Unbeaten Big Brown, winner of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), got in a final gallop at Churchill Downs on Wednesday before rain started to fall on the historic Twin Spires. After a daylong wait, Big Brown boarded a van around 4:45 p.m. (EDT) for the short ride to Louisville International Airport, where he boarded a Sutton Forwarding Co. equine transport plane that was scheduled to fly to Baltimore for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico Race Course.
IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr.’s colt turned in a mile and a half gallop under exercise rider Michelle Nevin over a “fast” surface prior to the break for track maintenance and in advance of heavy rain that pelted the track a short time later. The gallop was just the third for Big Brown since his resounding 4 ¾-length victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 3 and marked the first time he had been able to gallop on back-to-back days. Trainer Rick Dutrow had chosen to jog his Kentucky Derby winner a mile on days that the track was wet or sealed.
“It hasn’t been an issue because he just ran – we don’t have to go out there an ask him to train real hard in the mornings,” said Dutrow. “A little break ain’t gonna hurt him none. It might even be good for him, you never know. So I can’t complain about what’s happened since he’s run. He’s been really good every day.”
Dutrow planned to accompany Big Brown on the van and the plane ride to Baltimore. He remained confident about his colt’s chances in the second jewel of the Triple Crown as Big Brown departed Churchill Downs following a two-week stay.
“I feel he’s the horse to beat in the race,” Dutrow said. “I feel he’s the best horse – I feel they’ve got him to deal with.”
Other Preakness contenders scheduled to take the same Sutton flight to Baltimore include Beau Greely, John Greely IV and Phil Houchens’ Tres Borrachos, the third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby (GII), and Jerry Carroll, Stan Kaplan, Ronald Plattner and Mark Guilfoyle’s Racecar Rhapsody, fourth in the Coolmore Lexington (GII) for trainer Ken McPeek.
Robert LaPenta’s Stevil, fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) for trainer Nick Zito, and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, winner of the Derby Trial for trainer Dallas Stewart, left Churchill Downs by van on Wednesday morning. Those horses traveled to Lexington to catch a mid-morning flight to Baltimore.
SIZZLING AMOSS TOPS SPRING MEET TRAINER STANDINGS – The Spring Meet at Churchill Downs was highlighted early by a significant career milestone for trainer Tom Amoss, but the Louisiana-born veteran seems intent on making the 52-day racing session memorable in other ways.
The meet’s opening week saw the 46-year-old Amoss notch career victory 2,000 when Maggi Moss’s Cat Splendor won race for $25,000 claiming horses by 5 ½-lengths on April 29. But Amoss quickly picked up another win later in that racing card and has maintained that momentum since. He entered Wednesday’s racing program with eight wins on the meet and sat atop the standings in the race for “leading trainer.”
“How long we can stay leading trainer, I don’t know – but we’re obviously enjoying it,” Amoss said. “These things have a way of building on themselves. When we get a good start, typically we’re able to carry that through the meet, so it’s very exciting that it’s going that way.”
Amoss led Ken McPeek by one victory heading into Wednesday’s racing program at Churchill Downs, with Steve Asmussen one victory farther back. He tied with Dale Romans for the 2002 Spring Meet training title for his only other “leading trainer” crown at the historic track.
“A lot of it is a little bit of luck and things falling into place,” Amoss said. “When you look back at other meets here or even other meets in general, that luck seems to even off. We had no luck at Keeneland. We won our first race there, which was a stake, and we didn’t win another race until the end of the meet. So I thought we had some bad luck there, but things have just worked out for us.”
The 2,000th career victory was a major milestone for Amoss, who has collected several training titles in his native Louisiana. But Amoss was quick to share credit to his stable team that includes Frank Bernis, who started as a groom with Amoss and now serves as his assistant trainer.
“It felt great, but it’s really important to not that it’s a group accomplishment. A lot of the guys in the barn have been here a long time with me. Frank Bernis has been here since day one, and that’s going back to 1988. As a group, we’re very proud of that.”
Another important victory came on Sunday when Moss’ Indian Chant notched a sizzling victory in an allowance race. The 5-year-old gelding defeated five rivals that included Summerplace Farm’s third-place finisher Kelly’s Landing, who won the Aristides (GIII) at Churchill Downs in 2005 and took the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (GI) last year at Nad Al Sheba.
Indian Chant set the Churchill Downs record of 1:07.55 in an allowance victory on the final day of the 2007 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs and would go on to win minor stakes races later in the year at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows and Pennyslvania’s new Presque Isle Downs. He could get a rematch with Kelly’s Landing, who was making his first start since a run in November’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) in Sunday’s meeting, in the $125,000 Aristides on May 31.
“Indian Chant has been a great horse for us,” Amoss said. “He loves Churchill’s strip and I think there’s a very good chance he’ll come back in the Aristides. That would probably be the biggest race he’s competed in, so obviously we’d like to win it.”
While Amoss could not catch Steve Asmussen in last year’s race for “leading trainer” in the Spring Meet, Moss – his primary client – did earn her first “leading owner” crown at the historic track. Wins by her horses have accounted for five of Amoss’ wins during the meet’s opening weeks and he his hoping that the former Des Moines, Iowa attorney – who perennially ranks among the nation’s top owners – can earn a second in the ongoing meet.
“Obviously with (current leader) Ken Ramsey being a strong participant this year and very active at the claiming box, her winning that title at the end is going to be very hard to do,” Amoss said. “But it’s our goal – our goal is to try to win the title for her.”
Amoss said he currently has “between 50 and 60” horses in his care. His stable has been bigger, but that’s a number that he likes.
“When we go to a new meet, we always try to carry a strong win percentage,” he said. “We set a goal of a win percentage and we try to maintain that. We don’t always get there – it’s not always an achievable goal. But that’s what our goal is: to try to win and win often.”
‘HORSE OF THE YEAR’ CURLIN NOMINATED TO LOUISVILLE ‘CAP – Stonestreet Farm and Midnight Cry Stable’s reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin, winner of the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) in his most recent start, heads a roster of 24 older grass stars nominated to the 71st running of the $150,000-added Louisville Handicap (GIII) on Saturday, May 24.
But chances are very slim that the horse that is currently acknowledged as the world’s best Thoroughbred would show up in the 1 ½-mile turf race. The 4-year-old son of Smart Strike is currently being pointed toward the $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs on June 14, but nomination to the Louisville would make the colt eligible to work Curlin over the Matt Winn Turf Course should trainer Steve Asmussen decide to give him a try over that footing.
Curlin has been nominated to France’s classic Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Group I) at Longchamp on Oct. 5.
Even without Curlin, the roster of Louisville nominees is strong. It includes Bushwood Stable’s Better Talk Now, winner of the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) in 2004 and runner-up in the same race a year later; Fred Bradley’s Brass Hat, winner of the 2006 Donn Handicap (GI) and runner-up in the 2007 Clark Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs; Heiligbrodt Racing Stable’s Inca King, winner of the 2007 Jefferson Cup (GII) at Churchill Downs, and Chrysalis Stables, LLC’s Silverfoot, who won three consecutive runnings of the Louisville from 2004-06. The Dallas Stewart-trained Silverfoot did not run in the race last year.
Nominations for the fifth running of the $100,000-added Winning Colors (GIII) for fillies and mares 3 & up at six furlongs are headed by West Point Thoroughbreds’ Dream Rush, the winner of the Test (GI) and Prioress (GI) at three. The Rick Violette Jr.-trained daughter of Wild Rush has not competed since a fifth-place finish behind Maryfield in the first running of the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Others on the list of 16 fillies and mares nominated to the Winning Colors include Roll Reroll Stables’ multiple stakes winner Miss Macy Sue and Stonerside Stable and Oakcrest Farm’s Sutra, winner of the 2006 Frizette (GI).
WORK TAB (FAST before the break for track maintenance, SLOPPY afterward) – Grade I winner Sutra breezed four furlongs in :49.20 over a “sloppy” surface…Secret Gypsy, fifth in the La Troienne (GIII) on Kentucky Derby Day, breezed a half-mile over a “fast” surface in :47.40, the second fastest of 35 moves at the distance.