Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby Update: McCraken, Fast and Accurate Work

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

LOUISVILLE, KY – Whitham Thoroughbreds’ McCraken worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 and Kendall Hansen, Skychai Racing, and Bode Miller’s Fast and Accurate worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 in company for the Kentucky Derby after the morning renovation break at Churchill Downs.

Before those two worked, Godolphin Racing’s Thunder Snow arrived at Churchill Downs at 7:10 from Dubai via England and was housed in Barn 17.

ALWAYS DREAMING/PATCH/TAPWRIT

A pair of Derby-bound colts out of the Todd Pletcher barn were out early for exercise and another had a day off on a cloudy but mild Sunday morning at Churchill Downs.

The trio of 3-year-olds — Always Dreaming, Patch, and Tapwrit – were the “chosen ones” who had made the cut from a once-substantial roster of potential hopefuls pointing for America’s most famous race. This past week, that lineup had shrunk further from a possible six down to the current three, bringing focus to the trainer’s 17th crack at winning the Derby.

Always Dreaming (with Adele Bellenger in the tack) and Tapwrit (Silvio Pioli up) both went trackside just after 5:45. Tapwrit, hero of the Grade 2 Tampa Derby, simply jogged around the big oval. Always Dreaming, the star of the Grade 1 Florida Derby, was – as has proven his wont – more serious with his efforts, galloping very strongly and proving full of himself during about a 1 1/4-mile tour of the strip.

“He’s a good-feeling colt and his energy level is off the charts,” Pletcher said after the exercise. “The trick for us is to keep him focused.”

The third Pletcher charge, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby runner-up Patch, simply walked the shedrow.

“Nothing special there,” Pletcher said. “Just a day off.”

The bay son of Union Rags, owned and bred by the historic Calumet Farm, was handled for the first time in his Louisiana effort by young rider Tyler Gaffalione, who has done most of his work so far out of Miami. Pletcher confirmed that he’s been signed back on and will make his Kentucky Derby debut on Saturday.

Pletcher’s trio of charges who were also recent candidates to try Derby 143 – Battalion Runner, Malagacy, and Master Plan — are being pointed for other efforts.

Battalion Runner has been sent to WinStar Farm for a brief freshening while staying in light training. He’s being aimed for the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont Park on July 8. Malagacy may be seen next in the Grade 1 Preakness at Pimlico on May 20, while Master Plan appears to be a candidate for the Grade 3 Peter Pan at Belmont on May 13.

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BATTLE OF MIDWAY

WinStar Farm and Don Alberto Stable’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby runner-up Battle of Midway tested the Churchill Downs main track for the first time as soon as it opened for training at 5:45 a.m. The Smart Strike colt arrived Saturday afternoon, along with the other Southern California-based Derby Week contenders.

“He was on his toes feeling frisky and settled right in,” said Christina Jelm, the East Coast assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “This morning, he had a one-mile jog and a walk through the paddock. Everything’s on schedule and going as planned. He’s a big, sleek, great animal, and he’s been perfect since he’s been here.”

Regular exercise rider Edgar Rodriguez traveled with Battle of Midway and was aboard for the exercise.

CLASSIC EMPIRE/STATE OF HONOR

Likely Kentucky Derby favorite Classic Empire and Grade 1 Florida Derby runner-up State of Honor jogged Sunday morning for trainer Mark Casse.

“Everyone is doing well following their breezes,” Casse said.

Classic Empire could become the richest horse to make a start in the Kentucky Derby with $2,120,220 in earnings after winning the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 15.

“He’s special in many ways,” Casse said. “(Assistant trainer) Norman (Casse) and our entire crew have gotten so many accolades for the job we did to get him to the Arkansas Derby after three months off. Honestly, the only way that was possible is because of how special he is.”

“There was no way he was 100 percent fit before that,” Casse continued. “With three months between races, there was a long time we didn’t get to do a lot because of his foot and back injuries. Within that time, he probably missed four to five weeks of training, not all at that time but in different spans.”

The Casse Derby hopefuls are scheduled to jog again Monday morning.

FAST AND ACCURATE

Fast and Accurate vanned from Trackside Louisville on Sunday morning and had his final work for the Kentucky Derby when logging five furlongs in company in 1:01.20.

Working in tandem with Grade 1-placed stablemate Adventist, who was third in last year’s Grade 2 Wood Memorial, the son of Hansen was piloted by jockey Channing Hill. The Grade 3 Spiral winner will attempt to capture his third consecutive stakes race with his third different rider when Hill takes the reins on May 6. Hill was aboard for his graduation in December at Turfway Park in maiden claiming company. This will be his first Kentucky Derby mount.

“Everything went smoothly,” trainer Mike Maker said. “It was nothing out of the ordinary with him. I thought he handled the dirt well.”

A winner on turf and synthetic, Pennsylvania-bred Fast and Accurate was off the board in his lone dirt try last fall at Parx Racing. Sunday’s work was his fourth consecutive dirt drill since taking the Spiral over Turfway’s Polytrack by 3/4 of a length. Three works back on April 15, he drilled a bullet five furlongs in :59.60 at Trackside Louisville.

GIRVIN

Brad Grady’s Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and Grade 2 Risen Star winner Girvin walked the shedrow at trainer Joe Sharp’s Keeneland barn on Sunday morning, one day after his final work for the Kentucky Derby.

“He came out great,” Sharp said. “Everything is going well and I couldn’t be happier.”

Sharp, who will be saddling his first Kentucky Derby starter, confirmed that Girvin will ship to Churchill Downs on Tuesday evening.  

GORMLEY/ROYAL MO

The California-based colts Gormley and Royal Mo are Kentucky-bound Monday morning on a flight full of West Coast runners with Derby Week designs following their Saturday works.

Trainer John Shirreffs’ pair drilled separately at Santa Anita on Saturday under exercise rider Francisco Alvarado; Gormley covered seven furlongs in 1:26.20, while his stablemate took six panels in 1:13.

Sunday morning their conditioner chose to merely walk Royal Mo, but put Gormley back on the track for a gallop.

“How far did you gallop him?” Shirreffs was asked.

“Far enough,” he said with a laugh.

Gormley, who’ll be handled next Saturday by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Victor Espinoza, is guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Royal Mo, who has Gary Stevens — also a three-time Derby winner — assigned as his rider, needs just a bit more help to run. The Santa Anita Derby third-place finisher is one position away from a start.  Should any of the 20 horses that are currently assigned spots in the gate withdraw before this Friday’s 9 a.m. Derby scratch time, Royal Mo will be one of the ones who gets “his chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance.”

GUNNEVERA

Peacock Racing Stables’ Gunnevera galloped a leisurely 1 1/4 miles on Sunday under exercise rider Victor O’Farrel for trainer Antonio Sano.

Gunnevera will be Sano’s first starter at Churchill Downs.

“I have 34 horses between two barns at Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream Park West,” said Sano, who brought only Gunnevera to Kentucky. “This is like a vacation; a nice vacation.”

HENCE/LOOKIN AT LEE/UNTRAPPED

Trainer Steve Asmussen now officially has three Kentucky Derby starters with Lookin At Lee joining the 20-horse field after trainer Todd Pletcher withdrew Malagacy from the race on Saturday. Asmussen was able to finalize riding assignments with Florent Geroux getting the mount on Hence, Corey Lanerie picking up the mount on Lookin At Lee, and Ricardo Santana, Jr., being named on Untrapped.

“The one thing we feel very good about with Lookin At Lee is, if you look at the field, you see a lot of truly talented horses, but not a lot of experience,” Asmussen said. “There’s not a lot of experience with some of the talented ones. There’s a lot of variables there. With Lee, you’ve eliminated all of that. He’s well-seasoned. He’s at his best right now. His last race in the Arkansas Derby (when third) was his fastest from a numbers standpoint. We’re all excited about running him 1 mile and a 1/4.”

Lookin At Lee galloped Sunday shortly after 7 a.m. with Juan Vargas aboard, while Hence, with Angel Garcia up, and Untrapped, Vargas aboard, each had strong gallops during the special 8:30 a.m. training time reserved for Oaks and Derby horses. All three will have 1/2-mile works at their regular training times on Monday.

“We’ll send Lee out early,” Asmussen said. “We’ll stay with what we’ve been doing. Since Hence and Untrapped had already been in the Derby field, they’ll continue to go out at the 8:30 time.”

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IRAP

The husky Tiznow colt Irap made his Churchill Downs bow on Sunday morning, taking advantage of the 8:30-8:45 special training period for Derby and Oaks runners.

Regular exercise rider Tony Romero was in the boot under the watchful eye of trainer Doug O’Neill’s trusted assistant Leandro Mora, who jetted in from their Southern California headquarters on Saturday.

Romero allowed the big bay to jog under restraint near the middle of the track with his head cocked and his coat shining.

“We tried jogging him the wrong way outside, but he got too rank with that,” Mora said. “So we just let him go around with the other horses.”

O’Neill, scheduled to fly east on Monday evening, has built a major racing operation in California solidly based on longevity. Mora, a hands-on horseman with a positive demeanor, has been with the trainer for the past 17 years. Romero, who includes the multi-millionaire and Hall of Famer Lava Man among his gallop charges, has been a member of Team O’Neill for 15.

“I wanted to get him out this morning with lots of people around,” Mora said. “We’re not going to hide him. The more he’s around people and crowds, the better chance he’ll have to deal with the scene we’re going to see here next Saturday.”

Mora is well aware of the Derby “scene.”  This will be his fifth go-round in the Run for the Roses, a pair of which ended with his horse wearing those roses. In 2012, he was part of the crew rooting home I’ll Have Another, then did so again last year, when Nyquist proved the best 3-year-old on the first Saturday in May.

“Irap has just been getting better,” Mora said. “We believed he belonged in the (Grade 2) Blue Grass, even though he was a maiden. He proved us right. We think he belongs here, too.”

IRISH WAR CRY

Isabelle de Tomaso’s homebred Irish War Cry completed his final serious preparations in advance of the Derby with a six-furlong work in 1:13.20 at the Fair Hill Training Center, according to trainer Graham Motion. The move was accomplished in company with Providence Road, a 4-year-old maiden who broke off about two lengths ahead.

“He pretty much did what he wanted,” Motion said. “He sat a couple of lengths off his workmate and did it nicely. I was very happy.”

Jockey Rajiv Maragh traveled to Fair Hill to work the Curlin colt. The 31-year-old rider was aboard for Irish War Cry’s win in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, the jockey’s first major stakes breakthrough since suffering several broken vertebrae, a broken rib, and a punctured lung in a July 2015 spill at Belmont Park. He has the return call for the Derby.

“I think Rajiv was very comfortable with him,” Motion said. “He had been anxious to see how he’d handle sitting off another horse, which is something we’d done with him before in Florida, but Rajiv hadn’t been on him then and wanted to see how he’d be. He handled it very well and was very relaxed about it.”

Motion said he would share video of the work later today from his Twitter account, @GrahamMotion.

J BOYS ECHO

Albaugh Family Stable’s J Boys Echo walked the shedrow on Sunday morning following his five-furlong breeze Saturday in 1:01 for trainer Dale Romans.

The colt is expected to return to the track on Tuesday.

McCRAKEN

Whitham Thoroughbreds’ McCraken completed the heavy lifting for his Kentucky Derby run by working five furlongs in 1:00.80 under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., on Sunday morning.

Working on his own, McCraken produced fractions of :13, :25.20, :36.80, :48.60, and 1:00.80, with a six-furlong gallop out in 1:13.40, 7/8 in 1:27.20 and 1 mile in 1:41.80. The 5/8 time of 1:00.80 was the 10th-fastest of 32 at the distance.

“It was just what I wanted,” trainer Ian Wilkes said with a laugh, repeating one of the most-used clichés in trainer-speak. “I only wanted him to gallop out an extra 1/8 because I wanted him to want to do more, and he wants to do more.”

McCraken won his first four starts, but Wilkes knew early on that he had a special horse on his hands.

“I worked him with one of my good fillies and I knew the horse could run then,” Wilkes said. “A lot of horses have the talent, but they don’t have the class. This horse has the class. You can have all the talent in the world, but if they can’t handle the pressure, that’s the difference. The horse with class can handle the pressure and get better.”

Sunday’s work was the third for McCraken since finishing third in the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 8.

“I feel like he is back into his rhythm,” Wilkes said. “The Blue Grass was a little different for him in that he was fresh and didn’t switch leads, and that took away from his punch.”

As he had done in a five-furlong breeze last Monday, McCraken galloped out well past the track kitchen at the half-mile pole.

“The last three times he has done that,” Hernandez said. “You think he is going to pull up and then he spots the pony and takes off again. He just enjoys what he is doing. He sees the pony and doesn’t want to go back to the barn.”

PRACTICAL JOKE

Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s Practical Joke galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Fernando Rivera during the Kentucky Oaks and Derby training session, his first time back on the track since a timed work Friday.

“The horse did really well,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He came out of the work good. He continues to get stronger and I’m real happy with him overall.”

The Into Mischief colt finished a strong second in the Blue Grass Stakes while stalking Irap from the outside but could not get past that 31-1 winner.

“I was very pleased with the race,” Brown said. “I was disappointed with the result in that he didn’t win, but I was very pleased with the effort. The horse showed a sustained run going 1 mile and an 1/8 and past the wire. He got a lot out of that, and physically, he’s a fitter horse now. I’m optimistic that he can stretch it out a little farther.”

SONNETEER

Calumet Farm’s Sonneteer, looking to become the first maiden to win the Kentucky Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933, had his first gallop over the Churchill Downs track on Sunday morning after arriving Saturday from California. Exercise rider Maurillo Garcia was aboard.

“He travels so well,” assistant trainer Julie Clark said. “He doesn’t care where he’s at.”

The Midnight Lute colt, who had been sitting at No. 22 on the leaderboard, officially made the 20-horse Derby field Saturday after trainer Todd Pletcher declared Malagacy and Battalion Runner out of the Derby.

“It’s nice to know we’re in the field,” Clark said. “We can make plans now. We also have the chance to draw a better post rather than drawing in and getting stuck in number 20.”

Clark said Sonneteer would work Monday with jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard. Trainer Keith Desormeaux, who finished second in last year’s Kentucky Derby with Exaggerator, is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday.

THUNDER SNOW

Godolphin Racing’s homebred Group 2 UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow arrived on the Churchill Downs scene at 7:10 a.m. Sunday following an eight-hour flight from East London Airport to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and a van ride to Louisville.

“We left England last night at 6:30 p.m. and he couldn’t have traveled any better,” said Rachel Perry, the barn manager who traveled with Thunder Snow from Godolphin Stables in Newmarket, near London. “He’s a good horse and he’s quite sound. He’s a very laid-back horse and good horses tend to be that way. I’m very happy with him.”

Thunder Snow is required to spend 42 hours in quarantine before he can visit the main track.

“He’ll walk in the quarantine barn two or three times a day, and then Tuesday, we’ll get to the track,” Perry said.

Thunder Snow will be Godolphin’s 10th Kentucky Derby starter since 1999, with the best finish being Frosted’s fourth in 2015. Two of the nine previous starters, including Frosted, had prep races in the United States, and those that didn’t typically showed up at Churchill Downs at least two weeks out to acclimate. The only one to arrive the week of the race, Curule in 2000, ranged up within striking distance at the 1/4 pole before flattening out to finish a good seventh. Perry was quick to dismiss concerns that Thunder Snow’s relatively late arrival could be a detriment.

“He’s a well-traveled horse,” she said. “He’s just come from Dubai to England and England to here. And it’s warm in Dubai as well, so I don’t see any problem for him.”

From the first North American crop of Helmet, the Irish-bred Thunder Snow was a top 2-year-old sprinting on the turf, concluding his juvenile season with a five-length win in the French Group 1 Criterium International. Thunder Snow has won of both his starts this year, which also included the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas at Meydan.

SHAPING UP: THE KENTUCKY DERBY – Likely starters in the 143rd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands to be run for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles on Saturday, May 6, in alphabetical order: Always Dreaming (John Velazquez), Battle of Midway (Flavien Prat), Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux), Fast and Accurate (Channing Hill), Girvin (Mike Smith), Gormley (Victor Espinoza), Gunnevera (Javier Castellano), Hence (Florent Geroux), Irap (Mario Gutierrez), Irish War Cry (Rajiv Maragh), J Boys Echo (Luis Saez), Lookin At Lee (Corey Lanerie), McCraken (Brian Hernandez Jr.), Patch (Tyler Gaffalione), Practical Joke (Joel Rosario), Sonneteer (Kent Desormeaux), State of Honor (Jose Lezcano), Tapwrit (Jose Ortiz), Thunder Snow (Christophe Soumillon), and Untrapped (Ricardo Santana Jr.).

Next up in order of preference: Royal Mo (Gary Stevens), Local Hero (TBA), Master Plan (TBA), and Petrov (TBA).

PROSPECTIVE FIELDS FOR UPCOMING STAKES

$400,000 Grade 2 Alysheba (Entries taken Tuesday, May 2, race Friday, May 5) – Probable: American Freedom, Behesht, Bird Song, Breaking Lucky, December Seven, El Huerfano, Honorable Duty, International Star, Noble Bird

$300,000 Grade 1 La Troienne (Entries taken Tuesday, May 2, race Friday, May 5) – Probable: Big World, Eskenformoney, Impasse, Paid Up Subscriber, Streamline, Walkabout

$200,000 Grade 2 Eight Belles (Entries taken Tuesday, May 2, race Friday, May 5) – Probable: Benner Island, Cajun Delta Dawn, China Grove, Florida Fabulous, Ghalia, I’mluckysgirl, Let It Ride Mom, Lovely Bernadette, Mopotism, Phone Chick, Pretty City Dancer, Summer Luck, Union Strike, What What What. Possible: Someday Soon

$150,000 Grade 3 Edgewood (Entries taken Tuesday, May 2, race Friday, May 5) – Probable: Bernadiva, Dream Dancing, Emphatically, India Mantuana, My Sweet Stella, Purely A Dream, Stallion Heiress, Storm the Hill, Sweeping Paddy, You Missed It

$150,000 Grade 3 Twinspires Turf Sprint (Entries taken Tuesday, May 2, race Friday, May 5) – Probable: Black Bear, Derek’s Smile, Green Mask, Holding Gold, Partly Mocha, Power Alert, Pure Sensation, Tell All You Know, Why Two

$500,000 Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Entries taken Wednesday, May 3, race Saturday, May 6) – Probable: Bal A Bali, Ballagh Rocks, Beach Patrol, Can’thelpbelieving, Conquest Panthera, Divisidero, Enterprising, Flatlined, Kaigun, Kasaqui, Oscar Nominated

$300,000 Grade 1 Humana Distaff (Entries taken Wednesday, May 3, race Saturday, May 6) – Probable: Carina Mia, Finest City, Paulassilverlining

$500,000 Grade 2 Churchill Downs (Entries taken Wednesday, May 3, race Saturday, May 6) – Probable: Awesome Slew, Clearly Now, Denman’s Call, Limousine Liberal, Masochistic, Solid Wager, Tarpy’s Zapper, Tom’s Ready

$300,000 Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (Entries taken Wednesday, May 3, race Saturday, May 6) – Probable: Believe In Bertie, Harmonize, Linda, Miss Temple City, Mississippi Delta, Roca Rojo

$300,000 Grade 2 American Turf (Entries taken Wednesday, May 3, race Saturday, May 6) – Probable: Big Score, Conquest Farenheit, Holiday Stone, Kitten’s Cat, La Coronel, Made You Look, Oscar Performance, Parlor, Ritzy A.P.

$250,000 Grade 3 Pat Day Mile (Entries taken Wednesday, May 3, race Saturday, May 6) – Probable: Bitumen, Bobby On Fleek, Chief Know It All, Colonelsdarktemper, Excitations, Guest Suite, Impressive Edge, No Dozing, Rapid Dial, Rockin Rudy, Sonic Mule, Uncontested, Warrior’s Club, Wild Shot, You’re To Blame

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