Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Preakness Stakes (GI) winner American Pharoah continued preparation for Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (GI) by galloping 1 1/2 miles over the Churchill Downs main track Sunday morning with exercise rider Jorge Alvarez in the irons. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert flew into Louisville Saturday night from his Southern California base to oversee the homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile’s training. With six days out, Baffert and his team are still maintaining a positive and relaxed attitude.
"He looks very healthy and he’s happy; he looks like he’s getting ready to work,” Baffert said. “He knows that he’s getting close to a work so it’s getting pretty tough on him. When he hit the quarter pole, he [Jorge Alvarez] said he wanted to take off so he’ll breeze (Monday) at 8:30 during the break. We’ll probably leave at the half-mile pole sort of like we did last week, and that should be it for him.”
With American Pharoah breezing on Monday morning, this will be his second work since his triumph in the May 16 Preakness. His most recent breeze was a half-mile in :48 on Tuesday.
“I didn’t want to wait two weeks to work him [after the Preakness] because after the Arkansas Derby when I worked him, he was a little too fresh,” Baffert said. “He was going faster than we wanted him to. This last week, he was more controllable, which is where we want him a little bit. We don’t want him to go too fast early; we want him to get into that nice, fast cruising stride that he has. When he gets his ears forward and he’s enjoying it and springing around there like a big kangaroo – we want to see that.”
While Baffert is happy with the way American Pharoah is training and confident that his horse will run big on Saturday, he admitted to feeling a mix of emotions going into Monday’s workout.
“I don’t sleep well the night before a work,” he said. “Tomorrow morning I’ll be a little nervous for the work, hoping that it’s going to go as planned. The horse is showing me that he wants to do something and that he’s happy. As long as he’s enjoying what he’s doing, that’s what you want to see. I’m looking forward to it and hope that it goes like it did last week; it went really smooth and you can tell he’s really enjoying it. Martin [Garcia] is here to work him and he knows what we’re doing.”
Baffert acknowledged how important a good break is for American Pharoah to perform well in the Belmont.
“Right now I feel pretty good about him that he’s doing this well, but he has to break clean,” Baffert said. “My son Bode and I were talking about Larry Collmus and how he’s going to call the race and Bode was in the backseat and he goes ‘All I know is I hope he says, ‘And they’re off in the Belmont, and American Pharoah breaks beautifully.’ That’s good, we want to hear that.
“I’m more relaxed and I’ve gotten older so I’ve mellowed out a lot. I feel pretty confident the way this horse is coming into it, how he needs to train, getting ready for it. Once I hear the song ‘New York, New York,’ that’s like our two minute warning; that means its close. Once I hear that song I start feeling excited, it kind of livens it up a bit, just like when they play ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ … you know it’s coming.”
In other Belmont Stakes news, Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice jogged two miles Sunday with exercise rider Faustino Aguilar in the irons for trainer Dale Romans. The son of Curlin is scheduled to breeze Tuesday morning and will leave at 10 a.m. for an 11:30 flight to New York. American Pharoah will be aboard this same flight.
BELMONT STAKES POSSIBLE FIELD – The possible 10-horse Belmont Stakes lineup (with jockey and trainer): Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner American Pharoah (Victor Espinoza, Bob Baffert); Blue Grass champ and Kentucky Derby 10thCarpe Diem (undecided, Todd Pletcher); Blue Grass fourth and Kentucky Derby 11thFrammento (Mike Smith, Nick Zito); Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby 4thFrosted (Joel Rosario, Kiaran McLaughlin); Louisiana Derby 4th and Kentucky Derby 7thKeen Ice (Kent Desormeaux, Dale Romans); Peter Pan winner Madefromlucky (undecided, Todd Pletcher); Florida Derby champ and Kentucky Derby 6thMateriality (undecided, Todd Pletcher); UAE Derby winner and Kentucky Derby 8thMubtaahij-IRE (Irad Ortiz Jr., Mike de Kock); Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve (Gary Stevens, Dallas Stewart); and recent Belmont Park first-level allowance winner The Truth Or Else (Edgar Prado, Kenny McPeek).
FANS INVITED TO WATCH SPECIAL 8:30-8:45 A.M. TRAINING FOR BELMONT CONTENDERS – With Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah and three other Belmont Stakes contenders stabled on the grounds, Churchill Downs Racetrack is offering a special 8:30-8:45 a.m. training period for those horses through Tuesday. Additionally, area horse racing fans are invited to watch those colts train from the first floor of the facility, including the new Courtyard area, free of charge.
Churchill Downs Racetrack will open its Gate 17 entrance between 8-9 a.m. each morning through Tuesday so the public can watch Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner American Pharoah and rival Keen Ice prepare for the 1 ½-mile third jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown – the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (GI) on Saturday, June 6.
Churchill Downs’ concessionaire Levy Restaurants will have coffee, juice, soda, water and doughnuts available for purchase near the Aristides Garden. Also, video of the exercises will be shown on the Big Board and infield video screens.
Those unable to attend can watch an online live stream of the daily exercises at http://www.kentuckyderby.com/workouts/live from 8:30-8:45 a.m. through Tuesday. Also, clips of the activity will be uploaded on the Kentucky Derby YouTube channel. A graphic with each horse’s name will appear on the screen with the corresponding horse, although a majority of the focus will be on American Pharaoh.
SPECIAL BELMONT STAKES DAY BOX SEAT PACKAGE – Churchill Downs has a special box seat package for the June 6 Belmont Stakes simulcast. For $24, fans can get an undercover box seat, official program, a domestic beer or souvenir soda and a custom, limited-edition Kentucky Derby 141 T-Shirt that features a victorious American Pharaoh. Fans can purchase the package by visiting the online box office at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets.
UPDATE ON SATURDAY STAKES STARS – After scoring his first grades stakes win at Churchill Downs in Saturday’s Aristides (GIII) with Alsvid, trainer Chris Hartman says that it’s still sinking in quite a bit.
"It was a lot of fun,” Hartman said. “It was my first attempt at a graded stakes at Churchill Downs as well, so it was great to win it. He came out of the race great. I haven’t really thought past this race.”
Hartman went on to say that Alsvid will get a brief resting period before returning to the work tab in the next couple of weeks. The Aristides was his third straight victory, which pushed his earnings to $994,225.
Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Frac Daddy came out of his runner-up effort in Saturday’s Opening Verse overnight stakes in good order, according to trainer Kenny McPeek.
“He had been working extremely well going in so we were expecting a good race out of him,” McPeek said via telephone from New York. “He’s a free-running horse with natural speed so we didn’t want to take that away from him. I didn’t really give Corey [Lanerie] any specific instructions. I’m not sure where we’ll go next. We’re going to let the dust settle a little bit.”
Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Departing also came out of the Opening Verse well according to trainer Al Stall Jr., who was pleased with the son of War Front’s debut on the turf.
“He ran very well for this being his first time on turf and the first time running since November against these types of horses,” Stall said.
Prior to the Opening Verse, the 5-year-old gelding was a well-beaten seventh in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI). Stall later said that he does not yet know where the horse will run next.
COMMANDING CURVE WINS COMEBACK – West Point Thoroughbreds’ Commanding Curve, second in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), made his return to the racetrack a winning one with a victory in Saturday’s second race holding off a late charge from Raagheb. The homebred son of Master Command’s three-quarter-length victory was his first start since he was a well-beaten ninth in the Travers (GI) at Saratoga last August.
Trainer Dallas Stewart was pleased with the horse’s performance. “Everything is fine, he ran a good race,” Stewart said via telephone from New York. “We’re just going to take our time with him. I’m happy with how he ran. We’ll just take it easy and pick our spots wisely.”
BOREL OFF ALL MOUNTS DUE TO ANKLE INJURY – Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel was off mounts Saturday and Sunday after sustained a sprained right ankle when he was unseated while breezing a horse for William “Buff” Bradley on Saturday morning. He is day-to-day.
EARLY LOOK AT OLD FORESTER MINT JULEP HANDICAP POSSIBLE STARTERS – Next Saturday’s featured event is the 39th running of the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (GIII) and Hit the Board Stables’ I’m Already Sexy and G. Watts Humphrey and St. George Farm Racing’s Personal Diary are the likely co-starting high weights at 118 pounds. Other known possible starters for the 1 1/16-mile event on the Matt Winn Turf Course for fillies and mares are Frivolous (116 pounds), Kiss Moon (115), Kitty Wine (115), Canny Nanny (114), and Keening (114). Entries will be taken Wednesday.
WORK TAB – Kaleem Shah’s Luminance worked a bullet on Sunday breezing five furlongs in :59 for trainer Bob Baffert. Also on the work tab for Baffert was Karl Watson, Paul Weitman and Mike Pegram’s Hoppertunity, who worked five furlongs in :59.20. … Harry T. Rosenblum and Robert V. LaPenta’s Far Right worked a half-mile in :48.80 in preparation for the $500,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 20, where he will likely face Christopher T. Dunn, Glenn K. Ellis and Ron Paolucci’s War Story and possibly Calumet Farm’s Mr. Z.