A trio of contenders for the 134th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) turned in strong workouts on Sunday at Churchill Downs in preparation for races that will serve as their final preps for the “Run for the Roses” on May 3.
Mr. and Mrs. William Warren Jr.’s unbeaten Denis of Cork and Dogwood Stable’s Blackberry Road breezed for trainer David Carroll, while B. Wayne Hughes’ My Pal Charlie turned in a blistering work for trainer Al Stall Jr.
My Pal Charlie, runner-up to Pyro in the Louisiana Derby (GII), covered five furlongs over a “fast” track in a sizzling :58.20 in preparation for a run in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GII) on April 12 at Oaklawn Park. Southwest Stakes (GIII) winner Denis of Cork breezed five furlongs in :59.40 in his final workout prior to a run in Saturday’s $500,000 Illinois Derby (GII) at Hawthorne, while Blackberry Road, runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs and the Lecomte (GIII) at Fair Grounds, covered the same distance in 1:01.60 while prepping for the Arkansas Derby.
Jockey James Lopez was in the saddle aboard Denis of Cork worked over a freshly harrowed track just after the mid-session break for track maintenance. His work was the third fastest of 15 at the five-furlong distance and Denis of Cork galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.
“He’s been on edge now for a little while and we just wanted him to go out there and stretch his legs this morning, and he did it beautifully,” Carroll said. “The track’s in great shape. It’s playing fast this morning, but it’s a got a great cushion on it, a great bounce to it. We’re very happy with him and now hopefully he’ll run big in Illinois. We need to run big there.”
The son of Harlan’s Holiday is perfect in three starts over three different tracks, but the colt’s connections bypassed a planned run in the Rebel Stakes (GII) after his Southwest victory in favor of a single prep for the Kentucky Derby. He has earned $198,552, but would likely need a big effort in the Illinois Derby to raise his level of graded stakes earnings to the level that would ensure that he would make the maximum field of 20 horses for the Kentucky Derby. He currently has $150,000 in graded earnings from his win in the Southwest.
Denis of Cork will have a new jockey for the Illinois Derby in Julien Leparoux.
“I think Julien is kind of a quiet rider and can get this horse in a nice rhythm,” said Carroll. “He’s kind of push-button horse and I think he’ll fit him beautifully.”
Carroll was in the saddle aboard Blackberry Road for a work that was intended to be an easy move following the colt’s fourth place run behind Pyro in the Louisiana Derby. The son of Gone West, a half-brother to former 2-year-old champion Vindication, galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.60 prior to the maintenance break.
“The Louisiana Derby was a very hard race on him,” Carroll said. “He was in the race from the get-go and got beat a length and a half for second. Pyro was definitely the best horse that day, but that’s not our style of racing.”
The stretch-running Blackberry Road will face a bulky field in the Arkansas Derby, but Carroll believes it will be the type of race that best suits the Dogwood colt.
“I felt like the Arkansas Derby would give him an extra week (between races) and it should be a true-run race,” said Carroll. “He’s always been in races that have been slowly run and he’s had to close off a slow pace. The Arkansas Derby will be a full field and the draw will be a factor, but we feel it’ll be a true-run race, a fast-run race.”
Blackberry Road has a 1-2-2 in nine races with earnings of $158,235. His graded stakes earnings stand at $123,417.
My Pal Charlie, a son of Indian Charlie who will be on the list of late nominees for the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown announced this week by Triple Crown Productions, sizzled in his work that came about 30 minutes after the maintenance break. It was the fastest work at the distance by better than a full second by a quick colt who set the pace in the Louisiana Derby and figures to be among the early leaders at Oaklawn.
The move was faster than Stall expected, but he was pleased with My Pal Charlie’s effort.
“Today was the first day I’ve worked horses over the track, so I was caught a bit off guard by the time,” said Stall. “This was his major work two weeks out and he hadn’t done anything in 22 days from the Louisiana Derby. He had a little breeze at the Fair Grounds, but this was his major work. He cooled out like he’d galloped and that’s the most important thing.”
My Pal Charlie has a record of 2-1-0 in six races with earnings of $161,310, with $120,000 in graded earnings from his runner-up finish in the Louisiana Derby. That setback snapped a two-race winning streak for Stall’s horse that included a victory in a $50,000 claiming race that was the first win of his career and a victory in an allowance race. Both races were at Fair Grounds.