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Kentucky Derby 135 Friday Update: Pletcher Hopes to Avoid Muddy Derby

| Churchill Downs Communications | 05/01/2009 #

Catch the latest and final updates on your Derby favorites, one day in advance of Kentucky Derby 135!

ADVICE / DUNKIRK / JOIN IN THE DANCE – The trio of Todd Pletcher horses was out and done with their leg stretching prior to 7 a.m. (all times EDT) Friday, each galloping approximately a mile and three eighths around the “sloppy” Churchill Downs oval that had been pelted with some fairly serious overnight rains.

Advice, the last of the barn’s Derby contenders came off the strip just prior to 7 with Pletcher looking on near the six-furlong gap.

“If it is ‘fast’ or ‘sloppy’ tomorrow for the race, I think we’ll be fine,” Pletcher said. “Dunkirk went over this ‘slop’ a little earlier and he handled it well. He was good with it. But I don’t think we’ll want to see a ‘good’ or ‘muddy’ track. That won’t help my horses. We’ll hope we don’t have to deal with that.”

The third Pletcher runner, Join in the Dance, made his first racing appearance at Churchill Downs on May 14 last year on a “sloppy” racing surface and finished second in a straight maiden race. He also ran on a “sloppy” track at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Sept. 27 in the NATC Futurity, showing early speed, but finishing fourth.

Advice will be ridden by Rene Douglas on Saturday and break from post four. Dunkirk was assigned post 15 and will be handled by Edgar Prado. And Join in the Dance will have Chris DeCarlo up as they leave from post nine.

ATOMIC RAIN / WEST SIDE BERNIE – Trainer Kelly Breen waited until daylight hit the Downs to get West Side Bernie and Atomic Rain out on the track Friday morning.

“The track was sloppy, and I wanted to wait until there was enough light to see well before I took them out,” Breen said.

West Side Bernie went out at 7 a.m., and Atomic Rain was on the track by 7:30. Both colts jogged one mile with Breen aboard. They were ponied to the track by George Hall, who owns the horses with his wife, Lori.

The 6-year-old pony Hall was aboard is a story of his own. He is a Thoroughbred named Fagan’s Legacy and won the Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont as a 3-year-old. He’s named in honor of Hall’s grandfather, Larry Fagan.

“My grandfather took my brother John and me to the track at Belmont and Aqueduct when we were kids,” Hall said. “He’s the one that got us interested in racing.”

Hall ponied one of his horses to the track for a race Thursday, but says he has no plans to repeat that in the Kentucky Derby.

“I thought about it,” he said, “but the Derby is too big a race. I might get too nervous. Plus, I’m looking forward to the walk over there with family and friends.

“It was fun and exciting yesterday, and I’m glad I did it,” Hall said. “The pony, being a racehorse, got excited about it, too. He got to the top of the stretch and I think he was expecting to go to the gate.”

Breen, who has been smiling most of the week as he approaches his first Kentucky Derby, was coming back to the barn aboard West Side Bernie when he saw Michael Matz on the path.

“Got any pointers for me?” Breen said to Matz.

Barbaro’s trainer just smiled and said, “You’ll be fine.”

CHOCOLATE CANDY – The bay son of Candy Ride was out for some 7 a.m. exercise Friday at Churchill Downs, moving over a racing strip called “sloppy” after some heavy overnight rains.

Exercise rider Lindsey Molina led Chocolate Candy through a drill similar to the one he’d gone through the day before – a short stand in the starting gate and a good gallop of about a mile and five-eighths.

“He’s never run on an ‘off’ track,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said back at Barn 42, “but he’s handled it well the couple of times he’s been on one here this week. This morning when he came around the second time on his gallop he was going even better than the first. Once he got a feel for the track he liked it even more. If it comes up ‘off’ tomorrow, I think we’re going to be OK.”

Mike Smith will handle Chocolate Candy for the first time Saturday and they’ll leave from post 11. This will be the colt’s fourth race of 2009 and his fourth Derby. He started the year back on Jan. 17 by winning the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area, then came back at that track on Feb. 14 to capture the El Camino Real Derby (Grade III). His most recent outing was a second-place finish (behind Pioneerof the Nile) in the Santa Anita Derby (Grade I) April 4.

DESERT PARTY / REGAL RANSOM – Trainer Saeed bin Suroor sent his Godolphin runners, Desert Party and Regal Ransom, out Friday morning to gallop a mile and three-eighths.

“They’re looking good,” bin Suroor said. “Happy. Fresh. Sound. Healthy. No problem at all. Now the job is done and we’re looking forward to tomorrow. We’re happy with them.”

Bin Suroor is optimistic his colts won’t be affected adversely by running over what is likely to be a wet track in the Derby.

“I think Desert Party will handle it. He’s won on it before,” bin Suroor said. “All week, Regal Ransom has handled the ground good, but in the race it could be different. It’s hard to say.”

Desert Party won the Sanford Stakes (Grade II) at Saratoga Race Course last summer over a track rated as “muddy.”

Bin Suroor said he thinks Godolphin has the right horses prepared properly, with three races in Dubai, for the Derby.

“There is no excuse for them,” he said. “If they are good enough, they are going to win.”

FLYING PRIVATE – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas sent Flying Private to the track for a routine gallop with Taylor Carty up Friday morning at Churchill Downs.

The Hall of Fame trainer, who has saddled four Kentucky Derby winners, has always had an astute eye for the competition during Derby Week.

“Desert Party appeals to me in this race. They have quality horses, and that horse looks excellent to me. I think he’s going to be a factor,” Lukas said. “I like (Bob) Baffert’s horse (Pioneerof the Nile). I think he’s adjusted (to the dirt surface). I wasn’t an I Want Revenge fan earlier in the week, but he’s starting to come around, too.”

Lukas views handicapping Derby 135 as a particularly tough endeavor.

“The only thing that’s confusing about it are those horses coming from different areas with synthetic surfaces,” he said. “It’s hard to evaluate how good they are. Some of them could adapt to this beautifully and others bomb, so it makes it a nightmare to handicap. There could be a 50 or 60 dollar payoff pretty easy.”

Robby Albarado will ride Flying Private, whom Lukas has compared favorably to two of his Derby winners: Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999).

FRIESAN FIRE – Louisiana Derby (Grade II) winner Friesan Fire visited the paddock and galloped five-eighths of a mile with trainer Larry Jones in the saddle.

“We just wanted to keep his legs fresh,” Jones said. “I let him go to the paddock and look around and he was much more relaxed in there than the other day when he went to the gate.”

Owned by Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farms, Friesan Fire enters Kentucky Derby 135 on a three-race win streak. Listed at 5-1 on the morning line, Friesan Fire will be ridden by Gabriel Saez and break from post position six.

Jones, who saddled Hard Spun and Eight Belles to runner-up finishes in the past two Derbys, was asked about his confidence level with Friesan Fire.

“There is no way you can get too confident, because it is a horse race,” Jones said.

“He is coming into the race as good, if not better, than the last two. We have had no issues with him at all. Some others were battling quarter cracks and some other things, but everything has fallen perfectly in place for him.”

Jones, who plans to retire from training after this year’s Breeders’ Cup, was asked if he could pen the perfect script for Derby 135, how it would read.

“That’s easy. We win,” Jones said with a laugh. “We win in Baltimore and then Belmont. What a way to go out!”

GENERAL QUARTERS – The eyes of Louisville will be on local owner/trainer Tom McCarthy as he saddles Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Grade I) winner General Quarters in Saturday’s Derby 135. But don’t look for McCarthy to be hobknobbing in the grandstand.

“I’ll be sitting right there in that tack room and be with my horse all day,” McCarthy said. “I don’t get into all that other stuff. We’re here to do a job, and he’s the only one I really need to be with on Derby Day. I’m letting my son handle all the tickets and people and such.”

General Quarters galloped 1 ½ miles Friday morning under exercise rider Julie Sheets, and McCarthy loved what he saw on the sloppy track.

“Oh, boy, I think I’m hoping for rain now to be honest,” he said. “He just skipped over the mud and loved it.”

HOLD ME BACK – WinStar Farm’s vice president and racing manager Elliott Walden checked on WinStar’s three Derby starters, Hold Me Back, Mr. Hot Stuff and Advice on Friday morning.

Hold Me Back, handled by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, galloped a mile and a half. The Lane’s End (Grade II) winner and Toyota Blue Grass (Grade I) runner-up will start from post five, while Lexington winner Advice is in post four and Mr. Hot Stuff, third in the Santa Anita Derby (Grade I), is in post three.

Walden acknowledged that is quite an accomplishment to get three horses into the Derby field.

“All three are coming off very good races, so you feel good about that,” Walden said. “Hold Me Back is a horse that has developed very quickly with the last two races and he seems to be doing very well.

“Mr. Hot Stuff is a horse that is a little further behind, as far as his development is concerned. He’s only won one race, but we feel that the X factor is that he’ll love the mile and a quarter. He’s galloped out his races extremely well and he is progressing physically and mentally. He’s a little bit slower to come to the party than his full brother Colonel John, who had more of a 2-year-old career. We’re excited about how he’s coming in and we hope we’re right, but we’re guessing a little bit on that. Advice ran a big race and he’s worked great over the dirt, so we felt like he deserved a chance, too.”

Since all three colts have an off-the-pace running style, Walden said that WinStar officials were happy to see the speedy Join in the Dance, trained by Todd Pletcher, get a spot in the field this week.

“We had Advice sitting on the fence to run and a lot of that was because of the fact that he came to it late by winning the Lexington, but we also wanted the speed in the race from Todd’s horse.

“When Todd’s horse got in by another defection, that’s when we decided to run Advice. We probably wouldn’t have run Advice if he was 20 (on the earnings list) and  Join in the Dance was 21. We would have let him run because of the speed. We do need speed for all three horses. So we would have probably held Advice back.”

I WANT REVENGE – The Wood Memorial (Grade I) winner galloped a mile and jogged a mile under excise rider Joe Deegan on Friday morning at Churchill Downs. Trainer Jeff Mullins expressed satisfaction with I Want Revenge’s preparation for his start in Kentucky Derby 135.

“The only thing I could ask for is better weather and a fast racetrack,” the Southern California-based trainer said.

I Want Revenge will enter the Derby coming off an impressive victory in the Wood Memorial, in which he overcame a very late start and severe traffic in the stretch under jockey Joe Talamo.

Although Talamo will be riding in his first Derby, Mullins said that the 19-year-old jockey will be on his own without any instructions on how to get to the finish line first.

“I haven’t given him any yet, so I don’t think I’m going to start now,” Mullins said. “I could have given him all the instructions in the world for the Wood and look what happened.”

MINE THAT BIRD – While Tom McCarthy might be the most hands-on owner in this year’s Kentucky Derby with General Quarters, Mine That Bird co-owner Mark Allen isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, either. The rancher and owner of Double Eagle Farm doubled as groom Friday morning, giving his pint-sized Kentucky Derby contender a sponge bath.

Allen and trainer Chip Woolley go back more than two decades and are making their first appearance on Thoroughbred racing’s biggest stage. Mine That Bird galloped 1 ½ miles Friday morning and impressed Allen with how he responded to the conditions.

“He handled the track really, really well,” Allen said. “Chip could not have this horse doing any better.”

Both Allen and Woolley have worked extensively with Quarter Horses over the years in New Mexico, and Allen said he has big dreams in 2009 for both breeds.

“How amazing would it be to have a horse in the Kentucky Derby and the All American Futurity in the same year?” he asked. “I’d call that a perfect year. That’s what we’re hoping for. We have four or five really quality 2-year-old Quarter Horses that we’re aiming for at Ruidoso.”

MR. HOT STUFF – WinStar Farm’s Mr. Hot Stuff went trackside at 6:45 Friday morning and galloped a mile over a “sloppy” racetrack.

“A mile was enough,” trainer Eoin Harty said. “I didn’t want to chance any more.”

The transplanted Irishman was asked how he thought his Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow might handle a possible “wet” surface in Kentucky Derby 135 on Saturday.

“Haven’t a clue,” the conditioner said. “He’s never been on one, but I guess there’s a fair chance we might find out.”

Harty was asked if Mr. Hot Stuff’s full brother – Colonel John, whom he trained and saddled to run sixth in last year’s Derby – had any history of “off” track performance.

“No help there,” he said. “Don’t believe he was ever on a wet track.”

Wet or fast, Mr. Hot Stuff will break from post three Saturday at 6:24 p.m. with John Velazquez doing the steering.

“We’re ready for it now,” Harty said. “We’re as ready as we can be.”

MUSKET MAN – Trainer Derek Ryan had Musket Man out early Friday morning for a one-mile gallop around the sloppy Churchill Downs oval.

After that, the colt by Yonaguska calmly munched grass behind Barn 41, looking the picture of a happy, healthy horse.

“He’s doing great,” Ryan said as he prepares for his first Kentucky Derby. “I’m doing OK, too. It’s like all the other races – if you win, you celebrate; if you lose, you go home. Except this is the big one, so that makes it different.”

Ryan has been able to celebrate five times in Musket Man’s six-race career. The colt has lost only once, and comes into the Derby off consecutive victories in the Tampa Bay Derby (Grade III) and Illinois Derby (Grade II). Eric Fein and Vic Carlson own Musket Man, a $15,000 yearling purchase who already has earned $572,600.

NOWHERE TO HIDE – My Meadowview Farm’s Illinois Derby (Grade II) fourth-place finisher walked the shedrow under tack Friday morning, one day after blowing out a quarter-mile in :25.20 for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.

“Everything’s good and he’s ready,” Zito said.

The two-time Derby-winning trainer is among a trio of multiple Derby winners in this year’s cast, joining four-time winner D. Wayne Lukas and three-time winner Bob Baffert. But recent history indicates those three may not have an edge as six of the past seven Derby winners have been trained by conditioners making their debut in the Run for the Roses.

What does Zito make of the recent trend?

“It’s terrific and great for the game, are you kidding me?” he responded. “It shows you how great this race is, and how hard it is to win and also how many people are trying to come here and win it.

“Everybody wants to win this race from the moment they look at a horse in a yearling sale. That wasn’t always the case. When I bought Go for Gin for $150,000 in 1992, it wasn’t with one race in mind like buyers are aiming for today. Things have changed. Almost everyone today is looking for a Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup winner, and that’s about it. As a trainer, you know what they want and that’s what you aim for.”

PAPA CLEM – With his pre-Derby work completed Thursday after a three-furlong blowout in :34 flat, the Arkansas Derby (Grade II) winner walked the shedrow Friday morning and was feisty as trainer Gary Stute met him afterward in his stall. Papa Clem took a nip at his trainer, eliciting some laughter and the declaration, “I think that means he’s ready.”

Stute will stick to his plan and walk Papa Clem on Derby morning as well. The trainer reported that Papa Clem’s legs were “ice cold” after the final breeze and that “he has not missed an oat this week, according to my barn foreman.”

Saturday’s famed Kentucky Derby walkover will be an exciting time, Stute said, as he makes the long journey from the stable area to the paddock with Papa Clem. He joked Friday morning that he hopes it goes better than the first time he made the trek in 1980 with his father, Mel.

“When my dad ran Bold n’ Rulling, I wanted to walk over with the horse,” he recalled. “But as I leaned to duck under the rail to go on the track, my pants split right down the seam! I had to run back to the barn and duct-tape them together. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen Saturday on national TV.”

PIONEEROF THE NILE – Trainer Bob Baffert said Friday morning he has tried to prepare Pioneerof the Nile mentally and physically for the grind of running three times in five weeks in the Triple Crown series of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

“He’s filled out. He’s carrying a lot of flesh,” Baffert said. “I’ve worked on his mind pretty well. He’s the kind of horse that is going to be able to handle the three races. I sort of brought him in here good enough to do this one but still have him for the next one. I didn’t want to do too much here. I wanted to do enough to get him to win this one so he can go to the next one. I’m still trying to win that damn Triple Crown.”

Pioneerof the  Nile has won all four of his starts since being moved to Baffert’s care late last year. The Empire Maker colt, to be ridden by Garrett Gomez, galloped a mile and a half Friday morning.

“He looks good. He had a good day,” Baffert said. “Everyday has been a good day for him. You need that.”

Pioneerof the Nile pulled Gomez to the lead early in what turned into a victory in the Santa Anita Derby (Grade I). The colt will be making his first start on dirt and Baffert chose post 16 in the starting gate in hopes that it will reduce the amount of dirt Pioneerof the Nile has kicked in his face. The key, he said, is for Gomez to get the colt to relax early.

“He didn’t want to settle the last time,” Baffert said. “That’s why I didn’t take a chance of putting him on the inside, especially with the wet. If it’s wet and he’s down on the inside and that mud starts hitting him, sometimes it can get to them.”

SUMMER BIRD – Trainer Tim Ice had Summer Bird out very early Friday morning, and the Birdstone colt jogged two miles over the sloppy track with jockey Chris Rosier aboard.

“It was dark, I didn’t even see him out there,” Ice said. “But I wanted to get out early and get him back to his stall today. Chris told me he went good out there, which is what I wanted to hear.”

Ice, who went out on his own as a trainer less than a year ago, has been the picture of placidity this week as he saddles his first Kentucky Derby starter.

“I’m trying to do everything like I normally do,” Ice said. “I’m not approaching this like it’s the world’s greatest race – which it is, of course – but I’m trying to stay calm and just go through my routine. It’ll probably all hit me Saturday.

“Chris and I were talking about that the other day,” Ice said. “Chris said that he’s ridden with all those jocks, so he has that experience to go with. Of course, when they play ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ that’s when the butterflies will really start. If you don’t get butterflies in your stomach at that point, you probably shouldn’t be here.”