That was trainer Todd Pletcher’s take on things surrounding his five Kentucky Derby (GI) entrants as they filed off the Churchill Downs racetrack Friday morning after turning in their final gallops prior to their Saturday date in America’s classic.
The Pletcher quintet had taken advantage of the special Derby/Oaks training period that had been moved up to between 5:45 and 6 a.m. because of the early end of training on Oaks Day. In fact, they were among the first ones on the track and soon went about their business with a practiced precision.
Coming out of the six-furlong gap on the Churchill backside, each backtracked left to the frontside under the iconic Twin Spires, then turned and broke off at the seven-furlong pole for a full tour of the strip supplemented by two more furlongs for 10-furlong gallops that they handled nicely.
The quintet of bay colts consisted of Overanalyze, with exercise rider Obed Perez in the saddle; Palace Malice handled by Jake Nelson; Verrazano under Humberto Zamora; Revolutionary partnered by Nick Bush, and Charming Kitten steered by Patti Krotenko.
Pletcher stationed himself just inside the gap on the racetrack and used his binoculars to take in the proceedings.
Among the interested observers for the exercises was a 75-year-old gentleman wearing a bright red University of Arizona ball cap. It was J.J. Pletcher, the longtime trainer and father of Todd.
Asked about his choice of headgear, the senior Pletcher noted his connection.
“Didn’t go to the university,” he said. “But I paid tuition there for four years. (His son is a graduate of the school and its Racetrack Industry Program.) Liked to go visit him there; could get in some good golf. And they’ve got lots of fine golf courses in Tucson.”
Todd Pletcher, who continues to be a big fan of the U of A sports programs, especially their high-flying basketball teams, has credited his father for many of the things he’s learned about training horses, lesson that he obviously learned quite well. It isn’t hard to argue that he is currently the most successful trainer in the country.
Does Todd still lean on his father for training advice?
“Oh, sure,” he said. “He and I bounce ideas off each other all the time.”
With all the Derby heavy lifting accomplished, the trainer was asked if he had a chance to go back, would he liked to have done anything differently with any of his colts.
“No, not really,” he said. “We laid out a plan to get here with them and it’s all come down pretty much like we hoped.”
FALLING SKY– Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger’s Falling Sky jogged once around the Churchill Downs track under exercise rider Cassie Garcea Friday morning.
The prospect of rain Saturday doesn’t concern the son of Lion Heart’s connections.
“He ran on an off track as a 2-year-old, and he skips over this track,” said Reynaldo Abreu, assistant to trainer John Terranova. “He never galloped like this at Palm Meadows.”
By Lion Heart, who finished second behind Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby over a sloppy track, and out of a mare by Sea Hero, the 1993 Run for the Roses winner on a wet fast surface, Falling Sky is bred to handle mud.
Falling Sky won an allowance race over a good track at Gulfstream on Dec. 15. Luis Saez, who was aboard for that victory, will ride the winner of the Sam F. Davis (GIII) in the Derby.
FRAC DADDY/JAVA’S WAR – Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Frac Daddy and Charles Fipke’s Java’s War both jogged two miles the “wrong” way Friday morning with their regular exercise riders – Hugo Garcia and Marvin Abrego, respectively.
“Nothing complicated,” trainer Ken McPeek said of the exercise. “We wanted to save a little energy for tomorrow. They both had strong gallops earlier in the week and didn’t need to do much.”
The past performances of McPeek’s Derby starters don’t reveal much in the way of wet-track ability. Frac Daddy ran a solid second in his debut over a muddy Belmont Park surface, but that’s the only real experience either has had with off going. McPeek, for one, isn’t concerned about the rain being forecast.
“It’ll make the Derby that much more wide-open,” he said. “Both horses are doing well but how they handle it and what kinds of trips they get are completely out of control. They’re doing good and we’re pleased.”
GIANT FINISH – Sunrise Stable and Partners’ New York-bred colt Giant Finish went out to the track for the first time Friday at 5:45 a.m. Ray Handal, assistant to trainer Tony Dutrow, was aboard for the morning exercise.
The son of Frost Giant was the last horse added to the Derby when defections opened a spot in the starting gate. He shipped from Elkton, Md., Wednesday night and arrived at Churchill Downs Thursday.
Handal took the colt to the track when it opened for training and let him stand and look around for 10 minutes before making a couple of laps of the oval.
“He was a pro like we thought he would be,” Handal said. “We jogged him a mile and galloped him a mile and a quarter, just nice and easy and let him take everything in. He was good about it. No complaints.”
Giant Finish’s lone race on a wet track produced his only off-the board finish, a fifth in the Damon Runyon for New York-breds on Dec. 9 at Aqueduct.
“Actually, it was his poorest performance,” Handal said, “but there might have been other contributing factors: It was his first time against winners, stretching out, first time in stakes company. There were a lot of things going on there, and it was an off track. I don’t know if I could base him liking or not liking a sloppy surface off the one poor performance because there were so many other factors.”
GOLDENCENTS – Led to the track from his Barn 45 headquarters by assistant trainer Leandro Mora, the Santa Anita Derby (GI) hero Goldencents was among the Kentucky Derby (GI) runners who took advantage of the early (5:45-6 a.m.) Friday training period for Derby or Oaks entrants.
The bay son of Into Mischief jogged a half-mile under exercise rider Jonny Garcia, then went through a nice-and-easy gallop of a mile and a quarter, putting the final touches on his preparations for Derby 139 Saturday afternoon.
“No, we won’t put him on the racetrack tomorrow morning,” said trainer Doug O’Neill, who was, of course, on hand to take in the proceedings. “We didn’t put I’ll Have Another out there race day last year and that worked fine.”
I’ll Have Another captured Kentucky Derby 138 for the O’Neill barn, then went on to win the Preakness, too. His career was ended, however, prior to the Belmont Stakes when he sustained a leg injury and he subsequently was sold as a stallion.
Goldencents, a winner of four of six starts, comes into the Derby off a 2013 California campaign in which he won two stakes – the Sham (GIII) and the Santa Anita Derby – and finish fourth in another – the San Felipe (GII).
O’Neill was asked -- if he could -- would he liked to have gone back and done something differently with his colt.
“You know, I think it has all worked out for the best,” he said. “Even the debacle in the San Felipe, I think that may prove to be a godsend. If he’d have won that race handily, I think we probably wouldn’t have run him again; we probably would have just trained him up to this race. Then maybe he’s going to be too fresh and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“But when he ran like he did that day (backing up in the stretch), we made some adjustments. We trained him differently and he responded. He’s really doing well and we’re feeling good about his chances. We think it is our time. We think it is us.”
Goldencents will break from post eight in the 20-horse Derby field and be ridden by his regular jockey, Kevin Krigger.
GOLDEN SOUL – After Charles Fipke’s Golden Soul capped his training for the Derby with a jog Friday morning under exercise rider Emerson Chavez, trainer Dallas Stewart expressed satisfaction with how the colt is going into the race.
“His energy has been good,” Stewart said. “He had some really strong gallops two or three days in a row. Now I feel like he’s doing well. His energy is good. He’s very sound.’’
Stewart didn’t speculate on how the race might unfold.
“I don’t know,’’ he said. “It’s probably going to be muddy, I guess. They’ll be enough speed. There always is. My horse is out of a Mr. Prospector mare, and they love the mud, so we’ll just have to see if it plays out like that. That’ll be the strength.
“We prepared well. We got lucky we got in the race, and that’s where it’s at. Let’s go get ’em, baby.’’
ITSMYLUCKYDAY – Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday galloped 1 ½ miles under Peter Shelton Friday morning at Churchill Downs.
“Pete gave him a 12 on a scale from 1-10. He’s been doing that all along,” trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said.
The veteran trainer was amused while watching an animated video posted on the Wall Street Journal mobile phone website. The video featured a preview of Saturday’s running of the Kentucky Derby. Itsmyluckyday won the race.
“I loved the ending,” Plesa said.
The track wasn’t wet in the video, but forecast showers for Saturday may mean an off track for the Derby a possibility.
“From my thoughts, I think Lawyer Ron handled it well. You’d hope he’d pass it along if that were the case,” Plesa said. (Lawyer Ron broke his maiden on a sloppy track and won a stakes on a good track). “I’ve been saying this all along: I just want everybody to have a fair chance to win.”
LINES OF BATTLE – The War Front colt Lines of Battle, owned by Joseph Allen, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, completed his quarantine period and went to the track for the first time Friday morning.
The UAE Derby (GII) winner shipped from Ireland and arrived in Louisville early Wednesday morning. He was confined to Barn 48 until he cleared quarantine.
T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O’Brien said the colt did his exercise under Laura McInerney at about 6 a.m.
“He walked, trotted for a mile and cantered for a mile,” Comerford said. “We did what we normally do at home and let him see what’s happening. It was grand. No problems.”
Lines of Battle has no experience training or competing on a wet dirt track.
Comerford said the Kentucky-bred has adapted well after his trip from Europe.
“We’re in the same position we’ve been with him,” Comerford said. “He’s good. We’re happy and we can’t have him any better. We just have to hope and see what happens tomorrow.”
MYLUTE – GoldMark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm’s Mylute “had his regular day” with a jog and a gallop at 5:45 a.m. under regular exercise rider Maurice Sanchez, according to assistant trainer (and the exercise rider’s wife), Kathy Sanchez.
Mylute hasn’t raced on an off track but his pedigree suggests he could be one that wouldn’t be bothered by it. His sire, Midnight Lute, dominated the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) over a sloppy track at Monmouth Park, winning by 4 ¾ lengths.
Mylute has two starts in 2013 and has been trained to peak in his third start off the layoff.
“Skipping the Lecomte and waiting for the Risen Star, having that break, that was all to set us up for his best effort here on the first Saturday in May,” said Todd Quast, general manager of co-owner GoldMark Farm.
The past six Kentucky Derby winners all came into the race with two starts in that calendar year.
NORMANDY INVASION – Fox Hill Farms’ Normandy Invasion had an easy and uneventful visit to the track Friday, the morning after speeding up and running about three furlongs faster than the normal gallop.
Trainer Chad Brown said his horse is fine and ready for the Derby.
“He’s a sharp horse and he’s feeling good,” Brown said. “He’s sound and strong. Sometimes these horses do a little more in their training than you had planned on doing. That’s definitely the lesser of two evils than having a horse that is sore, doesn’t want to train and is hobbling around the track.
“My horse is doing good. He trained a little more than I wanted yesterday; I compensated today and I just jogged him. He looks great. He’s going to run good.”
Normandy Invasion doesn’t have any experience on muddy or sloppy tracks.
“There’s not much you can do,” he said. “I generally don’t train on wet tracks. I’m of the opinion that I don’t want to hurt my horses in the morning training. On behalf of my clients, I’m safe in training and just don’t train on wet tracks. I’m also of the opinion that they are either going to like the wet track or they’re not. I don’t know if you can teach them to like it. We’re going to find out with him.”
Brown said he doesn’t have a feel for how Normandy Invasion will handle the expected wet track for the Derby.
“He doesn’t give me a feel, one way or the other,” Brown said. “There are horses occasionally that will give me the feel if they would handle a wet track of not and I would have an opinion. This horse gives me no opinion. People tell me that his breeding for the mud is one of the highest in the race. Great. I love hearing that, but I don’t know how much I put into that all the time as a trainer. We have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for good weather, and if it’s not good weather hope he likes the mud.”
ORB – Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable’s Orb galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Jennifer Patterson Friday morning at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Shug McGaughey had high praise for Patterson’s dedication while closely working with Orb all winter and spring and her contribution to the Florida Derby winner’s rapid development.
“When this whole thing started I wanted it to be all about her. She’s an excellent rider; she’s an excellent horsewoman; and she’s an excellent person,” McGaughey said. “I’m a privileged guy to have her.”
McGaughey expressed a level of uncertainty how his 7-2 morning-line favorite winner would handle a wet track should forecast showers materialize Saturday.
“Well, he’s never run on one. He trained on one here on morning and trained excellent. I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” McGaughey said. “But you never know in the afternoon what you’re going to get. Mud in his face isn’t going to bother him, because he’s gotten plenty of dirt.
“Like everybody else, I hope the track is fast and safe for everybody and nobody has any excuses and let the best horse win. We can’t control the weather. They say it might rain, so if it does, it does.”
OXBOW/WILL TAKE CHARGE – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas had his Derby duo -- Calumet Farm’s Oxbow and Willis Horton’s Will Take Charge – exercising comfortably early Friday morning
“The thing I was looking for this morning was the energy level, and I think I’ve got them peaking up pretty good,” Lukas said. “They were sharp out there this morning. I’d like to run it today instead of tomorrow, but they’re doing well.”
Under exercise rider Rudy Quevedo, Oxbow jogged a mile before completing his final prerace tune-up with exercise in the mile chute.
“I didn’t want him to get the full mile-and-a-half gallop, because he gets so aggressive in the last half-mile, so I did the mile, then I backed him up and took him in the chute and let him stretch his legs a little bit more there,’’ Lukas said.
Will Take Charge, exercise rider Taylor Carty aboard, jogged a mile and galloped a mile.
“I just didn’t want to do quite as much today. I want to get the energy level up,’’ Lukas said.
Lukas, participating in his 27th Derby, said he’ll be sleeping well the night before the race.
“I don’t get up tight, don’t get excited, don’t even get excited when they go in the gate,’’ Lukas said. “ In fact, when we had that run of six in a row (victories in Triple Crown races), ABC came to me or NBA and they said, just be a little animated. You know, hug somebody or throw your hand in the air. They actually said this: ‘You’re bad TV on these races.’ ’’
Tabasco Cat’s victory in the Preakness in 1994 started a run of six consecutive victories by Lukas-trained horses in Triple Crown races.
VYJACK – Pick Six Racing’s Gotham (GIII) winner Vyjack walked the shedrow Friday morning, the day after he had a three-furlong blowout breeze under trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
“It looks like he came out of the work good. He looks sharp,” Rodriguez said “That’s what I was looking for and so far this morning he looks very good.”
Vyjack won his first four career starts then finished third, beaten a length by Verrrazano, in the Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct. After the race, the gelding was found to have a lung infection. He spent a couple of weeks at Bruce Jackson’s Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center in Elkton, Md., where he spent time in the hyperbaric chamber.
Rodriguez said Vyjack appears to be fully recovered from the issue.
“We’re looking forward to seeing him run again and hopefully everything is 100 percent,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t try to look for excuses, but that was an excuse.
“He was in the chamber in Far Hill and we’ve scoped him a couple of times here and, thank God, everything is very, very good.”
In his one start on a wet track track, Vyjack won an overnight stake at Aqueduct on Dec. 9 by 5 3/4 lengths.
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