The current stars of the 3-year-old crop – headed by Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner Mine That Bird, Kentucky Oaks (GI) filly Rachel Alexandra and Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile – are among 13 three-year-olds doing battle in the 134th running of the Preakness (GI) at Pimlico.
While several of those horses figure to be major players in the crop of Kentucky Derby-aged horses through the rest of the year, others that could be significant factors in the division are in the wings at Churchill Downs and awaiting their chance.
One is A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Warrior’s Reward, an impressive winner over a strong allowance field on Kentucky Oaks Day. Another is James C. Spence’s homebred Flying Pegasus, a strong runner-up to beaten Kentucky Derby favorite Friesan Fire in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds but idle since a poor effort behind that same rival in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (GII) on March 14.
The Ian Wilkes-trained Warrior’s Reward breezed four furlongs in :49.40 over a
“sloppy” track on Saturday at Churchill Downs. The son of Medaglia d’Oro is being pointed toward a run in the $100,000-added Northern Dancer (GIII) for 3-year-olds on the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) undercard on June 13.
Flying Pegasus, a son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus trained by Ralph Nicks, is finally ready to return to serious training after falling ill just after a disappointing eighth-place run in the slop in the Louisiana Derby.
Warrior’s Reward has been just below the radar of the 3-year-old picture after he
scored a 30-1 upset in his career debut on Jan. 31 at Gulfstream Park over a race that marked the racing debut of Nicanor, the full-brother to ill-fated 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. He followed that with a runner-up finish to Dunkirk, the eventual runner-up in the Florida Derby (GI) who finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby.
Wilkes gave Warrior’s Reward a chance to place himself on the Kentucky Derby trail with a run in the Tampa Bay Derby, but he finished eighth that day behind the victorious Musket Man, who would finish third in the Kentucky Derby; runner-up Join in the Dance, seventh in the Derby; and General Quarters, who would win the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) before running 10th in the “Run for the Roses.”
Warrior’s Reward had a round of throat surgery to correct a breathing problem after the race at Tampa Bay, and then returned with his sparkling 2 ½-length allowance win over the well-regarded Munnings and Reynaldothewizard on Oaks Day.
“To win the Derby you’ve got to be right on the first Saturday in May, and I wasn’t quite there,” Wilkes said. “My horse didn’t get a race last year and that really hurt. But things happen for a reason, and maybe that race at Tampa happened for a reason.”
Warrior’s Reward has earned $58,980 while compiling his 2-1-0 record in those four races. If all goes well, the 1 1/16-mile Northern Dancer will serve as a springboard to bigger races in the second half of the year.
“There are plenty of races,” said Wilkes. “I know there’s only one Derby, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. I gave him a little break, we did a little throat surgery on him and he’s a better horse now.”
Meanwhile, Flying Pegasus is scheduled to return to serious training with a light breeze on Sunday that will be his first work since the Louisiana Derby. Nicks said his colt fell ill after the Louisiana Derby and it took a while for Flying Pegasus to get back to the track.
Nicks can’t be sure, but Flying Pegasus is doing so well now he believes the infection that hit him a couple of days after the Louisiana Derby could have affected him in the race.
“The last few days going into the Louisiana Derby, he got a little quiet,” said Nicks. “It wasn’t enough to make you think anything was wrong, and we thought he might have just been settling. But it’s obvious now that whatever hit him was coming. He never had a fever or nothing until two days later.”
Nicks said the infection proved to be stubborn, which extended his colt’s stay on the sidelines.
“It took him forever,” he said. “It just kept coming back.”
Nicks had high hopes for Flying Pegasus from the moment the bay colt entered his barn and he won at first asking in a Churchill Downs maiden race on July 2. He followed that with an allowance win at Delaware and then a second to recent Peter Pan (GII) winner Charitable Man in the Belmont Futurity (GII). Friesan Fire finished third in that race.
It would prove to be the last start of the year for Flying Pegasus, who fractured a hind cannon bone in training after that race and underwent surgery to place a screw in the injured bone.
He returned from a five-month break with a strong runner-up effort behind Friesan Fire in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star (GIII) at Fair Grounds that fueled hopes in his camp that the colt would make the Kentucky Derby, but those hopes were dashed by the Louisiana Derby run and the illness that followed.
“We were scrambling the whole time trying to get to where we were,” Nicks said. “I’m not too sure the Risen Star didn’t knock him out a little bit and lead to everything that happened. But you’ve got the 3-year-old hype and do what you’ve got to do to get to the ‘big dance’. Fortunately he got through it, but we’re dealing with some repercussions from it.”
Although Nicks has had to be patient with Flying Pegasus, he is ready to get his colt back in competition and Sunday’s breeze will be the first step.
“He’ll have that little light breeze tomorrow and we’ll see where we go from there,” he said. “He’s been galloping, so it won’t take him a long time to get ready.”
VETERAN BRASS HAT SHARP IN FINAL DRILL FOR LOUISVILLE – Fred Bradley’s homebred Brass Hat has never been known for dazzling speed in his morning workouts, but a sharp work on Saturday by the 8-year-old veteran could indicate the old boy is sitting on a big effort in next week’s $100,000-added Louisville Handicap (GIII).
Brass Hat tuned up for that 1 ½-mile turf test with a five-furlong breeze over a sloppy t rack in 1:01. The work was a ‘bullet’ move under jockey Charles Woods Jr. as it ended up as the fastest of 20 at the distance.
“He worked really well,” trainer William “Buff” Bradley said. “Charlie said he worked ‘awesome,’ and then said, ‘How’d he get beat?’ But that’s just Charlie. He said he just sat on him the whole way, and that he just picked it up, put his head down and then galloped out good.”
Brass Hat won the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in 2006 and finished second in the $5 million Dubai World Cup (GI) on dirt before being disqualified for a medication infraction. Despite the loss of that $1 million runner-up purse in Dubai, Brass Hat has won eight of 29 races and earned $1,825,814.
He has yet to win in seven tries on the turf, but is coming off a good third-place finish to Spice Route in the Elkhorn (GIII) at Keeneland. And he had very little luck in last year’s running of the Louisville in which he dropped far off a slow pace under jockey Calvin Borel, but rallied wide to finish fifth and was beaten only 2 ½ lengths by the victorious Lattice. Borel will return to the saddle aboard Brass Hat next week.
“Calvin took the blame last year – he had him too far back off that slow pace,” Bradley said. “I’ve got to tell Calvin not to ride him like Mine That Bird – ride him like Rachel.”
Brass Hat will bid to snap a 10-race losing streak in the Louisville. He last visited the winner’s circle in the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs in September 2007.
PREAKNESS HORSES DUE BACK ON SUNDAY – A plane carrying Preakness (GI) contenders Rachel Alexandra, Pioneerof the Nile and Terrain is due to land at Louisville International Airport on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. (EDT).
Scheduled to make the trip from Baltimore-to-Churchill Downs by van are Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, General Quarters and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained duo of Flying Private and Luv Guv.
BARN TALK – Domino Stud’s Miss Isella, upset winner over previously unbeaten One Caroline in the Louisville Distaff (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day, breezed four furlongs on Saturday in :50.20 over a “sloppy” track. The Ian Wilkes-trained daughter of 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm is scheduled to run next in the $200,000-added Fleur De Lis (GII) on the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap undercard. One Caroline, who is in training at Keeneland for trainer Rusty Arnold, is being pointed toward a rematch with Miss Isella in the 1 1/8-mile race. … Gold Square’s Lady Chace, a candidate for next week’s $100,000-added Winning Colors (GIII), breezed five furlongs in 1:02.20 over a “sloppy” track on Saturday for trainer Steve Margolis. The Tiznow filly finished third in the recent Giant’s Causeway on the Keeneland turf. Others expected to run in the Winning Colors include Tiz To Dream, Keep the Peace, Marina Ballerina, Nadeshiko and Tar Heel Mom. … Also showing up on the Saturday work tab was 2008 Travers (GI) runner-up Mambo in Seattle. The Neil Howard-trained son of Kingmambo, fifth behind Bullsbay in the Alysheba (GIII) on Derby Day, breezed five furlongs over “sloppy” going on Saturday in 1:03.80. … Miguel Mena took advantage of the absence of Julien Leparoux, Jamie Theriot and Calvin Borel – the top three riders in the Spring Meet heading into Friday’s racing program – to score four wins during the 10-race program. Mena’s big day enabled him to slide past Theriot into second place in the Spring Meet jockeys’ race. Leparoux has a meet-leading 22 wins, while Mena (17) and Theriot (16) are second and third. Leparoux, Theriot and Borel were at Pimlico on Friday to ride in Preakness weekend races, and the Churchill trio was to be joined Saturday in Baltimore by Robby Albarado. … With no live racing on Wednesdays for the remainder of the Spring Meet, Churchill Downs will offer free general admission for ITW simulcast wagering on Wednesdays through the remainder of the Spring Meet