Danny Gargan opted to send Remsen (GII) and Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) winner Dornoch out for a jog early as he readies for what is expected to be a front-running effort in the Kentucky Derby.

With the son of Good Magic set to have to gun it out of post No. 1 in the Derby, Gargan may give Dornoch a walk day Friday in an effort to have him extra sharp come Saturday. His stablemate Society Man meanwhile did hit the track for his gallop and gate schooling Thursday, with plans to gallop Friday as well.

“They both looked great on the track I thought,” Gargan said. “Dornoch just had an easy morning, he went around there one time. We’ve walked him more going into some of his races but it is the Derby. Tomorrow, I’ll make the decision what we’re going to do but most likely he’ll walk because we want him to show speed. Society Man will go out and train. But I’m pleased with both of them.”

On Wednesday, Gargan had famed farrier Ian McKinlay come and lace up a quarter crack on Dornoch’s right front foot, an issue the colt has had dating back to his juvenile season. Gargan said the quarter crack is not something that has impacted Dornoch’s training or running previously, adding there have been no signs of any heat or lameness.

“He’s had it since has was 2,” Gargan said of the quarter crack. “It’s just routine what we do, Ian has always done him up. We’re coming into the Derby and we looked at it last week and Ian said he’d be good. We ended up putting one more lace in the top of it. But he looks great, no heat, he jogs beautifully. It’s something he’s had, it’s been there. But he ran with it and won three races with it. We’re pleased with how it looks right now.”

Dornoch has been in a three-quarter shoe but Gargan said he will be shod with a full shoe Saturday morning.

ENDLESSLY – It was basic training business for Amerman Racing’s Endlessly Thursday morning at Churchill Downs, nothing fancy. The dark homebred son of Oscar Performance took part in the 7:30-7:45 training period for Oaks and Derby runners with regular exercise rider Walter Davilia in the irons.

The jockey who’ll handle him on Saturday – Umberto Rispoli – was on hand as an observer and joined trainer Michael McCarthy trackside to watch the colt go through a smooth gallop of about a mile and a quarter.

“No more standing in the gate, no more trips to the paddock,” McCarthy said. “We’re all done with that. The only thing we want to do now is keep him happy.”

EPIC RIDE – Welch Racing’s Epic Ride jogged in the mile chute under Sophie Doyle during the 7:30-7:45 training period for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses.

Third in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) in his most recent start, Epic Ride was entered in the Kentucky Derby last Saturday as an also eligible and made the main body of the race when Encino was scratched this week.

Trainer John Ennis took the uncertainty of whether Epic Ride would be in the Derby in stride.

“I don’t get anxious or nervous,” Ennis said. “The only aim is to get the horse to the race in the best shape possible. We are happy with everything and this morning he just bounced off the track.”

FIERCENESS – Repole Stable’s Fierceness, 2023’s 2-year-old champion, followed pattern and sauntered down to the racetrack for the 7:30 start of the special training session with regular exercise rider Danny Wright on board. The handsome City of Light colt galloped a mile and one half, then made a visit to the starting gate for the second day in a row.

“He’s good there (the gate),” Wright said. “Just in and out.”

Overseeing the colt’s activities were trainer Todd Pletcher, owner Mike Repole with family members and barn friend and favorite Avery Johnson, the basketball player, coach and commentator.

Fierceness has been assigned post 17 for Saturday’s 150th Kentucky Derby, a race where he has been tabbed as the 5-2 morning line favorite. Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will be in the saddle.

FOREVER YOUNG (JPN) – Susumu Fujita’s Forever Young (JPN) warmed up in the mile chute under training assistant Yusaku Oka and then galloped a mile and a half before returning to the chute to cool down before walking back to the Quarantine Barn.

Trained by Yoshito Yahagi, the undefeated Forever Young will be partnered as usual by Ryusei Sakai in Derby 150. Sakai is scheduled to return to Louisville tonight from Japan.

Forever Young is scheduled to be on the track at 5:15 Friday morning.

GRAND MO THE FIRST – Granpollo Stables’ Grand Mo the First galloped a mile and a quarter under Amel Macias for trainer Victor Barboza Jr.

Barboza said Grand Mo the First would school in the paddock this afternoon with horses in the fourth race and would train early Friday morning.

Emisael Jaramillo has the mount Saturday.

HONOR MARIE – Ribble Farms, Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver, Kenneth Fishbein and Dave Fishbein’s Honor Marie had his normal 1 ½-mile gallop Thursday morning regular rider Maurilio Garcia.

Trainer Whit Beckman, who made it back to the track following five days in the hospital, said his condition was slowly improving and hopes to be at the Derby.

JUST STEEL – After coming onto the track just before 5:30 a.m. with D. Wayne Lukas leading the way, Just Steel checked off another day of routine training with a gallop twice around under the lights.

“Everything’s good,” said Brian Coelho, who co-owns Just Steel in partnership with his friend John Bellinger. “It’s nerve wracking at this point, but it’s exiting at the same time.”

While Just Steel is not the most accomplished of the Derby entrants in terms of wins, he has it over most of his comrades in terms of experience. In throwback fashion, the son of Justify made seven starts during his 2-year-old season. He broke his maiden going six furlongs at Saratoga last August and earned his lone stakes win when he captured the 6 ½-furlong Ed Brown at Churchill Downs last November.

“He’s just an incredibly impressive horse who has competed at the pinnacle of his sport for the duration of his career,” said jockey Keith Asmussen, who guided Just Steel to his runner-up effort in the Arkansas Derby (GI) and will be aboard the colt on Saturday. “He broke his maiden at Saratoga, won the Ed Brown here, and has raced at every prep at Oaklawn. A horse that has his mindset and ability as a competitor, it’s hard not to have a bunch of confidence in him.”

MYSTIK DAN –Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing and Daniel Hamby III’s Mystik Dan was out Thursday for trainer Kenny McPeek for a typical gallop of about a mile and three-eighths with Robby Albarado, a former jockey who regularly rides for McPeek and was available for the workout.

“It was a regular gallop, he’s doing fine,” said McPeek, whose colt will start from post 3 with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard.

After two days of advance wagering, the winner of the Southwest Stakes (GIII) and third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby (GI) – both at Oaklawn Park – was a 27-1 proposition for the Kentucky Derby.

RESILIENCE – Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) winner Resilience put in another easy gallop Thursday morning, visiting the paddock and then going about 1 3/8 miles under the watch of trainer Bill Mott.

“Everything’s good,” Mott said.

With the scratch of Encino out to the race, Resilience will move in one spot in the gate and break from the No. 18 post.

STRONGHOLD – “We got on it real early; got him a good mile and a half gallop and he’s doing good.”

That was trainer Phil D’Amato speaking about his Kentucky Derby charge Stronghold on Thursday following a training session that unfolded shortly after the track opened at 5:15. The conditioner had given his Derby rider, Antonio Fresu, a leg up on his Ghostzapper colt and Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner and watched the twosome conduct their business on a fast Churchill Downs racing strip.

“We’ll go out again early tomorrow and go a little lighter,” he said. “Then we’ll be all buttoned up.”

At his Southern California base, D’Amato is seen as “the man,” working with his 100-plus stable, running several horses a day, often seen as the man to beat in many of the major stakes races. In Louisville this week, he’s just a guy with a horse and a hope.

“I like being under the radar,” he said. “Anytime you don’t have that bullseye on your back, life is easier.”

T O PASSWORD (JPN) – Tomoya Ozasa’s T O Password (JPN) warmed up in the mile chute under jockey Kazushi Kimura and then galloped a mile and half with stablemate T O Saint Denis (JPN) and then returned to the chute to cool down before returning to the Quarantine Barn.

Looking on from the backstretch was trainer Daisuke Takayanagi, who seven years ago came to Churchill Downs to shadow trainer Dale Romans and to observe American training.

“I liked how his horses, when they would come out of the barn, he would take time with them and make them relax,” the 46-year-old Takayanagi said. “We can’t really do that as long in Japan, but it is something I would like to implement.”

TRACK PHANTOM – Lecomte Stakes (GIII) winner Track Phantom returned to his early morning training session Thursday for trainer Steve Asmussen and was under the watchful eye of co-owner Jerry Caroom.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of the Derby,” Caroom said. “It’s a fun week and we’re having a blast so far.”

WEST SARATOGA – Harry Veruchi’s West Saratoga galloped a mile and a half under Donte Lowery for trainer Larry Demeritte during the 7:30-7:45 training window for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses.

West Saratoga is housed in Barn 42, the same barn that the winner of the first Derby Demeritte saw in person came out of.

“Seattle Slew in 1977,” Demeritte said. “We were almost in that Derby. Oscar Dishman had Silver Series that year and he drew the 14 hole for the Fountain of Youth and he shouldn’t have run that day.”

Silver Series finished 10th in that race and the Derby dream ended.

“They had similar running styles, go to the front,” Demeritte said. “He went on to win the Ohio Derby, American Derby and was third in the Travers.”

Silver Series earned nearly $600,000 in his career that included six stakes wins.

“It is an interesting field this year,” Demeritte said. “But then I am paying a little more attention to it.”

West Saratoga has been ridden in his past two starts by Jesus Castanon, who will be aboard Saturday.

Castanon has had one previous Derby mount, that coming in 2011 on Shackleford. Trained by DaleRomans, Shackleford set the pace and had the lead at the eighth pole only to be overtaken by Animal Kingdom and finish fourth, 3 ¾ lengths behind the winner.

“I thought I was going to win it,” Castanon said Thursday morning. “It would have been my first Grade One. He wasn’t tired and I didn’t think anybody was going to come from behind (and get us). I was celebrating. In my mind, I was going crazy.”

ALSO-ELIGIBLE – Average Joe Racing Stables and Dan Wells’ Mugatu (No. 21) galloped a mile and a half under Joe Talamo for trainer Jeff Engler. Mugatu would need one defection from the Derby field of 20 to move into the main body of the race.

Scratch time for the Kentucky Derby is 9 a.m. Friday and if Mugatu does not get in the race, Engler’s Plan B is to probably work Mugatu Sunday morning and then ship to New York that afternoon or Monday for the $200,000 Peter Pan (GIII) run at 1 1/8 miles on May 11 at Aqueduct.

THE KENTUCKY DERBY FIELD – Here is the field for the 150th running of the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) in order of post positions (with rider and morning line odds): Dornoch (Luis Saez, 20-1), Sierra Leone (Tyler Gaffalione, 3-1), Mystik Dan (Brian Hernandez Jr., 20-1), Catching Freedom (Flavien Prat, 8-1), Catalytic (Jose Ortiz, 30-1), Just Steel (Keith Asmussen, 20-1), Honor Marie (Ben Curtis, 20-1), Just a Touch (Florent Geroux, 10-1), Encino (Axel Concepcion, 20-1), T O Password (JPN) (Kazuski Kimura, 30-1), Forever Young (JPN) (Ryusei Sakai. 10-1), Track Phantom (Joel Rosario, 20-1), West Saratoga (Jesus Castanon, 30-1), Endlessly (Umberto Rispoli, 30-1), Domestic Product (Irad Ortiz Jr., 30-1), Grand Mo the First (Emisael Jaramillo, 50-1), Fierceness (John Velasquez, 5-2), Stronghold (Antonio Fresu, 20-1), Resilience (Junior Alvarado, 20-1), Society Man (Frankie Dettori, 50-1); Epic Ride (Adam Beschizza, 50-1). Also Eligible: Mugatu (Joe Talamo, 50-1). All starters will carry 126 pounds. 

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