Kentucky Derby

Derby & Oaks News: Lani Works Five Furlongs; Danzing Candy, Trojan Nation First Trips Over Churchill Downs Track

Lani - Morning Work - Churchill Downs - 042716 - Photo Credit: Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Tuesday, May 3, 2016) – With trainer Mikio Matsunaga looking on, Koji Maeda’s Lani worked five furlongs in 1:01 over a fast track after the renovation break Tuesday morning. The move was the third fastest of 18 at the distance.

Lani’s work was the only one of the morning among Kentucky Derby hopefuls on a day in which two more anticipated participants made their first visits to the track.

Halo Farms and Jim and Dianne Bashor’s Danzing Candy and Julie Gilbert and Aaron Sones’ Trojan Nation galloped after the break, a day after arriving at Churchill Downs from their Southern California bases.

The post position draw for the 142nd Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) will be held Wednesday between 5:30-6 p.m. in the Aristides Lounge.


BRODY’S CAUSE/CHERRY WINE – Albaugh Family Stable’s Brody’s Cause followed up Monday’s two-mile jog with a strong 1 ½-mile gallop Tuesday at Churchill Downs, as did William Pacella, Frank L. Jones Jr. and Frank Shoop’s Cherry Wine.

Brody’s Cause, the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) winner, has secured a spot in the 20-horse field for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, while Blue Grass third-place finisher Cherry Wine stands 25th in the point standings and will need some defections to draw into the field.

Brody’s Cause demonstrated a superior late kick that carried him to victory in the Blue Grass on April 9, as well as a triumph in last year’s Breeders’ Futurity (GI) and a third-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), all at Keeneland.

The son of Giant’s Causeway broke his maiden at Churchill Downs with a last-to-first performance at a mile last September.

“That’s the thing about him – and it should help him not be a victim of pace – he has acceleration. He’s not just a closer, a grinding closer. He can go zero to 60 like a Ferrari,” trainer Dale Romans said. “He’s not a freight train that has to get going slowly. He can dictate what he’s doing. He can keep himself out of trouble. I think that’s why he’s been able to compete in two 14-horse fields and an 11-horse field already. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Romans said if Cherry Wine doesn’t draw into the Derby field, he’ll be pointed to the Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico May 21.

CREATOR/GUN RUNNER – Trainer Steve Asmussen’s Kentucky Derby duo – WinStar Farm’s Creator and Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner – walked in the barn Tuesday morning, the day after they posted half-mile workouts.

Asmussen expressed satisfaction with how they came out of the workouts.

Asmussen discussed the circumstances that led to his choices of jockeys. Florent Geroux, 29, will ride Louisiana Derby (GII) winner Gun Runner, and Ricardo Santana Jr., 22, will ride Arkansas Derby (GI) winner Creator.

Geroux will be making his Derby debut. He was to ride Stanford last year, but he was scratched on the Thursday before the race. Santana will be making his second Derby appearance. He rodeTapiture for Asmussen in 2014.

“Florent has had a good run the last couple years – his Breeders’ Cup last year and the meet he was having at the Fair Grounds this winter – obviously put him in position on Gun Runner,” Asmussen said. “I like how he’s handled him. I like the work he has done with him. We feel we’re in a very good spot.

“And then Creator, Ricardo had a very strong belief in the horse last fall. I think we got a little off track this winter in New Orleans with the horse. And then, reuniting him with Ricardo and the strong belief Ricardo’s had in the horse the whole time, we’ve been rewarded for it. So it’s been a good match with both riders and horses.

“(Santana) knows Creator, and it’s quite obvious Creator has responded for him. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re trying to win the Derby with Creator. You’re working with the tools you have, and that’s what the match is here.”

Geroux said he’s thrilled about the chance to ride in the Derby.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “Not too many jockeys get the opportunity of doing that.  Last year, I was so close and didn’t make it.  I’m grateful to be in this position, because lots of jockeys would love to have the opportunity. And I’m just going to try to get the most out of it.

“I like my chances, because I’ve been riding him the last two times, and both of them have been winners. So it’s pretty exciting.”

DANZING CANDY – Both Danzing Candy and his trainer, Cliff Sise Jr., became acquainted with Churchill Downs Tuesday morning after arriving from Southern California on Monday afternoon.

With exercise rider Rolando Quinones in the saddle, Danzing Candy, accompanied by a pony, jogged once around the track, before going solo in a light gallop around the oval.

Back at Barn 41, Sise, who never has started a horse at Churchill Downs, said he was pleased with the way Halo Farms and Jim and Dianne Bashor’s Danzing Candy moved over the surface, and indicated that he would have a stronger gallop Wednesday.

“He shipped well, and only left a little bit [feed] last night,” Sise said. “But that’s to be expected with shipping in and we fed him kind of late last night. We fed him a big mash, too, and he only left a couple of handfuls.”

Sise, 64, never has had a Derby starter, but has had a couple horses who were on the Kentucky Derby trail before being derailed. Last year Sise was preparing Prospect Park for the Kentucky Derby when the colt exited his fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) with an elevated white blood cell count. The other horse that Sise had hoped to run in the Derby was California Chrome’s sire, Lucky Pulpit, in 2004.

“My biggest disappointment was last year with Prospect Park because he wants to go a mile and a quarter,” Sise said. “The only relief from that disappointment was that no one was going to beat American Pharoah, although it would have been nice to hit the board.”

Sise said Danzing Candy would paddock school Thursday morning, and then again during the races Friday afternoon. Danzing Candy will be schooled at the gate on Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

DAZZLING GEM – Steve Landers Racing LLC’s Dazzling Gem continues to impress trainer Brad Cox with his training, but the trainer still has not made a decision on whether to enter the Kentucky Derby as an also-eligible in hopes of making the actual field if there were some defections.

“He looks unreal right now,” Cox said. “He’s not going to get in, but he looking really good right now. I’ll talk it over with Mr. Landers and see what he wants to do as far as entering.”

Cox said that Dazzling Gem remains under consideration for the Peter Pan Stakes (GII) at Belmont May 14 or the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico May 21.

DESTIN/OUTWORK – Everyone, it seems, is looking for the Kentucky Derby “buzz” horse this year. America’s most famous race always has a “buzz” horse, one that the wise guys and the straight out stabbers figure they’ve got a good angle on;  one that they’ll be able to cash that ticket with, for sure. But his year that “buzz” horse has gone missing. Rather, it appears, they’re all humming instead, causing little ripples on their own ponds instead of a potential wave across the bow of the race.

Trainer Todd Pletcher’s duo of Destin and Outwork fit the “non-buzz” mode perfectly.  Neither the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner (Destin) nor the Wood Memorial (GI) hero (Outwork) has drawn whispers or knowing winks from the Derby watchers. They’ve just gone on about their business with that steady hum – the kind that fits their trainer’s MO to just about a perfect T.

Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs the gray Destin and the bay Outwork came trackside at 8:30 in time for the special Derby/Oaks training period. Most of the other runners in the two big races joined them. And just as they have for months now, exercise rider Ovel Merida (Destin) and Hector Ramos (Outwork) were aboard the colts as they galloped a mile and three-eighths – steadily, strongly, but not, of course, with any big splash. They just kept moving forward to Saturday and their run in the Kentucky Derby – no buzz, no roar, just that steady, steady hum.

After the Derby has been run, there will be a very large buzz, a historical one. One of the race’s 20 hummers will make it happen — and Destin and Outwork, in earnest fashion, have earned consideration for that role.

DISCREETNESS – Trainer Jinks Fires said that Xpress Thoroughbreds’ Discreetness would be entered Wednesday in the $250,000 Pat Day Mile (GIII) instead of the Kentucky Derby.

“It looks like we have no chance to get in (the Derby),” Fires said of Discreetness, who is 26th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard and in need of six defections from horses under consideration for the race to make the field. “It is a shame because the owner (Dwight Pruett) wants to run.”

EXAGGERATOR – It was back to the racetrack for the Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Exaggerator on Tuesday morning following two days of barn walking after a Saturday workout (1:02.60) at Churchill Downs. Trainer Keith Desormeaux and his assistant, Julie Clark, took their colt through the six-furlong gap during the special Derby/Oaks training period, then looked on closely as exercise rider Peedy Landry galloped him one time around the big oval.

Earlier at Barn 25, Desormeaux had been asked by a TV reporter where he believed his charge would be running come Saturday in the mile and one quarter Kentucky Derby.

“He’s going to be far, far in the back,” the conditioner said, making no attempt to disguise his strategy. “He’ll be so far back, he’ll be behind the kick-back. You know these horses throw (dirt) kick-back when they run. I want that kick-back from the pack to go up and come down and then you’re going to see Exaggerator. Kent (his brother and the colt’s rider) will be back there counting cars.”

FELLOWSHIP – Jack or Better Farm’s homebred Fellowship, No. 21 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, had a routine gallop this morning under exercise rider Brian O’Leary. Fellowship is scheduled to paddock school today in the second race.

The son of Awesome of Course gallops in blinkers, something that trainer Mark Casse doesn’t normally do with his horses.       “It just seems to make him go better,” said Casse, who became the colt’s trainer shortly after his third-place finish in the Florida Derby (GI). “If you don’t put blinkers on him, he looks at everything in the infield, and he will tend to get out. With the blinkers, he goes as straight as an arrow.”

If there are no defections from the anticipated Derby field before entries are taken Wednesday evening, or after the 9 a.m. scratch time Friday morning, Fellowship will run in the Preakness, Casse said.

“It’s funny, every time I get a call from the media I think that we’re getting in,” said Casse, who has had three Derby starters, with his best finish coming last year with fifth-place finisher Danzig Moon. “You have mixed emotions about it, because for your good luck someone has to have bad luck.

“He really gets over this track very well and it would be a shame not to get to run him but, you know, it’s the way the cookie crumbles,” he continued. “It is what it is; we’re just happy to have him in the barn.”

LANI – Keita Tanaka, who has been serving as the spokesman for the Lani camp at Churchill Downs, outlined the Tuesday morning plan for the UAE Derby (Group II) winner.

“He may work six furlongs if he is happy after one lap,” Tanaka said.

Apparently, Lani was happy as on his second trip around the track he worked five furlongs in 1:01 with exercise rider Eishu Maruuchi aboard. Fractions for the work were :12.40, :24.40, :36.60 and :48.60. The work was the third fastest of 18 at the distance.

“The rider did a very good job. It was a nice work,” trainer Mikio Matsunaga said through Tanaka. “I think he is fast enough and happy enough to run in the Derby.”

Matsunaga said the Tapit colt would be handwalked in the barn Wednesday. Lani has been to the gate twice in the past week for schooling but not the paddock. Matsunaga said he does not paddock school during the races in the afternoon but may consider a morning session this week.

Tuesday was the first time Matsunaga had seen Lani in a month.

“He had just put in a big race (in Dubai) and I wanted to give him time to relax the past three weeks to be fresh to run in the Kentucky Derby,” Matsunaga said. “He is doing very well.”

After the breeze, Lani walked one more time around the track before returning to his barn.

“At home in Japan, I walk my horses before and after they go to the track because there is plenty of room to walk,” Matsunaga said.

Lani will represent the first Japanese-based runner in the Kentucky Derby in 21 years since Ski Captain finished 14th behind Thunder Gulch in 1995. Yutaka Take, who rode Ski Captain, has the assignment on Lani.

Matsunaga started thinking about the Kentucky Derby early on with Lani.

“We saw his potential on dirt as a 2-year-old and he showed a big capacity for dirt,” Matsunaga said. “The UAE Derby was a priority.”

The victory in Dubai punched Lani’s ticket to Louisville and a chance to become the first runner from that race to win the Kentucky Derby.

“I know it is extremely difficult to have a horse in this race,” Matsunaga said. “Not only do I have a runner, but one with a good chance. I want to change history (with regard to the UAE Derby).”

Matsunaga is not concerned about Lani’s ability to handle a Derby Day scene with more than 150,000 fans expected to be on hand.

“The crowds are not a big concern because we have huge crowds at our races in Japan,” Matsunaga said.

Asked if getting Lani ready for the Kentucky Derby was his biggest training challenge, Matsunaga smiled and said, “Definitely.”

MAJESTO – Trainer Gustavo Delgado sent Grupo 7c Racing Stable’s Majesto to the Churchill Downs racetrack Tuesday morning for an open gallop.

“He looked very good open galloping. He was very relaxed,” Delgado said. “I think in the Kentucky Derby, the last five furlongs is important. I think the open galloping today will be very good for the last five furlongs. It will help him. For me it’s very important for him to finish.”

The late-developing son of Tiznow broke his maiden at Gulfstream Feb. 27 in his fourth lifetime start and came right back to finish second behind Nyquist in the Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park on April 2.

Delgado, who is scheduled to saddle his first Kentucky Derby starter, trained four Triple Crown champions in his native Venezuela before venturing to the U.S. two years ago to train in South Florida.

“In Venezuela there are seven and I have four,” said the 59-year-old native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, who also saddled five winners of the Clasico Simon Bolivar and three winners of the Clasico Internacional del Caribe, a Grade I stakes for 3-year-olds in Latin America.

Emisael Jaramillo, the all-time win leader in Venezuela who is currently atop the jockey standings at Gulfstream Park, rode two of Delgado’s Venezuela Triple Crown champions. Jaramillo is slated to ride Majesto in the Derby, as well as the Delgado-trained Paola Queen in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) and Grand Tito in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI).

MOHAYMEN – Shadwell Stable’s Mohaymen galloped a spirited 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning.

“He was a little more relaxed yesterday. I hoped he’d be relaxed again today. But he’s a good mover doing well. Going to the half he kind of hopped again. He’s high energy and doing well,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “We added a little piece of equipment and no one has said anything about it. We put a little black rubber figure eight on hoping it would settle him a little, so he didn’t get his mouth open. He won’t run in it. We’re just trying to slow him down a little bit because he’s pretty happy. But he’s doing great.”

Mohaymen, who captured his first five career races, is coming off a fourth-place finish at the 4-5 favorite in the Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park April 2, when he finished 8 ¼ lengths behind undefeated Kentucky Derby contender Nyquist. McLaughlin acknowledged the media attention centered on Nyquist at Barn 41 Tuesday morning would have been swarming Barn 42 had Mohaymen remained undefeated in Florida.

“That’s the game – what have you done for me lately. I understand, but we haven’t lost any confidence,” McLaughlin said. “We’re happy to be here. We’re happy to be one of the 20 out of 23,000 foals. We’re here and we feel like we have a big chance.”

MOR SPIRIT – Michael Petersen’s Santa Anita Derby (GI) runner-up walked the shedrow of trainer Bob Baffert’s barn Tuesday, one day after completing a five-furlong workout in :59.80.

“He looks great today,” Baffert said. “It’s good to be back with a horse that has a chance. I know we’re flying under the radar, but I’m confident in him.”

The Hall of Fame trainer is one year removed from winning his fourth Kentucky Derby with American Pharoah, who went on to become the first horse in 37 years to capture the Triple Crown. Since arriving in Louisville Saturday night, Baffert has had the chance to visit the new American Pharoah exhibit at the Kentucky Derby museum.

“It’s always great to go there and get your Derby fix,” Baffert said. “This horse has such a following. There’s a lot of things people are going to see that they didn’t even know about.”

Baffert said that there was only one tense moment with American Pharoah that he thought could have cost them the race.      “There’s so much that can happen in these Derbys,” Baffert said. “Your horse has to show up. A lot of horses will just lay an egg for whatever reason. The walkover got to American Pharoah last year. The way these things are getting, they’re almost like Trump rallies. They’re crazy. It definitely cost Pharoah some of his fastball last year. He finally settled down and we dodged a bullet. He still ran great, but it wasn’t the Pharoah that we knew.” 

MO TOM – G M B Racing’s Mo Tom, with exercise rider Mario Garcia aboard, galloped two miles Tuesday for trainer Tom Amoss after the renovation break.

Greg Bensel, racing manager for G M B racing, was on hand. He watched G M B’s Derby runners – Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready – with Amoss and Dallas Stewart, trainer of Tom’s Ready.

G M B is the racing entity of Gayle Benson, wife of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Bensel is senior vice president of communications for the Saints.

The stable began with seven yearling purchases for a total of $1.2 million in 2014. Mo Tom was a $150,000 purchase; Tom’s Ready cost $145,000. The horses were selected by three trainers – Amoss, Stewart and Al Stall Jr., all from New Orleans.

Mo Tom, who won the LeComte (GIII) at Fair Grounds, encountered rough trips in his next two races, finishing third in the Risen Star (GII) and fourth in Louisiana Derby (GII).

“The story on Mo Tom is well documented and clear,” Bensel said. “He is a horse that is, you look at his first race ever, six furlongs, Ellis Park, he gets in trouble. He comes flying up. He’s on the backstretch; he comes flying up. He just runs into the crowd and checks, stops, goes off the picture. Then, at six furlongs, he comes barreling and catches them all. Is he a troubled horse? Who knows? But when he’s free and clear, he’s like Street Sense. He was running. … He’s got the turn of foot, the ability to close. The question for him is, a clean trip, and is he lucky?”

Mo Tom is the stable’s first graded-stakes winner. The stable was formed to win major races, Bensel said. The Saints, of course, won professional football’s most important game, the Super Bowl, after the 2009 season. Bensel said he sees a similarity between the Derby and the Super Bowl.

“At the end of the day, this is a team effort, this G M B Racing. We’re in this to run graded-stakes races, the classics the Breeders’ Cup. Let’s play on the big stage if we can. So this was no surprise that we’re running in these graded stakes races. It’s a surprise to have a horse in the Derby. It’s a massive surprise to have two horses in the Derby.

“In the Super Bowl, it was one of those things. We went 13-0. We lost our last three. We got in (the playoffs). We had momentum. We lost our momentum. We came back. The same with these horses. Mo Tom, he had momentum. He lost his momentum. He got in. So we’ll see. That’s what I’m comparing it too.”

MY MAN SAM/SHAGAF – Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables and Jay W. Bligh’s My Man Sam and Shadwell Stable’s Shagaf, both trained by Chad Brown, galloped under the Twin Spires during the 8:30 a.m. training session. Per usual, Daniel Bernardini was aboard My Man Sam, while Shagaf was ridden by Gian Cueva.

My Man Sam emerged as a serious Derby contender seemingly out of nowhere, going from a solid second on Aqueduct’s inner track his first time facing winners to a runner-up finish in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland.

“He’s been such a surprise, coming on as quickly as he did, but at this point nothing he does from here will surprise me,” said Bligh, the colt’s breeder and part-owner, while visiting Brown’s barn this morning. “I’m very proud of him.”

My Man Sam is a son of the Grade II stakes-winning sprinter Trappe Shot out of Bligh’s mare Lauren Byrd, who raced four times for trainer Todd Pletcher and won twice – a maiden special weight at Aqueduct and a turf allowance at Churchill Downs.

“We have three daughters of [Lauren Byrd’s dam] Strike the Sky, who was a great mare that produced [2012 GII Dixie Stakes winner] Hudson Steele,” Bligh said. “She had seven babies and all of them won and Lauren Byrd was one of them.”

Bligh, a contractor, campaigned Strike the Sky, who is solely responsible for his small broodmare band.

“Steve Young manages our horses and he trained for us at one time but Cindy and I decided to rethink what we were doing and go for a little bit more quality,” Bligh said. “Steve said, ‘OK then, we’ll start with Strike the Sky and keep her,’ and boy was he right.”

Strike the Sky was killed by a lighting strike in 2014.

Jay Bligh and his wife, Cindy, live in Del Mar, Calif., and have been in racing in some form for 40 years after catching the bug as college students visiting Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.

“We’ve had some success and some exciting moments but nothing like this,” he said.

When My Man Sam was withdrawn from the Keeneland yearling sale after grabbing a quarter, Bligh sold 75 percent to the partnership of Sheep Pond Partners and Newport Stables. The twist of fate allowed him to keep a piece of what will be his first Kentucky Debry starter.

“He’s a delight,” Bligh said. “He’s a very, very intelligent horse and I think that’s what you need. Irad [Ortiz Jr.] is going to have to get lucky and get the trip but if he draws a little bit better than we did over at Keeneland [when they had the outside post 14] then I think that can happen.”

NYQUIST – Last year’s 2-year-old champion Nyquist took advantage of the special Derby/Oaks training period between 8:30 and 8:45 Tuesday morning at Churchill.  He had his regular pilot Jonny Garcia up and they navigated a mile and three-eighths in a good gallop.

Trainer Doug O’Neill’s charge appears likely to be the betting favorite for Derby 142, earned by virtue of his perfect 7-for-7 record, which was most recently enhanced by a cross-country ship and a smashing score in the Florida Derby (GI) on April 2. The bay Uncle Mo colt has nary a visual marking on him, no stars, no stripes or snips, no white stockings. But he doesn’t need them to stand out in a crowd. His reputation speaks volumes, including a current bankroll that reads $3,322,600, the most a 3-year-old has sported coming into the Run for the Roses. 

OSCAR NOMINATED – Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Oscar Nominated, winner of the Spiral Stakes (GIII) at Turfway Park last month, galloped 1 1/4 miles at the Trackside Training Center, according to trainer Mike Maker.

The Kitten’s Joy colt will be ridden in the Derby by Julien Leparoux, who never has been on the horse for a race but has a long relationship with the Ramseys. In the winter of 2005-06, his first as a jockey, Leparoux won the Turfway Park title thanks in large part to riding first-call for the Ramseys.

“When he won his Eclipse Award [for Outstanding Jockey of 2009], the first thing he said in his acceptance speech was he thanked the Ramseys for getting him started,” Ramsey remembered with no small amount of pride.

While Ramsey always has thought highly of Leparoux for his obvious natural ability, there is also a trust that has been built over hundreds of mounts. That trust is important to Ramsey, who feels strongly that offspring of Kitten’s Joy should be ridden with patience. A few years ago Ramsey “suspended” Leparoux from riding his horses for one month as punishment for putting a Kitten’s Joy on the lead.

“When he came back he told me she broke really sharp and it seemed like the right thing to do but that next time he’d remember,” Ramsey said. “Well, next time she broke sharp again and it was the exact same scenario and he let her go to the lead and, sure enough, she got caught in the stretch, like they almost always do if you ride them like that. I told him, ‘Julien, you’re suspended from riding my horses for one month and I’m telling [agent] Steve Bass don’t even call me until I say you can.’

“Julien hasn’t put a Kitten’s Joy on the lead since and I wouldn’t predict that there’s any chance of us being on the lead Saturday.”

In other longshot chances, Ramsey pointed out that with the Kitten’s Joy colt Hawkbill, owned by Godolphin, pointing to the Epsom Derby following a win in the Newmarket Stakes on Saturday, there is the possibility of Kitten’s Joy siring the winners of the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby in the same year.

“I’m guessing that’s a 1,000-1 shot,” Ramsey said, “but there’s a chance.”

SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS – Trainer Donnie Von Hemel, aboard his new stable pony Rudy, led Suddenbreakingnews to the track to train during the special 8:30 a.m. training time. As has been the usual routine, the Mineshaft gelding stood quietly for several minutes and then proceeded to gallop 1 ½ miles under regular exercise rider Ramiro Gorostieta.

“He’s handled things really well,” Von Hemel said. “He schooled well yesterday (in the paddock). If you’re been here for a while, you have the advantage of being able to get used to the craziness little by little.”

TOM’S READY – G M B Racing’s Tom’s Ready, with exercise rider Emerson Chavez aboard, galloped a mile and a half Tuesday after the renovation break for trainer Dallas Stewart.

G M B racing manager Greg Bensel watched Tom’s Ready exercise. His experience in high-level races will help him in the Derby, Bensel said.

“The majority of his races have been graded stakes,” Bensel said. “He has run in big races before. He doesn’t get flustered in big crowds or that scene. He’s an even-tempered horse. And he’s a horse that will go with the pace.

“I just think, for Tom’s Ready, he just needs to maintain the pace, mid-pack, (have a) clean trip. Just be up there. He’s going to up there battling in that first or second pack, and just, if he stays clear there and he does his job and doesn’t get knocked around too much, he’ll be all right. The question is, does he have the kick to finish it off.”

Tom’s Ready was the first horse purchased by G M B, the stable of Gayle Benson, wife of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. The stable also has Mo Tom, trained by Tom Amoss, in this Derby. Bensel said he enjoys working with both trainers.

“From my point of view, one thing about both of them, they’re very good communicators, and that’s important in our business, especially when you get with Mr. Benson, and I’m kind of middle guy,” Bensel said. “So a lot of information has to pass through me to get to Mr. and Mrs. Benson. So the information I get, they (Stewart and Amoss) are accessible, they’re available, they’re accountable, and they’re honest. And that’s the most important thing. Good or bad, it’s about honesty, and that’s what Mr. Benson likes. Look, we’ve had horses, all three trainers (Al Stall Jr. also trains for G M B) have had horses, that just didn’t pan out. …

“When you compare Dallas and Tom, you’ve got two very different personalities. Dallas is very energetic, always positive. That’s not to say Tom isn’t. Dallas will have you thinking positively all the time whereas Tom Amoss will have you more level … more businesslike. And so you’ve got energy, you’ve got focus, you’ve got positive. And you’ve got businesslike; you’ve got middle-road. … And look, they’re all great, and we’ve got Al, too.”

For the Derby, Tom’s Ready and Mo Tom will be carrying silks made for the occasion. Bensel said he had new sets of silks made to honor the late Keith Gee. The silks have “K.G.” on them. Gee, who was the executive director of the Louisiana HBPA, died last year.

“He’ll be riding with us,” Bensel said.

TROJAN NATION – The big Street Cry colt Trojan Nation jetted in from California on Monday then Tuesday morning he was trackside at Churchill Downs heading onto the famous dirt strip during the 8:30-8:45 special Derby/Oaks training period.

Trojan Nation still is a non-winner, but his bang-up second-place finish in New York’s Wood Memorial (GI) April 9 earned him the right to run for the Roses, thus his appearance in Louisville. He was sent here by an Irish ex-patriot (trainer Paddy Gallagher) and accompanied by another Irish ex-pat, Andy Durnin, the stable’s right-hand man and chief exercise rider.

“We’ll just let him jog a mile and then investigate the track a bit,” Durnin said. “We did that in New York; let him look around some, get a feel for it. He likes to check it all out.”

Durnin will hold down the fort until Gallagher makes it to town this evening. And Durnin knows how to navigate the Derby.  This is his fourth go-round with the race for a fourth trainer.

Fusiachi Pegasus (the winner) for Neil Drysdale in 2000,” Durnin said, “then Borrego (10th) for Beau Greeley in 2004 and Make Music For Me (fourth) for Alexis Barba in 2010. Now here I am again; how lucky a guy am I?”

WHITMORE – Whitmore went to the track during the special 8:30 a.m. training time and proceeded to have an easy 1 ½-mile gallop under Laura Moquett, wife of trainer Ron Moquett. Unlike the past few days, he went to the track to gallop by himself and without a stablemate.

“I remain very confident,” said Ron Moquett, who is also co-owner of the Pleasantly Perfect gelding with Harry Rosenblum and Robert LaPenta. “I know just how much extra ground he covered in his last two races and how inefficiently he ran. All he needs in the Derby is a clean trip.”

Whitmore suffered wide trips in both the Rebel Stakes (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI) when finishing second and third, respectively.  Whitmore will school in the paddock tomorrow afternoon during the races.


CARINA MIA – Although she worked Monday, Three Chimneys Farm’s Carina Mia did have an easy gallop Tuesday morning under exercise rider Penny Gardiner. When the filly’s connections realized she would be on the also-eligible list for the Kentucky Oaks, they opted to enter her in the Eight Belles (GII) on the Oaks undercard.

“The decision was made easier when we knew she wasn’t going to be 15, but rather 16 (on the AE list),” said Doug Cauthen, the vice chairman of Three Chimneys Farm.

Kentucky Oaks Post Positions, Morning-Line Odds and Past Performances

CATHRYN SOPHIA – Cash is King’s Cathryn Sophia, the 9-2 co-second choice on the Kentucky Oaks morning line, jogged Tuesday morning at Churchill after the renovation break with Jerry Ortega in the saddle.

Later in the morning, after drawing post 12 in the Oaks, Servis told the media assembled for the draw that he was comfortable with the assignment.

“She is pretty tactical and she can put herself into the race pretty easy, so I was probably going to be comfortable with whatever we drew,” Servis said.

Earlier in the week when Servis was asked what Cathryn Sophia’s disposition around was like around the barn, a hearty laugh could be heard from the filly’s stall from her groom, Harry Harcourt.

“You didn’t just ask that,” Servis said with a guffaw. “She is vicious. She is nasty. She will kick you, she will bite you and she won’t let you catch her in the stall. She can be in the stall eating hay, and you go up to the webbing and look in, and she will come charging at you like a land shark.

“Poor Harry, he’s got two or three marks from where she bit the heck out of him,” the trainer added. “My set-up when the babies are coming in is to make the grooms give up a horse, so they each get a baby. Everybody that got Cathryn Sophia gave her up because she was such a nightmare. She went through three grooms the first two months she was there. But Harry is great with her — so patient. They get along pretty good. They know each other’s boundaries.”

The filly, who suffered the first defeat of her career after finishing third in the Central Bank Ashland (GI), will gallop Wednesday and Thursday and walk the shedrow the morning of the Oaks. She will gate school Thursday, but will not be paddock schooled, which is something that worked out just fine for Servis when he won the 2004 Kentucky Derby with Smarty Jones.

“No paddock schooling; I’m not big on that,” Servis said. “In fact, the year with Smarty I think I was the only horse that didn’t school in the paddock for the Derby.”

DOTHRAKI QUEEN – Magdalena Racing’s Dothraki Queen jogged a mile and galloped a mile under exercise rider Erin Walker shortly after the track opened for training at 5:45 Tuesday morning.

Dothraki Queen will be ridden by Gary Stevens should she draw into the Oaks from the also-eligible list.

DREAM DANCE – Stoneway Farm’s Dream Dance stood in the starting gate and galloped 1 3/8 miles under Joel Dominguez for trainer Neil Howard.

The filly went to the track at 7:30 for her morning exercise for Howard, who is looking for a big day Friday. Not only does he have Dream Dance for the Oaks, he also will send out Eagle in the $400,000 Alysheba (GII).

Brian Hernandez Jr. will have the Oaks mount on Dream Dance, who will break from post position five. That spot was fine with Howard, who said he did not want the one or the 14.

GO MAGGIE GO – Mike Tarp’s Go Maggie Go galloped 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning in preparation for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks (GI) for trainer Dale Romans.

The daughter of Ghostzapper is undefeated in two career starts, capturing her six-furlong debut by four lengths at Gulfstream Park March 13 before drawing off to a 2 ¼-length triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) April 12. Luis Saez was aboard for both impressive performances and has the return call on Go Maggie Go for the Oaks. Saez also has the return mount aboard Romans-trained Brody’s Cause for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (GI)

“I think he’s in the top five jockeys in the country. He’s destined for the Hall of Fame. He rode a great race on our filly in the (Gulfstream Park) Oaks and he rode a great race (on Brody’s Cause) in the Blue Grass,” said Romans, whose trainee drew post four and was rated at 12-1 in the morning line for the Oaks. “He’s one of those guys if we tell him he’s got shot, it doesn’t matter what price he is, he’s going to ride hard and believe me.” 

LAND OVER SEA – The Bellamy Road filly Land Over Sea had been going trackside at around 9 a.m. in her two previous Churchill Downs’ appearances, but Tuesday morning she was a relative early bird. The chestnut was on the big oval at 7:40 with Jonny Garcia in the tack and assistant trainer Jack Sisterson at her side aboard a pony.

In tandem, the filly and the pony jogged two miles on the outer rail going clockwise.  The 3-year-old gave the appearance of a horse who wanted to do much more, but Sisterson held steady to her and saved her energy for another day.

After the exercise, trainer Doug O’Neill – who had been watching trackside – was asked where he’d like to draw with his Oaks runner that morning.  He indicted he’d like to be positioned somewhere in the middle of the 14-horse lineup, but that wasn’t to be when the field was drawn and Land Over Sea was slotted for post 13.

O’Neill and his rider, Mario Gutierrez, will adapt and adjust, though, and their 5-1 morning line – effectively making her the fourth choice in the Grade I headliner – shows that they have a solid chance of doing so in good fashion.

LEWIS BAY – Alpha Delta Stables’ Lewis Bay, winner of the Gazelle Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct last month, came to the track under exercise rider Gian Cueva at about 9 a.m.

“She galloped well,” trainer Chad Brown said.

Later in the morning Lewis Bay drew post position three and was assigned morning-line odds of 8-1, making her the fifth choice in a full field of 14.

“I’m very happy with this break,” Brown said. “It gives us an opportunity to get out there and save some ground into the first turn.” 

MARQUEE MISS – Despite going to the track to gallop during the special 8:30 a.m. training time reserved for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, Marquee Miss will be entered Tuesday for the Eight Belle Stakes (GII) Friday, according to trainer Ingrid Mason. The multiple stakes-winning filly is 18th on the Oaks leaderboard and would have needed four defections to make the field.

MO D’AMOUR/RACHEL’S VALENTINA – As she’d done the day before, Mo d’Amour came out to exercise with Amy Mullen aboard during the 8:30-8:45 special Derby/Oaks training session. Her Kentucky Derby stablemates – Destin and Outwork – joined her.

Mo d’Amour galloped a mile and a quarter in good fashion, then headed back to trainer Todd Pletcher’s Barn 40.           Earlier Tuesday morning, Pletcher had sent the filly Rachel’s Valentina out with his second stable set at 6:30. She, too, had Mullen attached and they went strongly for a 10-furlong gallop around the Churchill oval. Rachel’s Valentina, a bay, is a daughter of high-line sire Bernardini and out of the champion mare Rachael Alexandra.

On hand to take in Rachel’s Valentina’s exercise was her owner and breeder, Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables. It was her late husband, Jess Jackson, who purchased Rachael Alexandra privately early in her career, then raced her to remarkable heights, culminating with Horse of the Year honors in 2009.  Banke has kept the family farm rolling along and, of course, has very high hopes for Rachel’s Valentina, the second foal of her spectacular mare.

Others see good things for the filly, too. She drew post 11 and the saddle services of Hall of Famer John Velazquez for Friday’s Oaks. She also drew the role of race favorite at 7-2.

Stablemate Mo d’Amour drew post seven for the nine-furlong Oaks and has Joel Rosario as her rider. Her morning-line odds are 30-1.

Pletcher indicated he planned to paddock school his two fillies Tuesday afternoon. 

MOKAT – JK Racing Stable’s Mokat stuck with her routine of jogging one mile and galloping 1 1/4 miles under Martin Ruiz during the 15-minute Oaks and Derby training session.

“I know the filly and to me she’s doing great,” trainer Richard Baltas said. “My rider said today was the best she ever went. She had a strong gallop today, a strong gallop yesterday, and she’s handled it no problem.”

Later in the morning Mokat drew post six for the Oaks, which was not as far outside as Baltas had hoped but still a position he could be satisfied with.

“She doesn’t want to be on the lead so I’d like the speed to be able to go and her sit there and follow them,” he said. “The middle is OK.”

Mokat will school in the paddock Wednesday, though Baltas has no reason to believe she won’t be fine with the surroundings.

“Mentally she’s been very good,” he said. “But you’ll have 14 horses and a lot of people.”

The Santa Anita Oaks (GI) runner-up behind undefeated Songbird, Mokat was assigned 20-1 morning-line odds.

PAOLA QUEEN – Grupo 7c Racing Stable’s Paola Queen schooled in the starting gate at Churchill Downs Tuesday on the morning after being sent to the track by trainer Gustavo Delgado for an open gallop Monday.

“It very important for her to see the starting gate here,” Delgado said.

Paola Queen, who debuted at Saratoga last summer with a troubled fifth-place finish, returned to action at Gulfstream Park in December. Following two in-the-money finishes, the daughter of Flatter broke through with a front-running maiden-breaker Feb. 14 before finishing second behind Go Maggie Go in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) April 2.

“She broke her maiden and went to the Grade II and ran a very good race,” Delgado said. “Is this a difficult race? Yes, very difficult. But without the California filly (Songbird), the race is more competitive. My filly has trained very good at Churchill Downs.”

ROYAL OBSESSION/TAXABLE/TERRA PROMESSA – Trainer Steve Asmussen’s Kentucky Oaks entrants – Stonestreet Stables and Regis Farms LP’s Royal Obsession, Winchell Thoroughbreds’Taxable and Stonestreet’s Terra Promessa – walked in the barn Tuesday, the morning after each worked an easy half-mile.

Each came out of her work in good shape, Asmussen said.

The Kentucky Oaks has been an important race for Asmussen, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August. He won the Oaks with Summerly in 2005 and the champion Untapable in 2014. Last year, Asmussen finished second in the Oaks with 26-1 shot Shook Up.

“The opportunity in the Oaks and the Derby is very special every year, and we feel very proud of the condition of the horses coming in and feel good about the week,” he said.

The jockey assignments for Asmussen’s Oaks trio are Ricardo Santana Jr. on Terra Promessa, Florent Geroux on Royal Obsession and Mike Smith on Taxable.

Santana rode Terra Promessa in all five or her races. Geroux rode Royal Obsession once, in a victory in allowance-optional claiming company at Fair Grounds. Smith, a Hall of Famer, will be riding Taxable for the first time.

“I know the filly well,” Geroux said of Royal Obsession. “I’ve been on her one time, and I won. I’m excited. I think the farther the better with her. I think she really turned the corner from this winter to the spring. She’s really coming into her own at the right time.”

VENUS VALENTINE – Rosemont Farm’s Venus Valentine galloped a mile and a half mile Monday under exercise ricer Maurice Sanchez for trainer Tom Amoss.

Amoss said he’s not concerned about the filly’s ability to handle the hoopla on Oaks Day.

“My biggest is not the crowd or her attitude going into the race,” he said. “My concern is where can she put herself early in the race against what the pace is going to be. She has a way of coming from behind horses and sometimes taking herself out of the game by being too far back. That’s why we have the change of equipment with blinkers on. Our goal is to keep her closer early on.”

There should be plenty of pace to help set up Venus Valentine’s late run, Amoss said. “I see a great deal of speed in the girls’ race, so that gives a real chance, a fighting chance,” he said.

WEEP NO MORE – Ashbrook Farm’s Central Bank Ashland (GI) winner Weep No More jogged a mile and galloped a mile under exercise rider Alex Gonzales. Weep No More accomplished her morning activity shortly after the track opened and was back in the barn by 6 o’clock.

Corey Lanerie will be in the saddle Friday on Weep No More, who will break from post position two, a spot that was not on the preferred list of Jack Bohannan, assistant to trainer Rusty Arnold. “I’d just like something in the middle,” Bohannan said.


$2 MILLION KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY YUM! BRANDS (GI) (Entries taken Wednesday, race Saturday, May 7) – Probable (in order of preference): Gun Runner (ridden by Florent Geroux, trained by Steve Asmussen, Barn 38); Nyquist (Mario Gutierrez, Doug O’Neill, Barn 41); Exaggerator (Kent Desormeaux, Keith Desormeaux, Barn 25); Outwork (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, Barn 40); Brody’s Cause (Luis Saez, Dale Romans, Barn 4); Creator (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, Barn 38); Lani (Yutaka Take, Mikio Matsunaga, Barn 17); Mor Spirit (Gary Stevens, Bob Baffert, Barn 33); Mohaymen (Junior Alvarado, Kiaran McLaughlin, Barn 42); Danzing Candy (Mike Smith, Cliff Sise Jr., Barn 41); Destin (Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher, Barn 40); Suddenbreakingnews (Luis Quinonez, Donnie Von Hemel, Barn 22); Oscar Nominated (Julien Leparoux, Mike Maker, Barn 27); Shagaf (Joel Rosario, Chad Brown, Barn 42); Whitmore (Victor Espinoza, Ron Moquett, Barn 10A); Tom’s Ready (Brian Hernandez Jr., Dallas Stewart, Barn 48); My Man Sam (Irad Ortiz Jr., Chad Brown, Barn 42); Majesto (Emisael Jaramillo, Gustavo Delgado, Barn 43); Trojan Nation (Aaron Gryder, Paddy Gallagher, Barn 41) and Mo Tom (Corey Lanerie, Tom Amoss, Barn 29). Possible: Fellowship (Jose Lezcano, Mark Casse, Barn 36); Adventist (TBA, Leah Gyarmati, Belmont Park); Laboan (TBA, Eric Guillot, Keeneland); Dazzling Gem (TBA, Brad Cox, Barn 9); Cherry Wine (TBA, Dale Romans, Barn 4) and Discreetness (Jon Court, Jinks Fires, Barn 40).

Link to Brisnet Past Performances:

$500,000 WOODFORD RESERVE TURF CLASSIC (GI) (Entries taken Wednesday, race Saturday) – Probable: Big Blue Kitten, Bolo, Chocolate Ride, Danish Dynaformer, Divisidero, Finnegans Wake, Grand Arch, Reporting Star, Roman Approval, Tourist, World Approval. Possible: Tepin.

$300,000 HUMANA DISTAFF (GI) (Entries taken Wednesday, race Saturday) – Probable: Dancing House, Kathbalu, Sarah Sis, Spelling Again, Stonetastic, Taris, Wavell Avenue.

$500,000 CHURCHILL DOWNS (GII) (Entries taken Wednesday, race Saturday) – Probable: Barbados, Calculator, Holy Boss, Kobe’s Back, Limousine Liberal, Salutos Amigos, Squadron A.

$300,000 CHURCHILL DISTAFF TURF MILE (GII) (Entries taken Wednesday, race Saturday) – Probable: Bureau de Change, Cash Control, Celestine, Isabella Sings, Josdesanimaux, Mississippi Delta, Rainha Da Bateria, Super Saks. Possible: Tepin.

$300,000 AMERICAN TURF (GII) (Entries taken Wednesday, race Saturday) – Probable: Airoforce, American Patriot, Azar, Camelot Kitten, Converge, Dressed in Hermes, Frank Conversation, J R’s Holiday, Surgical Strike, Two Step Time.

$250,000 PAT DAY MILE (GIII) (Entries taken Wednesday, race Saturday) – Probable: American Freedom, Cocked and Loaded, Discreetness, Forevamo, Imperial Hint, Lookin for a Kiss, Sea Wizard, Star Hill, Unbridled Outlaw.

Churchill Downs

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