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Derby / Oaks Update - Wednesday, May 1, 2013
NOTE – Through various sources, the Churchill Downs Communications Team has confirmed the following 21 horses have entered the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (in order of preference): Orb, Verrazano, Goldencents, Java’s War, Overanalyze, Revolutionary, Lines of Battle, Vyjack, Will Take Charge, Itsmyluckyday, Black Onyx, Palace Malice, Normandy Invasion, Frac Daddy, Mylute, Oxbow, Falling Sky, Charming Kitten, Golden Soul, Giant Finish and Fear the Kitten.
The Kentucky Derby Post Position Draw – a traditional “pill pull” in which horses’ entry blanks are pulled simultaneously with a numbered pill to determine what stall a horse will break from in the starting gate – will be held at Churchill Downs in the Secretariat Lounge on Wednesday at 5 p.m. (all times Eastern) and will be shown live on NBC Sports Network.
BLACK ONYX (No. 11) – Sterling Racing’s Black Onyx galloped a little more than 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Aurelio Gomez during the Derby and Oaks training session and came back looking “tremendous,” according to trainer Kelly Breen. The Spiral Stakes (Grade III) winner has rapidly come into his own since changing barns in January and Breen has seen this kind of progress with Rock Hard Ten colts before.
“They start putting on weight and it’s like a kid going through puberty,” he said. “You see it right in front of your eyes and it happens in a matter of weeks. You really can see something change and hopefully it’s not an awkward growth spurt.
“You see some horses that come into their own from two to three. It looks visually like he’s blossoming and hopefully he runs the way that he looks.”
Black Onyx was the first major Derby contender to arrive at Churchill Downs, rolling through the stable gate on March 27th; four days after his Spiral win at Turfway Park.
“We’re hoping it’s an advantage,” Breen said. “To say what the right way and what the wrong way is, though, there’s more than one way to train a horse. You get in from the Spiral and it’s right down the road. To me there was no sense in shipping to Florida and coming back. He got used to the track, got used to the weather and he acclimated well.”
Breen has been especially impressed by the heart Black Onyx has shown in two straight wins.
“You see it in his workouts,” the trainer said. “He puts it out on the track. After he won his first race for us on the turf he came back and he laid down for a couple of days. To me that showed what kind of heart he has. He runs fast, he runs hard, gives it his all, and then he comes back and rests and takes it easy.
“Then he comes back a few weeks later and it’s the same thing. He gives it his all. We waited a couple of days to ship from Turfway to Churchill and it was like he just needed to recharge his batteries. By the time we got here he was ready to go again.”
CHARMING KITTEN (No. 18)/OVERANALYZE (No. 5)/PALACE MALICE (No. 13)/REVOLUTIONARY (No. 6)/VERRAZANO (No. 2) – On a sunny and warm Wednesday morning in Louisville, trainer Todd Pletcher had his five Kentucky Derby horses out on the Churchill Downs racetrack just as the special Derby/Oaks training period began at 8:30.
The quintet, all bays and all wearing the bright yellow Derby identification towels with their names inscribed, formed a lovely line from Barn 34 to the nearby six-furlong-gap entrance to the big oval. They all had routines to accomplish as they moved ever closer to their goal of Saturday’s Run for the Roses.
Verrazano, the Wood Memorial (GI) winner, was partnered by his regular exercise rider, Humberto Zamora. Overanalyze, the horse home first in the Arkansas Derby (GI), was handled by Obed Perez. Revolutionary, the best runner in this year’s Louisiana Derby (GII), teamed up with Nick Bush. Palace Malice, a photo-finish second in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) was under Jake Nelson. And the Blue Grass third-place finisher Charming Kitten was ridden by Patti Krotenko.
When their business was completed shortly thereafter, Pletcher – who had gone to front side to observe their movements up close, reported that all was well with his one-quarter of the field for Kentucky Derby 139.
“They all did the exact same things,” Pletcher said. “They all galloped a mile and three-eighths and they all stood in the starting gate. Everyone did well.”
He further noted that his quintet would follow through with plans to “paddock” with the horses for today’s second race.
Pletcher additionally has plans of joining activities surrounding the Derby Draw, which begins Wednesday afternoon at 5 in Churchill Downs’ Secretariat Lounge that will air on NBC Sports Network from 5-6 p.m.
FALLING SKY (No. 17) – Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger’s Falling Sky stood in the starting gate and galloped 1 3/8 miles under Cassie Garcea Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.
Falling Sky has impressed trainer John Terranova with the manner in which he strides out over the Churchill surface.
“He covers a lot of ground. I think this type of tighter surface, he really appreciates – a surface he can get over the top of. This surface shows him a little bit better. He just skips over this nice tight surface,” Terranova said. “Deeper tracks maybe take away from his stride a little bit. This one he really seems to glide over. He just moves so efficiently over this track.”
Luis Saez, who scored an allowance victory aboard Falling Sky in a Gulfstream allowance before his present connections purchased him in January, will return to the irons for the Derby.
FEAR THE KITTEN (No. 21) – Frank Irvin’s Fear the Kitten galloped under Joel Barrientos at Trackside Training Center Wednesday morning for a possible start in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
The Mike Maker-trained colt was entered Wednesday for the 139th Run for the Roses and has been included on the also-eligible list. Should a scratch occur, Fear the Kitten would draw into the field.
FRAC DADDY (No. 14)/JAVA’S WAR (No. 4) – Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Frac Daddy and Charles Fipke’s Java’s War had easy gallops during the Derby and Oaks session this morning with their regular exercise riders – Hugo Garcia aboard Arkansas Derby (GI) runner-up Frac Daddy and Marvin Abrego on Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner Java’s War.
“We full-galloped Frac Daddy from the three-sixteenths pole,” trainer Ken McPeek said. “That’s been his routine. He seems to want to gallop a long way and the further he gallops the better he seems to do.
“We wanted to shorten up on Java today. He jogged a mile and galloped a mile-and-a-quarter. I think we’re going to try to gear him down. He shows a lot of energy when he’s had a light day going into races and works so we’re probably going to go lighter on him into the race."
GIANT FINISH (No. 20) – Sunrise Stable and Partners’ New York-bred colt Giant Finish will ship from the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., to Louisville at 8 p.m. Wednesday and is scheduled to be on the grounds at Churchill Downs Thursday morning.
Jockey Jose Espinosa, who rode the son of Frost Giant to a third-place finish in the Spiral Stakes (GIII) on March 23 at Turfway Park, will be aboard Giant Finish in the Derby. Veteran trainer Anthony Dutrow said Wednesday that he is planning to saddle the colt Saturday.
Giant Finish competed against New York breds in his first three career starts, winning two of three. In his first foray into open company, he was second, beaten a half-length in the Battaglia Memorial on March 2 at Turfway Park and then was third in the Spiral.
“He has performed well for us.” Dutrow said. “He tries. His effort is there. We like the horse and we’re happy to work with him. He’s been a hard-trying boy that has done well for himself.”
GOLDENCENTS (No. 3) – There was a little bit of a buzz at trainer Doug O’Neill’s temporary headquarters in Barn 45 on the Churchill Downs backstretch Wednesday morning. Well, actually, there was a whole lot of buzz at the barn, sort of like the Final Four buzz that surrounded the local Louisville Cardinals this past March.
Not surprisingly, the main man behind both buzzes was on the scene – basketball coach and horse owner Rick Pitino.
“The Coach,” as he’s referred to in this part of basketball mad Kentucky, made the scene at about 7:45, in advance of a planned Derby exercise by “his” horse, the bay Kentucky-bred Goldencents. And to add a large basketball touch to the proceedings, he brought along the center from his newly minted championship team, the 6-foot-11 Senegalese-born Gorgui Dieng, who possibly could be a first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Approximately 150 media types, fans, friends and onlookers joined the gathering – some of them actually there to see the horse that Pitino owns a 5% piece of. In light of the circumstances, it just could be true that “The Coach” could go down as the most major minor partner in the history of the Derby.
Goldencents and his swarm went trackside for 8:30 at the start of the special Derby/Oaks training period. The tall bay was handled by regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia, who proceeded to take the Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner through a bit of backtracking before going through a strong mile and a quarter gallop around the track.
Among the interested onlookers were Goldencents’ regular rider, Kevin Krigger, along with his agent, Tom Knust. Krigger, who will attempt to be the first black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902, and Knust were being tailed by a film crew doing work on a documentary on black jockeys.
Despite the circus atmosphere, trainer O’Neill was doing fine with his racetrack business. He did, however, admit to being more than a bit nervous about an afternoon golfing date with Pitino, his brother Dennis and another of Goldencents’ co-owners, Dave Kenny. The foursome, with an ESPN camera crew in tow, was headed off to the upscale Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, site of Ryder Cups and PGAs. The trainer had even gone so far as to buy a new set of golf clubs and was planning on “just trying to hit it straight.”
GOLDEN SOUL (No. 19) – GOLDEN SOUL (No. 19) – Trainer Dallas Stewart turned to a familiar face when selecting the jockey for Charles Fipke’s Golden Soul.
Robby Albarado, who in 1999 won the Louisiana Derby (GII) for Stewart on Kimberlite Pipe before riding him to a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, will get a leg up Saturday on Golden Soul. Stewart waited until Wednesday morning to make the decision public.
“He’s won a lot of big races for me, probably more races than anybody that’s currently riding,’’ Stewart said of Albarado. “He’s a great rider, glad to have him. If the horse is good enough, (Albarado) will get the job done.’’
In 2009, Stewart and Albarado teamed for victories with Macho Again in the Stephen Foster (GI) and New Orleans Handicap (G2).
Albarado will be riding in his 13th Derby.
“I’m excited about it,’’ he said. “I haven’t ridden the last couple years. Obviously, what happened a couple of years ago with Animal Kingdom – I just want to get back there as quick as I can. It’s just good to have the opportunity to be one of the chosen ones to ride this prestigious race.’’
In 2011, Albarado was named on Animal Kingdom, the eventual winner, but was kicked in the face by a horse three days before the race and was replaced by John Velazquez. Albarado’s best Derby finishers were third places on Steppenwolfer in 2006 and Curlin in 2007.
Albarado will be riding Golden Soul for the first time. “I watched all of his races, from his maiden races to his one in the Louisiana Derby, so I’m familiar with the horse,’’ Albarado said. “I haven’t actually worked him before, but he looks like he’s pretty professional.’’
Golden Soul is a late runner. “I’ve ridden enough of those, and I’ve ridden that race before, so I kind of know what kind of horse it takes to win that kind of race,’’ Albarado said. “I’m going to try to give him a good trip, give him an opportunity.’’
Stewart said: “The horse needs a strong finisher, and he’ll be there to help him. When the horse needs him, Robby will be there to help him.’’
Golden Soul galloped Wednesday under exercise rider Emerson Chavez. Between races Tuesday afternoon, Golden Soul schooled in the paddock.
“It went well,’’ Stewart said. “He got a little touch warm, but he settled down. … It was hot, but he cooled down. They’ve got those fans in the paddock, so it looked like it helped a lot of them out, so it was good.’’
ITSMYLUCKYDAY (No. 10) – Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday stood in the starting gate and galloped 1¾ miles under exercise rider Peter Shelton Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.
The Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull (GIII) winner finished second, 2 ¾ lengths behind Orb, in the Florida Derby (GI) on March 30.
“It’s nice to finish second to the horse that probably will go off the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. I’m tickled to death that he’s getting all the press and all the accolades now – and he deserves it,” trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said. “I wouldn’t trade my horse for any horse in the race. I feel real good about our chances. The only things I’m concerned about are the post position draw and the trip that he gets. He has the ability to win the race, given a chance, I believe.”
Itsmyluckyday’s tactical speed has contributed to his trainer’s confidence.
“It doesn’t matter how it unfolds for him. He’s not a horse that needs the lead. He’s not a horse that needs a fast pace to come from behind. He’s a horse that has tactical speed,” the South Florida-based trainer said. “It will be put in the jockey’s hands to see what happens at the beginning of the race. If it’s a fast pace, he’ll be a little farther back. If it’s a slow pace, he’ll be closer to the pace. He’s got tactical speed, and that’s what you like to have in this race.”
Thus, Plesa won’t give jockey Elvis Trujillo detailed instructions on how to ride Itsmyluckyday.
“I’ll tell Elvis, ‘Take what they give you. Good luck and have a safe trip,’ ” Plesa said.
LINES OF BATTLE (No. 7) – The Kentucky-bred War Front colt owned by Joseph Allen, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, arrived at Churchill Downs at 2:25 a.m. Wednesday after a trip from Ireland.
T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O’Brien, estimated that the trip from O’Brien’s Ballydoyle training center to Churchill Downs took 14 hours. Lines of Battle was flown by charter from Shannon Airport in Ireland to Chicago and then on to Louisville.
Comerford said the trip went smoothly and that the colt handled it well. Lines of Battle is scheduled to go to the track Friday morning after clearing quarantine.
“It was quick enough,” Comerford said. “We’re used to traveling our horses. There’s not a problem. He’s 100 percent.”
Lines of Battle won the UAE Derby (GII) on March 30 to earn the points needed to qualify for a berth in the Derby. He will be O’Brien’s fifth Derby starter and the third straight year he has sent the UAE Derby winner to the Kentucky Derby.
“Aidan tries to have a go every year,” Comerford said. “Every horse we’ve brought here has won the same race in Dubai. Aidan would like to win it because it’s a major race, one of the biggest races.”
In 2011, the O’Brien-trained Master of Hounds was fifth. Last year, Daddy Long Legs was pulled up and did not finish.
“It’s not easy,” Comerford said. “We’ve come out here most than most and we’ve tried. God loves a trier.”
Ryan Moore is scheduled to ride Lines of Battle in the Derby.
MYLUTE (No. 15) – MYLUTE (No. 15) – GoldMark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm’s Mylute visited the track during the Derby and Oaks training session – deviating from his usual 5:45 a.m. routine – so he could school in the starting gate.
With Derby jockey Rosie Napravnik watching intently from the half-mile gap, the Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up jogged and galloped under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez.
“He went to the gate and practiced over there so that he’s calm, cool and collected come Derby Day,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “He did his normal gallop and his normal jog before and after that. It was a straightforward day other than stopping at the gate and that went without event.”
Todd Quast, general manager of co-owner GoldMark Farm, was also on hand for the work. Quast helped to pick out Mylute at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton July Sale.
“He was a very strong, imposing individual, even as a yearling,” Quast said. “He had the most fluid walk that I had seen at that sale. He was a first-year Midnight Lute and everyone’s thinking those are going to be sprinters but I always felt he was a sprinter by default. He was by Real Quiet and bred to be a route horse, the mare was a route horse, so that didn’t bother me. That sale is about individuals and he was a standout individual. We paid $150,000 for him but I thought it was a good buy and now it seems like a great buy.”
Quast spent most of the 1990s working as an assistant trainer to D. Wayne Lukas and broke Kentucky Derby winners Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999).
“These five weeks are so important,” Quast said of the final days leading up to the Kentucky Derby. “You have to be as good as you can be. If we lose it’s not because we didn’t have a good five weeks of training. From the Louisiana Derby forward this horse has been doing so well. He ran in the Louisiana Derby on Saturday, shipped on Sunday, arrived at Churchill on Monday, jogged Tuesday, galloped the next few days, and then that Sunday we gave him a half [-mile breeze] because he was tearing the barn down. That was only eight days after the race.”
GoldMark has had one previous Kentucky Derby starter, Backtalk, who was also trained by Amoss and finished 20th in 2010.
NORMANDY INVASION (No. 13) – Fox Hill Farms’ Normandy Invasion had a routine 1 ½ miles gallop Wednesday morning during the time reserved at 8:30 a.m. for Derby and Oaks horses.
After the Tapit colt returned to the barn, owner Rick Porter explained that he decided to use the name Normandy Invasion because he had been moved by visit in 1994 to the site of the D-Day assault on the beaches of France in World World II.
“I went there for the 50th anniversary and was really inspired by everything I saw there,” Porter said. “If you’re ever near there, you’ve got to go to Normandy. You’ve got to put that on your bucket list.”
ORB (No. 1) – Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable’s Orb returned to the racetrack Wednesday morning and jogged once around the track under exercise rider Jennifer Patterson. The son of Malibu Moon, who walked the shedrow Tuesday after breezing a half-mile in :47.89 Monday, was scheduled to school in the paddock during Wednesday’s first race.
Orb’s effortless workout and strong gallop-out generated speculation that the Shug McGaughey-trained colt could end up taking over the favorite’s role for the Derby from undefeated Verrazano. Such speculation hasn’t upset McGaughey.
“I’d love to be the favorite, because the favorite’s going to have something under his name that makes him the favorite,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “I wish every one of my horses was favorite. They’re not all going to win, I understand that, but I’m on board with that.”
Orb’s presence at Churchill Downs has attracted a lot of media attention around McGaughey and Barn 43.
“I try to lay as low as I can, but I’m really enjoying being here and every aspect of it. It hasn’t bothered me at all,” he said.
McGaughey was asked to compare his mind-set this year as compared to 1989, when he was preparing heavily favored Easy Goer for the Derby, in which he finished second behind Charlie Whittingham-trained Sunday Silence.
“I think I have a lot more confidence in myself than at that time – not that I didn’t have confidence,” McGaughey said. “When Easy Goer came here, he couldn’t lose, so I had to go up against that. I knew who I was going up against. I was 37 or something, and he (Whittingham) probably already won that many Grade Is that year. I feel good where we are and am glad we’re here and hope down the road we’re here a lot more times.”
OXBOW (No. 16)/WILL TAKE CHARGE (No. 9) – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, participating in his 27th Derby since 1981, said that he doesn’t see an overwhelming standout.
“The reality of it is, it’s not an easy spot for anybody,’’ Lukas said after watching Calumet Farm’s Oxbow and Willis Horton’s Will Take Charge jog Wednesday morning. “I think it’s pretty wide-open, like everybody’s telling you. I don’t think we’ve got Secretariat in this bunch, even Seattle Slew. So, I think it’s going to boil to trip and the pace and a lot of other things. I’m comfortable with where I’m at with my horses. If they’re good enough, we’ll find out, but I’m comfortable.’’
Lukas also is comfortable with his jockeys, both veterans. Much has been made this week about his relationship with Gary Stevens, Oxbow’s jockey, who is back at the Derby after coming out of retirement. But Lukas said he also connects well with Jon Court, who rode Oxbow twice this year and will be riding Will Take Charge for the first time.
“I started using Jon, and we had good chemistry together,’’ Lukas said. “I think sometimes when you get these rider/trainer relationships, there seems to be a certain karma. You fit. You get a line of communication or whatever. But Jon started riding real well for us. Of course, this is a home track for him anyway.’’
VYJACK (No. 8) – Pick Six Racing’s Gotham (GIII) winner Vyjack galloped 1 1/2 miles under trainer Rudy Rodriguez Wednesday morning.
Although this is owner David Wilkenfeld’s first Derby starter, he said he isn’t having any trouble handling the activity around America’s biggest race.
“I’ve been here with a friend before, so I have a little experience,” Wilkenfeld said. “I don’t find it overwhelming. I’m from New York. There’s a lot going on there. I’m used to it.”
Vyjack is the first horse that Wilkenfeld, a longtime fan and veteran horseplayer, has owned. He paid $100,000 for the 2-year-old from the first crop of Into Mischief at Fasig-Tipton’s Timonium, Md., sale in May 2012.
“I thought he would be a distance horse the way he worked three-eighths,” Wilkenfeld said. “He had a long stride and was a big horse. It was from a freshman sire, so you don’t really know.
“Into Mischief won at a mile and a sixteenth, but never really got a shot. They were prepping him for the Derby, but he had some injury issues. But he was a fast horse and the family was fast. I like fast horses. That’s what I look for and then you figure out how far they go.”
Wilkenfeld said he was aiming high and had the Derby as a goal when he bought Vyjack.
“I really wasn’t looking for a horse that would come out of the sale and would be ready to run right away,” he said. “We took our time and made a plan. So far it’s worked out great.
“To me, if you buy a 2-year-old that’s the dream. I start from there and then we told Rudy early on, ‘We’ll plan for the Derby and if the horse disappoints, then he disappoints us. But I don’t want to think small. I want to think big.’ That’s what we did. It worked out.”
KENTUCKY OAKS UPDATE – WEDNESDAY, MAY 1, 2013
BEHOLDER – The 2-year-old-champion-turned-serious-Kentucky-Oaks contender Beholder was out for a mile and one-half gallop Wednesday morning during the special Derby/Oaks training period following Churchill Downs renovation break.
Jockey-turned-exercise rider David Nuesch did the driving on the bay daughter of Henny Hughes as trainer Richard Mandella looked on.
Nuesch, along with two Mandella’s stable workers, had flown on the plane that brought Beholder, as well as the Humana Distaff-bound stakes mare Rumor, to Louisville from California. He’s worked with Beholder since she came into the Mandella barn early last year.
“She’s a smart one,” Nuesch said. “And she’s a bit of a drama queen. She’ll overreact sometimes; jump at something she sees or bothers her. Then other times something will happen and she doesn’t turn a hair. She does it all on her terms. She’s a good-feeling filly and those kind have a right to be full of themselves.
“Last year when we won the Breeders’ Cup and she had such a great year, it was hard to believe she was only a 2-year-old. She did so many things just like she was an old horse that sometimes I forgot who she was.”
Beholder, who was listed as the 7-2 co-second choice in Friday’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI), drew post three for the nine-furlong race. Was Mandella OK with that?
“I’m fine with it,” he said. “I’m just happy to be there.”
Beholder will school in the paddock today with horses from the fifth race.
CLOSE HATCHES/FLASHY GRAY – Trainer Bill Mott informed the Churchill Downs Racing Office late Wednesday morning that West Point Thoroughbreds and Tom Keithley’s Flashy Gray will scratch out of Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. Daily Racing Form reported the filly has suffered a foot bruise.
The Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) runner-up had gone to the track without incident during the Oaks and Derby training session, visiting the paddock before galloping 1 3/8 miles from the seven-eighths pole to the half-mile pole.
Juddmonte Farms LLC’s undefeated Close Hatches followed an identical regimen, visiting the paddock and galloping 1 3/8 miles.
With the scratch of Flashy Gray, who had drawn post No. 10, outside filly Close Hatches will now get to move in one spot in the starting gate.
“You don’t know whether it’s good or bad, I guess,” Mott said of the outside draw. “There are advantages and disadvantages. You like to be on the outside and if the field separates itself you can tuck in a little bit. Obviously you don’t want to be 10-wide around the turn.”
Close Hatches is 6-1 on the morning line.
DREAMING OF JULIA / PRINCESS OF SYLMAR / SILSITA / UNLIMITED BUDGET – The four fine fillies who comprise trainer Todd Pletcher’s Kentucky Oaks (GI) contingent moved trackside at 6 o’clock Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs, each with some leg-stretching in order and on their minds.
Dreaming of Julia (with exercise rider Humberto Zamora up), Unlimited Budget (Patti Krotenko), Silsita (Nick Bush) and Princess of Sylmar (Jake Nelson) stepped from the dark of the morning into the bright of the illuminated racetrack and went about their business with the professional air that marks virtually all of Pletcher’s runners.
Dreaming of Julia, the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Oaks, galloped a mile and one-quarter. Friday she’ll be handled by John Velazquez and break from post eight in the 10-horse field of 3-year-old fillies. Unlimited Budget, co-second choice at 7-2 with Beholder, will depart from post four under Javier Castellano. Silsita gets the saddle services of Gary Stevens as they break from the rail with starting odds of 20-1. And Princess of Sylmar will begin in post six for jockey Mike Smith, also at odds of 20-1.
Pletcher has won the Oaks twice previously – first with Ashado in 2004, then with Rags to Riches in 2007. Both were subsequently named champions.
MIDNIGHT LUCKY – Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman’s unbeaten filly Midnight Lucky galloped 1 ½ miles Wednesday morning.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will saddle the Sunland Oaks winner, who drew post No. 2 and is 9-2 on the morning line. Baffert has won the Oaks twice: Plum Pretty in 2011 and Silverbulletday in 1999.
PURE FUN – Magdalena Racing’s Pure Fun galloped one mile during the Oaks and Derby session under exercise rider Jose Cano.
The Pure Prize filly, entering Friday’s race off a seventh against males in Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes (GIII), didn’t get her first timed work of 2013 until mid-February and has been playing catch up with her conditioning since. There were no physical problems that forced her to be away for so long, trainer Ken McPeek said, but she needed a break after eight starts as a juvenile, culminating with a Grade I win in December’s Hollywood Starlet.
“We gave her time off, which is typical for us with 2-year-olds,” McPeek said. “But she ran late into the season so she was later getting back into the game. She gained a bit of weight. I wanted to have her ready for the Honeybee, which is a dirt race, but she just wasn’t ready yet. She was still a couple of works behind schedule. And then we chose the Bourbonette, which was not exactly the surface or the timing that I wanted. That didn’t go well because she came out of that race with a slight fever. I thought I was going to come back in the Fantasy (GIII at Oaklawn) but that didn’t work either.
“I was kind of in between and was like, well, what do I do now? There weren’t any more preps after that; the only one I could find was the Lexington. Again, it wasn’t the surface or the timing I wanted but she needed the race in order to be competitive this weekend.”
While both of her starts this year have been disappointing, Pure Fun’s most recent start over the Churchill Downs surface – a 9 1/4-length allowance win in November – allows for hope that she could still put it all together on Friday.
“She likes this ground,” McPeek said. “I do think she’s a dirt horse. We’ve got her ready and I’m pleased with the way it’s gone. It was a little unconventional but all of them are.”
ROSE TO GOLD – Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti’s Rose to Gold walked the shedrow at Barn 43 Wednesday morning, a plan she will follow Thursday morning and Friday morning for trainer Sal Santoro.
Listed at 15-1 on the morning line, Rose to Gold drew post position nine for Friday’s Oaks and will be ridden by Calvin Borel.
“I would have preferred somewhere from three through six, but it is what it is,” Santoro said. “I am confident in Calvin and whatever he feels is the right thing, he’ll do it.”
Rose to Gold is scheduled to school with horses in Wednesday’s first race.
“She never has had an issue at the gate or in the paddock,” Santoro said. “She is pretty level-headed. I know there is no way you can replicate 100,000 people. It will probably be like Keeneland where everybody is close. The day she won the Fantasy, there were 30,000 there that day, so this will be three times more.”
The latest forecast for Friday is for temperatures in the mid-70s with a 10 percent chance of rain. Rose to Gold is two-for-two on sloppy tracks, including the 4 ½-length victory in the Fantasy (GIII).
“The mud at Oaklawn the day of the Fantasy was so deep that the woman who presented the trophy took her shoes off to cross the track. She said she could wash her feet, but not the shoes,” Santoro said. “So, if you see somebody lighting a novena candle in the grandstand, it’s me.”
SEANEEN GIRL – The 30-1 morning-line odds on Naveed Chowhan’s Seaneen Girl for the Oaks on Friday don’t concern trainer Bernie Flint.
“No pain, no gain,’’ Flint said. “She’s always been a longshot. Most of these classic races, like the Kentucky Derby, I don’t care who’s the favorite. They’ve always got a favorite. Very seldom do they win, so go from there. The Oaks is the same way. It will be the same way, because I’ve got a feeling I’m going to get them. … I’ve got ’em where I want ’em.’’
Seaneen Girl went off at 19-1 when she finished second in the Mazarine (GIII) at Woodbine, 31-1 when she won the Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs and 24-1 when she finished third in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII).
She galloped a mile and a half Wednesday under exercise rider Edward “Rocky” Seely.
“Wonderful,’’ Seely said. “She came out of her work (Monday) in very, very good shape. She’s going as good as she’s been going.’’