Churchill Downs is providing daily updates on your favorite contenders for the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Get the latest information below!
ADVICE / DUNKIRK / JOIN IN THE DANCE – It now appears trainer Todd Pletcher will start three horses in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby 135 – Advice, Dunkirk and Join in the Dance.
After consulting with the various owners of his four potential Derby starters, the five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer decided to go with three and drop one – that horse being Take the Points, who is owned by the Starlight Partners stable of Jack and Laurie Wolf.
“Around noon today Mr. Wolf and I had a discussion in which we weighed all the factors,” Pletcher said. “When we looked at it from all angles, we decided the best way to go with Take the Points was the Preakness. That race gives him two extra weeks, a shorter distance (mile and three-sixteenths) to work with and a track where we think his tactical style will work to best advantage. In the end, we just thought it was the right choice.”
The trainer also noted that he had finalized riding assignments for his three Derby horses, with Edgar Prado on Dunkirk, Rene Douglas on Advice and Chris DeCarlo on Join in the Dance.
Tuesday morning, Pletcher had sent his three workers from Monday – Advice (:47.20), Join in the Dance (1:00.20) and Take the Points (1:00.20) -- back to the track for easy jogs of a mile around the big oval.
Dunkirk, the $3.7 million yearling who flew in from Florida on Tuesday morning to bed down in Pletcher’s Barn 38, was once considered a possible outside-looking-in type on the graded stakes earnings’ list. But now he is assured a spot in the starting field for the 10-furlong race, and is likely to be one of the solid betting interests.
ATOMIC RAIN / WEST SIDE BERNIE – The minute after he heard that Atomic Rain was a likely Kentucky Derby starter, trainer Kelly Breen had the colt put on a van at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and had him headed for Churchill Downs.
“They left Monmouth at 12:30, and it’s about a 13-hour trip,” Breen said, “so they should get here about two in the morning.”
Atomic Rain, a bay son of Smart Strike-Paradise Pond, by Cox’s Ridge, is owned by George and Lori Hall, who already have a Derby starter in West Side Bernie. Atomic Rain finished fourth when West Side Bernie was second to I Want Revenge in the Grade I Wood Memorial last out.
Atomic Rain has yet to win since breaking his maiden at Monmouth last June, but finished second to Old Fashioned in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last November. This season at three, he was second, beaten a neck, in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park, ran seventh in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay, and then third in a Gulfstream allowance test before his Wood Memorial outing.
Breen said that Joe Bravo, who has been aboard Atomic Rain his past two starts, will have the mount in the Derby. Bravo had his first and only previous Derby mount in 2005, when he finished 16th aboard Spanish Chestnut.
West Side Bernie was out early Tuesday morning, taking a mile and a half gallop around the Churchill Downs oval with Breen aboard.
“We thought we’d beat the weather,” Breen said, “so we got him out early today. He’s doing fine, coming up to the race the right way.”
This will be Breen’s first Kentucky Derby, but his rider for West Side Bernie, Stewart Elliott, won the race aboard Smarty Jones in 2004. Elliott rode West Side Bernie for the first time in the colt’s most recent start, the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 4.
The Bernstein colt closed ground in the stretch and finished second behind I Want Revenge in the nine-furlong Wood.
“Bernie ran really well that day,” Breen said. “He kicked it in late, maybe a little too late. The extra eighth of a mile in the Derby should be what he needs.”
CHOCOLATE CANDY – All was well with the Chocolate Candy crew at Barn 42 Tuesday morning. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, assistant trainer Galen May and exercise rider Lindsey Molina had nothing but good things to say about their colt, who had turned in a nifty :59.20 prep Monday morning in his final major exercise for Kentucky Derby 135.
“He came out of it good, ate up and just walked the shedrow this morning,” Hollendorfer said. “We’re all good.”
The veteran trainer, currently the nation’s sixth-leading conditioner with more than $2.2 million in earnings, will jog his Candy Ride colt Wednesday, gallop him Thursday and Friday, then walk him the morning of Kentucky Derby 135.
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who flew overnight from California to be aboard for the Monday work, once more will be in the tack when they “Run for the Roses.”
DESERT PARTY / REGAL RANSOM – Shortly before dawn and well before rain arrived, trainer Saeed bin Suroor sent the two Godolphin colts out to gallop a mile and a quarter.
Bin Suroor said the colts are happy, healthy and in good form.
After starting their careers in the United States last summer, the colts were sent to Dubai for the winter racing season. Desert Party beat Regal Ransom in the first two of the preps for the $2 million U.A.E. Derby, but Regal Ransom won the main event by a half-length.
“One week before the race, I told the boys in the stable, 'Listen, there might be a surprise in the UAE. Derby,’ ” bin Suroor said. “I was right. At the same time, Desert Party, who is always happy and does everything you ask him in a professional way, wasn’t really happy when I saddled him for the race. He was really quiet before the race. I thought that wasn’t his day. I checked him for two days after the race and he was very quiet, but later it seemed that he was coming back really good to his form. Now he’s really a different animal.”
Bin Suroor said his colts have flourished in the month since their most recent race.
“When they were in Dubai they improved all the time, but since the last race they look much better than ever,” bin Suroor said. “We come here with some confidence. We’re looking to see our horses run a big race.”
This is the fifth time that Godolphin – the racing operation headed by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum – sent horses to Louisville for America’s biggest race. The top finish was a sixth by China Visit in 2000.
“This is the hardest race in the world,” bin Suroor said, “and the best race in the world, a mile and a quarter for 3-year-olds. It’s hard to win. You need a special horse. Tough. Class. Speed. Everything in one horse.
“We tried coming from Dubai four times. Now, I think we have better horses than what we saw in Dubai. We’re trying this year and it looks to me that our horses are doing much, much better than ever.”
FLYING PRIVATE – Robert Baker and William Mack's Flying Private walked the shedrow at D. Wayne Lukas' Barn 44 a day after working a half mile in :47.40. Robby Albarado, who has the mount for Derby 135, had been aboard for the work.
This colt has been compared to Charismatic, Lukas' Derby winner in 1999, in that he figures to be a longshot on Saturday. Charismatic won at odds of 31-1.
Lukas pointed out that in addition to Charismatic, his Thunder Gulch in 1995 was a 24-1 longshot.
“Flying Private’s strength is his pedigree and he's truly a mile-and-a-quarter horse,” said Lukas, whose other Derby winners were Winning Colors in 1988 and Grindstone in 1996.
FRIESAN FIRE – It wasn’t Derby Fever that had the attention of Friesan Fire on Tuesday morning at Barn 45.
“He was on his toes before he knew Zenyatta was here,” trainer Larry Jones said referring to the arrival of the undefeated champion mare who is housed seven stalls down from Friesan Fire. “He is quite taken with her.”
Friesan Fire, worked five furlongs in :57.80 on Monday under jockey Gabriel Saez, walked the shedrow Tuesday and will return to the track Wednesday.
“Wednesday will be a goof-off day,” Jones said. “He will go to the gate, paddock, jog and maybe ‘lope’ around there, whatever he wants to do for about 20 minutes.”
Jones said that the Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm colt never has had problems with either the gate or paddock.
“I just want to stand him in the gate,” Jones said. “At the Fair Grounds (for the Louisiana Derby), he was on the outside and loaded last and they sprung the latch. I just don’t want him to think it is like that all the time.”
In the Louisiana Derby, Friesan Fire romped by 7 ¼ lengths on a sealed, sloppy track. With rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, the chance for an off track remains a possibility.
“We are not hoping for rain. We want a fast track,” Jones said. “We know we are OK because he ran well at the Fair Grounds in the Louisiana Derby. Churchill Downs gets very good when it is wet. If it rains, we won’t spend the day panicking.”
GENERAL QUARTERS – Owner/trainer Tom McCarthy sent Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Grade I) winner General Quarters out for a mile and half gallop under regular exercise rider Julie Sheets before the renovation break Tuesday morning.
“He’s doing good, couldn’t be any better,” McCarthy said as a steady rain beat down on Barn 37.
General Quarters never has raced on an off track, but McCarthy does not think it will be a problem for the son of Sky Mesa.
“Whenever he gallops on an off track, Julie says he just floats over it,” McCarthy said. “He was here all last summer when there was a lot of rain and handled it fine.”
Julien Leparoux, who will ride General Quarters in Derby 135, stopped by the barn and had a five-minute chat with McCarthy. Leparoux has not been aboard General Quarters, who was ridden in the Blue Grass by Eibar Coa.
HOLD ME BACK – WinStar Farm’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Grade I) runner-up Hold Me Back jogged a mile Tuesday morning. He turned in his final breeze Sunday.
Hold Me Back has picked up all three of his career victories on synthetic surfaces and his only off-the-board result was on the dirt in the Remsen at Aqueduct. Trainer Bill Mott said the colt moves beautifully over the dirt in training and that it is too early to say he prefers one surface to another.
“We’re not about to say our horse can’t run on the dirt just off one race,” Mott said. “We’re going to give him the chance on Saturday and then we’ll see.”
Kent Desormeaux has the riding assignment on Saturday.
I WANT REVENGE – Just after the renovation break and minutes before torrential rains fell at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning, I Want Revenge took good advantage of a fresh and fast race track during a four-furlong workout in :47.20 under jockey Joe Talamo.
The Wood Memorial (Grade I) winner turned in fractions of :11.40, :23.20 and :35.40 during his final serious prep for a start in the Kentucky Derby.
“We got a great race track today, and we got to let him do what he normally does. I think we accomplished what we wanted to do today,” trainer Jeff Mullins said. “We just wanted to see him moving forward and into the work and happy. He worked this morning like he normally does.”
The workout was the fastest of 49 recorded at the distance. Managing partner David Lanzman’s homebred colt galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.80.
“Like Dave was saying to his kids: This is the final hurdle before the big show. But we have four more hurdles to go until Saturday,” Mullins said. “Every day you have to wake up and hope that he’s in good health and stays that way until Saturday.”
Talamo also expressed satisfaction with the tune-up.
“I’m pretty confident, especially today. Like Jeff said, I feel like we accomplished pretty much what we wanted to do,” said Talamo, a 19-year-old Louisiana native who had worked I Want Revenge at Churchill Downs twice prior to Tuesday’s bullet move. “We caught a real good race track today. The last couple of times, it was a little deep because of rain the day before. But it was great. He finished up real well; just the way we wanted him to.”
The Southern California-based jockey had gained a world of confidence in I Want Revenge during their eventful journey in the Wood Memorial, in which he broke dead last and was blocked behind a wall of horses in mid-stretch before jetting through a hole on his way to a courageous victory.
“From the Gotham and even before that, we knew he was a pretty good horse. Obviously, in the Wood, that answered a lot of questions for everyone. To overcome a trip like that is just incredible,” Talamo said. “He’s so mature for his age. It’s hard to explain. He does everything so easily.
“He’s definitely one that has a few gears on him, which helps in a race like the Derby, because there’s a lot of stop and go – hopefully not, but it does happen. But he’s definitely one of the contenders.”
Preparing for his first ride in the Derby, Talamo has sought out the advice of several prominent jockeys, past and present.
“I’ve talked to a few guys, Gary Stevens, Robby Albarado, Jerry Bailey, that’s just to name a few. They’ve all pretty much given me the same advice: Don’t cry when ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ comes on,” Talamo said.
Talamo will particularly take Stevens’ words to the starting gate with him for his initial Derby experience.
“He said just keep both feet on both sides and your mind in the middle,” Talamo said.
Mullins said I Want Revenge would walk the shedrow Wednesday, jog a mile and gallop a mile on both Thursday and Friday, and jog a mile on Saturday.
MINE THAT BIRD – Trainer Chip Woolley was feeling philosophical at Barn 42. His Kentucky Derby colt, Mine That Bird, had come out of his final work for the race Monday in good fashion and had merely walked the shedrow Tuesday. The Birdstone colt had “eaten up” and was a happy camper, and so was his conditioner.
“It’s down to racin’ luck and what happens,” the 45-year-old native of New Mexico said, sounding like a man who realized he’d done all the heavy lifting and that much of what would happen next would be in the hands of the racing gods.
“I’m just so tickled that me and my horse and my owners are now going to be part of the history of the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “We’re going to do it and they won’t ever be able to take that away from us.
“I just wanted my horse to be ready to give the best effort of his life, and I believe we’re there. He’s never been better and now we’re going to see just what he can do. When the race is done we’ll know where we’re at with him. But we’re going in ready to give it our best and we can’t ask for more than that.”
Calvin Borel, who won the 2007 Derby on Street Sense, worked Mine That Bird Monday in 1:02 and has the call on Saturday.
MR. HOT STUFF – Owned by WinStar Farm, Mr. Hot Stuff made his first appearance on the Churchill Downs racing strip Tuesday morning at 7, beating the rains that hit the area by getting in both a leg-stretching of a mile and one half under exercise rider Paul Turner and a quick bath back at Barn 41 before the skies opened.
Half of the WinStar connection ownership connection, Bill Casner, looked on trackside with trainer Eoin Harty as their handsome, near-black youngster went through his exercise.
Mr. Hot Stuff, of course, is a full brother to another WinStar runner, the more-heralded Colonel John, who last year – like his brother – came from California for the race. Circumstances this time are a bit different, however. Colonel John was one of the “buzz” horses for the 2008 Derby, finally going off the second-betting choice. Little brother Mr. Hot Stuff comes to town with a much lower-key resume and figures to be one of the outsiders in Derby 135.
John Velazquez has the call on Mr. Hot Stuff for the Saturday classic.
MUSKET MAN – Musket Man was out early Tuesday morning. With exercise rider Salvador Dominguez aboard, Musket Man schooled at the gate and then galloped a mile and a half around the fast main track.
“He just stood in the gate a while,” trainer Derek Ryan said after bicycling back to Barn 41 behind Musket Man. “He’ll gallop up to the race now.”
Musket Man, who has won the mile and a sixteenth Tampa Bay Derby (Grade III) and the mile and an eighth Illinois Derby (Grade II) in his past two starts, has already breezed twice at Churchill Downs since he got to Kentucky two weeks ago. He went six furlongs in 1:13 flat on April 18, and then five furlongs in 1:01.60 last Saturday with jockey Eibar Coa aboard. The Derby will be his fifth start of the year.
There have been questions about Musket Man getting the Derby distance with what is essentially sprint breeding, but his half-sister, whom Ryan also trained, won short and long on dry and muddy tracks, on turf and synthetics.
“She just liked to win, and he’s the same,” Ryan said. “I’ve been hearing about his distance ‘limitations’ since his first start last October. Well, so far he’s won at six and seven furlongs, a mile and a sixteenth, and a mile and an eighth. I think he’ll handle another furlong.”
Musket Man is owned by the partnership of Eric Fein and Vic Carlson, and they’ve watched the $15,000 yearling purchase win five of six career starts and earn $572,600 since he debuted on Oct. 25 at Belmont.
PAPA CLEM – Bo Hirsch’s Papa Clem galloped a mile and a half under exercise rider Mundo Gonzalez before the renovation break and before the rain Tuesday morning.
“He will gallop Wednesday and Thursday I’ll breeze him,” trainer Gary Stute said. “Rafael (jockey Bejarano) is supposed to be here to work him. He’ll blowout a good quarter down the lane and out to the seven-eighths.”
Papa Clem’s lone race on an off track was a runner-up finish to Friesan Fire in the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and Stute would prefer not to see an off track on Saturday.
“I’d rather not see an off track because Friesan Fire beat me so easy,” Stute said of Papa Clem finishing 7 1/4 lengths back. “The first time he sees something, he is a little hesitant. It should help him for this time if it rains.”
PIONEEROF THE NILE – Trainer Bob Baffert said the Empire Maker colt owned by Zayat Stables came out of a fine work in fine shape.
Pioneerof the Nile breezed five furlongs in 1:01 Monday morning. Tuesday was a quiet morning.
“He walked the shedrow today and will jog tomorrow,” Baffert said. “He looks fantastic.”
Garrett Gomez has the riding assignment on Saturday.
SQUARE EDDIE – Kentucky Derby 135 lost a candidate Tuesday morning when trainer Doug O’Neill said that the Smart Strike colt Square Eddie had been withdrawn from consideration for the race.
“We thought he’d come out of his work (:50.20) Sunday in good shape,” O’Neill said at Barn 17 on Tuesday morning, “but then Monday we felt some heat in his left front shin. We called Dr. (Mark) Cheney and took some X-rays. The X-rays didn’t show anything, but that heat is there and Dr. Cheney said it might be best not to take any chances; that we were probably looking at a sign of possible problems.
“In the end, we decided to err on the side of caution. Mr. (Paul) Reddam said ‘Do what’s in the best interests of Eddie,’ and that’s what we’ve done.”
Square Eddie had suffered a small fracture in his left front leg following a workout in February in California and had been backed off training and racing until he returned to action April 18 at Keeneland in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (Grade II), where he made a swooping move to the front in the stretch, but then fell back to finish third.
The Canadian-bred now will be shipped back to California “either next Monday or Tuesday,” according to O’Neill.
“We’re just on chill mode with him now,” he said. “There’s no real plan from here; we’ll let him tell us how he’s doing and when we can start back with him.”
SUMMER BIRD – Trainer Tim Ice braved the approaching storm Tuesday morning and took Summer Bird to the track when the track reopened at 8:30 a.m. The Birdstone colt was still galloping under jockey Chris Rosier when the rain came pelting down.
“It didn’t bother him a bit,” Ice said. “He trained all winter down at Oaklawn and it rained a lot there, too. I thought he trained well here today, and I’m very happy with the way he’s coming up to the race.”
Summer Bird, who has had just three career starts – all on a fast track – has a pedigree that says he’ll run on any surface.
“He trained as good on wet tracks as dry tracks in Arkansas,” Ice said, “maybe even better. I don’t think track condition will affect him at all.”
Summer Bird made his first start March 1, broke his maiden March 19, and then ran third behind Papa Clem in the Grade II Arkansas Derby on April 11. The money he earned in that race, shot him right into the top 20 on the earnings list and guaranteed him a Derby berth.
This will be the 34-year-old trainer’s first Derby, and first Grade I stakes runner. A former assistant to Morris Nicks, Cole Norman and Keith Desormeaux, Ice went out on his own less than a year ago, in late May of 2008. But he’s been around the track most of his life.
“I first went to the track when I was 13, with my stepfather Frank Rapp,” Ice said. “He took me to Waterford Park (now Mountaineer in Chester, W.Va.) where he trained a couple of horses. Not long after that, we moved to Louisiana where I grew up near Louisiana Downs.”
Ice still lives in Bossier City, La., with his wife Heather.
WIN WILLY – One day after his final Kentucky Derby breeze, Win Willy just walked under the shedrow in Barn 45 for trainer Mac Robertson.
The colt by Derby winner Monarchos was credited with a five-furlong breeze in 1:02.40 on Monday with exercise rider Eli Lopez aboard.
“I’m not certain the time is right,” Robertson said, “because he was out there with a bunch of other Derby horses when the accident happened and there was a lot of confusion. But the time doesn’t really matter. He went along nice and even the whole way, and I was very happy with the way he finished up the work, he looked really strong galloping out. I was very happy with the way he came back and cooled out. He’s doing great today.”
Robertson, one of several first-time Derby trainers, said he’ll be leading the rain dance party this week.
“I hope it rains and keeps on raining,” the trainer said. “I hope it rains so much they think about canceling the races, but they can’t because it’s Derby Day.”
Win Willy, whose pedigree drips with off-track form, shows just one start over a track other than fast. That was the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 14, a race he won by more than two lengths going away. The track was officially listed as “good” that day.
“I don’t know what they called it, but I called it muddy,” Robertson said. “Deep muddy. And my horse just loved it. That’s why I’m hoping for a wet track, because I know some of the others won’t like it a bit.”