Stonestreet Stables’ Rachel’s Valentina, second in the April 9 Central Bank Ashland (G1), turned in her first work since that race on Thursday before 7 a.m., covering four furlongs in :48.60. The 3-year-old Bernardini filly, whose dam is Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, is expected to make her next start in the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Clockers caught Rachel’s Valentina, who worked in company with Gimlet, in fractions of :12.40, :24.80, :48.60 and out in 1:00.60 and 1:13.60. Rachel’s Valentina was ridden by exercise rider Adele Bellinger.
“(We wanted) just a nice easy breeze against the bridle, and that’s what we got,” said Tristan Barry, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “We’re very happy with her.”
Another notable Pletcher worker on Thursday was Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Curalina, who is expected to make her next start in the La Troienne (G1) on Oaks Day. With exercise rider Isabelle Bourez aboard, the 4-year-old Curlin filly breezed in company with Caribbean, covering five furlongs in 1:00.60.
Fractions were :12.20, :23.80, :35.80, 1:00.60 and out in 1:13.60 and 1:26.80.
The move marked the third breeze at Keeneland for Curalina. She has not raced since last October, when she finished third behind stablemate Stopchargingmaria in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
“She’s training very strong,” Barry said. “This breeze this week was better than last week’s and what we wanted to see from her. That’s going to put her on course to run at Churchill.”
The two fillies are to move to Churchill on Monday.
The Pletcher stable contributed to one of the most dazzling performances of the Spring Meet on Sunday when the 3-year-old Medaglia d’Oro colt Stradivari opened his 2016 season with a 14½-length victory in a 1 1/8-mile allowance in 1:48.64. Stradivari, who won one of two starts last year, races for breeder John Gunther in partnership with Michael B. Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier.
The colt is expected to make his stakes debut in his next start.
“I’m sure it’s going to depend on graded stakes earnings and how many people enter in the Preakness (G1 on May 21), whether he goes there,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, he’ll probably go to the Peter Pan (G2 on May 14 at Belmont).”
WEATHER HOLDS THE KEY TO NYQUIST WORK FRIDAY
Trainer Doug O’Neill played weather tracker Thursday morning, the day before a scheduled work for Reddam Racing’s undefeated Nyquist.
“If it is like it is now,” O’Neill said of a fast main track, “he’ll go about 7. If not, well, we will just play that by ear. We could wait a day and gallop on the training track and then come back and work Saturday.”
Rain is expected to begin late Thursday afternoon with isolated thunderstorms forecast to remain in the Lexington area until late Friday afternoon.
On Thursday morning, Nyquist backtracked around Keeneland’s 1 1/16-mile track twice under exercise rider Jonny Garcia. Alongside a pony with assistant Jack Sisterson aboard, Nyquist walked to the eighth pole before jogging with the pony for the remainder of his exercise.
Nyquist, who ran his perfect record to 7-for-7 with his victory in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) on April 2 to assume favoritism for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), is scheduled to have his final major pre-Derby work here next Friday.
“He probably would go to Churchill Downs on Saturday,” O’Neill said. “Usually, if they come out of the work well, we would ship the next day.”
O’Neill returned to Lexington in the wee hours of Thursday from Southern California to oversee preparations for what could be a second Kentucky Derby victory.
I’ll Have Another, also owned by Paul and Zillah Reddam, won the Run for the Roses in 2012. Like Nyquist, the Derby represented the third start of the year for the 3-year-old, but some of the similarities end there.
“I’ll Have Another struggled his 2-year-old season,” O’Neill said of a campaign that ended after a sixth-place finish in the slop at Saratoga in the Hopeful (G1). “Nyquist was brilliant as a 2-year-old, built a solid foundation and was mentally strong.”
With Nyquist, O’Neill knew he had a serious racehorse on his hands early – the colt’s racing debut.
“The Reddams paid $400,000 for him, so we were optimistic,” O’Neill said about that race. “His first start was strong.”
I’ll Have Another’s move into a championship-caliber horse came later in his development.
“I guess it was his work about three weeks before the Robert Lewis (G2),” O’Neill said, referring to I’ll Have Another’s first stakes win. “It was at Hollywood Park and I was kind of like ‘Wow,’ and (jockey) Mario (Gutierrez), who hadn’t ridden much for us, said ‘Wow,’ and that convinced us to take the leap into the Lewis.”
Also in the O’Neill string at Keeneland is 2015 Darley Alcibiades (G1) winner Gomo.
“The plan was to bring her to the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and then take a shot at the Kentucky Oaks (G1),” O’Neill said of the Reddam-owned filly who finished fourth at Gulfstream in her 2016 debut. “Plans with her are up in the air now with blood work issues and it would be safe to say (she’s out of the Oaks).”
But O’Neill and the Reddams are not out of the Oaks as Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) winner Land Over Sea is scheduled to work Friday toward the $1 million race.
“Right now, she is Plan A,” O’Neill said.
CASTELLANO GAINING GROUND IN RACE TO DEFEND SPRING RIDING TITLE
Javier Castellano, winner of the past three Eclipse Awards as top journeyman rider in North America, is closing ground in his bid to capture a second Keeneland riding title.
“Last spring was the first time I rode a whole meet here,” said Castellano, who won his first riding title with 22 victories. “I love it here. The turf is good, the new dirt track is good. The fans are great. It is a lot like Saratoga, only shorter. Everything happens very fast here.”
Castellano picked up his 11th victory of the meet Wednesday to move to within two wins of meet leader Luis Saez.
However, with Saez riding in New York the next three days, Castellano could move into the lead by the weekend with one mount today and six Friday. Castellano will ride at Charles Town on Saturday.
Click here for Keeneland Racing Analyst Tom Leach’s interview with trainer Ingrid Mason about Delvin Heldermon and Clayton C. Jack’s Back in Dixie, racing in Friday’s Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare (G3). …
Track records were set in the first two races on Wednesday. In the opener, Michael M. Hui’s homebred Hey Mike won a 4½-furlong maiden race in :51.36, which was 28/100ths of a second faster than Cocked and Loaded’s previous track record from April 9, 2015. Mike Maker trains the winner, a 2-year-old by Cape Blanco (IRE) and a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Nickname ridden by Javier Castellano.
The winner of the second race was Flaxman Holdings Ltd.’s homebred Tale of Life (JPN), who took the 1 1/16-mile allowance race by 4¾ lengths in 1:42.34. His time was 17/100ths of a second faster than Only in America’s former mark from Oct. 8, 2014. Drayden Van Dyke rode the winner, a 4-year-old son of Deep Impact whose second dam is champion Miesque, for trainer Graham Motion. …
The victory by Lothenbach Stable’s homebred No Fault of Mine in Wednesday’s featured Claiborne Purse was not that all unexpected for Neil Pessin, who handled the 4-year-old Blame filly for trainer Chris Block.
“What a shock; she loved the turf course here,” Pessin said of the filly, who made her turf debut. “Her mother (Single Solution) won a Grade 3 here (the 2009 Pin Oak Valley View) and her aunt (Vacare) won a Grade 1 (the 2006 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup).”
Single Solution and Vacare both won for Lothenbach with Vacare coming back in 2007 under different ownership to win the First Lady (G2).
PROBABLE ENTRANTS FOR REMAINING STAKES
$150,000 BEWITCH (G3) (entries taken Tuesday, race Friday, April 29) – Achnaha (IRE), Button Down (GB), Generosidade (URU), Olorda (GER), Return to Grace.