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Kentucky Derby update | Hopefuls work, fly into Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Monday, May 1, 2017)–Trainer Steve Asmussen’s three Kentucky Derby hopefuls turned in half-mile works Monday morning at Churchill Downs as did Sonneteer for trainer Keith Desormeaux.
The first Asmussen runner to work was Untrapped, who covered the four furlongs in :50.40. Next up for the Hall of Fame trainer was Lookin At Lee, who worked in :50.20. Both of those works were over a track labeled as “sloppy” following overnight rain.
Following the 8 o’clock track maintenance renovation break, with the track labeled as “good,” Hence worked a half-mile in :48.40.
Completing the morning workers was Sonneteer, who covered the distance with a best-of-22 time of :47.
Arriving at Churchill Downs Monday afternoon after a flight from California were Kentucky Derby hopefuls Gormley and Royal Mo for trainer John Shirreffs as well as Kentucky Oaks contenders Paradise Woods for trainer Richard Mandella and Mopotism for trainer Doug O’Neill.

SHAPING UP: THE KENTUCKY DERBY–Likely starters in the 143rd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) to be run for 3-year-olds at 1 ¼ miles on Saturday, May 6:
Always Dreaming (John Velazquez)
Battle of Midway (Flavien Prat)
Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux)
Fast and Accurate (Channing Hill)
Girvin (Mike Smith)
Gormley (Victor Espinoza)
Gunnevera (Javier Castellano)
Hence (Florent Geroux)
Irap (Mario Gutierrez)
Irish War Cry (Rajiv Maragh)
J Boys Echo (Luis Saez)
Lookin At Lee (Corey Lanerie)
McCraken (Brian Hernandez Jr.)
Patch (Tyler Gaffalione)
Practical Joke (Joel Rosario)
Sonneteer (Kent Desormeaux)
State of Honor (Jose Lezcano)
Tapwrit (Jose Ortiz)
Thunder Snow (Ire) (Christophe Soumillon)
Untrapped (Ricardo Santana Jr.).
Next up in order of preference:
Royal Mo (Gary Stevens)
Local Hero (TBA)
Master Plan (TBA)
Petrov (TBA)
ALWAYS DREAMING/PATCH/TAPWRIT–It was time for a bit of adjustment with one of the Todd Pletcher trio of Kentucky Derby runners and it started early Monday morning.
The duo of Patch and Tapwrit would later take advantage of the 8:30-8:45 Derby/Oaks special training time, but first came Always Dreaming onto the track just after it opened at 5:45. He was the “adjustable” one.
The first adjustment notable with the Florida Derby (G1) winner was that he had a new exercise rider attached in old pro Nick Bush, who, come this August, will have been a Pletcher stable mainstay for 10 years. Also changed with the dark son of Bodemeister were the reins used to guide/control him. He now sported what are called “draw reins,” which are longer than a regular set and used in special circumstances.
“The reins basically give the rider more leverage,” Pletcher explained. “It allows him to control his head more, to take it down. Nick (Bush) is our draw rein specialist. That’s why he’s up.”
Always Dreaming, a “good-feeling” horse to start, has been feeling especially good over the past few days while as he gears up for the Derby, which will be his first start in five weeks. It’s one of those “good problems” for a trainer to have, but one that has to be controlled so that racing energy is saved.
Bush had a pony at his side when he took his colt onto the big Churchill Downs track that was “sloppy” thanks to rain storms during the night in Louisville. He then set off on his own and took him “wire-to-wire” one time around the oval, working hard to keep his charge’s head down as the colt pulled and struggled just a bit with his new arrangement.
“Oh, he’s feeling plenty good,” Bush said afterward. “In fact he’s all but jumping out of his skin. But he came back to me some as we went along. He was better with it. I think he was getting the idea. Come tomorrow, he’ll be better yet. He’ll get it and we’re going to be fine.”
Pletcher agreed with his rider’s assessment. “He’ll be better tomorrow. It’s going to be OK,” he said.
Always Dreaming has been robust in his training and racing since Pletcher took him over following a pair of starts last summer in New York. In three outings this year, all under star rider John Velazquez, he has won his races by wide-open lengths, culminating in a five-length tally in the Florida Derby. Since then he’s fired a series of bullet works, most recently at Churchill last Friday with Velazquez up. Naturally enough, the Hall of Fame rider once again will be attached come Derby 143, his 19th time in the Run for the Roses.
Pletcher’s other two Derby starters galloped roughly a mile and three eighths on their own just after 8:30 with regular exercise riders Isabelle Bourez (Patch) and Silvio Pioli (Tapwrit) on board. They both went strongly—no draw reins required—and drew a thumbs-up from the trainer following the exercise. Tyler Gaffalione will handle Patch on Saturday, while Jose Ortiz has the call on Tapwrit.
Ortiz will be making his third Kentucky Derby start; Gaffalione his first.
BATTLE OF MIDWAY–WinStar Farm and Don Alberto Stable’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) runner-up Battle of Midway has settled in nicely at Churchill Downs, impressing Jerry Hollendorfer’s East Coast assistant Christina Jelm, who has been getting to know the Smart Strike colt this week since his arrival from Southern California.
“He’s taken everything in stride since he’s been here,” Jelm said. “He loves the people, he likes the attention, he likes the commotion. He’s a very alert horse and nothing seems to faze him at all.”
Battle of Midway was on the track during the Kentucky Oaks and Derby training session for a 1 ½-mile gallop under regular exercise rider Edgar Rodriguez.
“He stood in the gates, jogged over to the paddock, walked through the paddock, and then he galloped nice and easy,” Jelm said. “His ears were pricked and he was looking around. He did everything perfectly.”
CLASSIC EMPIRE/STATE OF HONOR–Champion 2-year-old Classic Empire, ridden by Martin Rivera, and Florida Derby (GI) runner-up State of Honor, with Orlando Cross up, galloped 1 ½ miles at 8:30 Monday morning for trainer Mark Casse.
Following his half-length victory in the April 15 Arkansas Derby (GI), Classic Empire could be the favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
“I love being the favorite,” Casse said. “That doesn’t bother me at all. We’re happy to be where we are today given the last couple of months. Let’s just enjoy the ride.
“This is home,” Casse continued. “This is where I started. I remember when my dad brought me here at 18 years old and we had three horses in the Receiving Barn. To be in this position is incredible.”
FAST AND ACCURATE–Spiral (GIII) winner Fast and Accurate, a stakes winner on turf and Polytrack who has yet to win on dirt, walked the shedrow at Trackside Louisville one day after his final Kentucky Derby (GI) breeze. The son of champion juvenile Hansen, also trained by Mike Maker, breezed five furlongs on Sunday at Churchill Downs in 1:01.20 with jockey Channing Hill aboard. Hill will ride on Saturday.
“He went really well yesterday,” Hill said. “I can’t say that I was surprised, but I definitely had more horse than I thought I would. His workmate (GI-placed Adventist) is a good horse, so that made me even more confident and happy. I let his head go at the eighth pole and he handled the dirt really well.
“It’s exciting to pick him up,” Hill continued. “He’s going to have to run the race of his life to win, but as good as he breezed, it’s not out of the question. He has speed and we will likely go (to the front). I would not mind ‘War Emblem-ing’ the field at all and I know Mike knows how to get one ready.”
GIRVIN—Two days after his final Kentucky Derby (GI) breeze in :59.60 for five furlongs, Brad Grady’s Girvin left Keeneland for Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center (KESMARC) to swim. On Sunday, the Joe Sharp-trained Louisiana Derby (GII) winner walked the shedrow.
“He’s doing well,” Sharp said. “He just went for a swim today.”
The son of Tale of Ekati has been battling a right front quarter crack since April 19. He is expected to arrive at Churchill Downs Tuesday evening.
GORMLEY/ROYAL MO–The Mr.-Mrs. Jerry Moss-owned and John Sherriffs-trained duo of Gormley and Royal Mo boarded a plane at Ontario airport outside Los Angeles very early Monday morning to join about a dozen equine mates jetting east for a touchdown in Louisville. They were scheduled to arrive at Barn 42 on the Churchill Downs backside around 1:30 in the afternoon.
Between them, the two colts had accounted for two of the three major placings in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 8–first place to Gormley and third to Royal Mo.
His victory in the nine-furlong Santa Anita crucible had assured Gormley an assigned spot in the starting gate for Kentucky Derby 143.  The third-place finish got Royal Mo close enough to being “in” that he now sits at No. 21 in a 20-horse lineup.
Victor Espinoza will ride Gormley Saturday. Gary Stevens hopes to ride Royal Mo.
Trainer Shirreffs, who is known for–among other things—winning the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo at 50-1, has made it to town and will join his pair on the backstretch for the run-up to America’s most famous race.
GUNNEVERA–Peacock Racing Stables’ Gunnevera galloped 1 ¼ miles under exercise rider Victor O’Farrel at Churchill Downs Monday morning.
“It was a slow gallop. His last work at Calder (Gulfstream Park West) was very strong. Right now everything is maintenance,” said trainer Antonio Sano, whose trainee breezed five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:03.60 last Friday. “I need my horse to be 100 percent for the Derby.”
Solomon Del-Valle, the majority owner of Gunnevera, has been on hand each morning to watch the son of Dialed In’s preparation for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
“I live in Venezuela, in Valencia, a long time. I want to die in Valencia, Venezuela, but I will be here 52 days in the United States,” said Del-Valle, who is planning on remaining in the U.S. through the Triple Crown campaign.
Del-Valle is campaigning at a 42-horse stable in Venezuela, where Sano used to train for him before venturing to the U.S. in 2009. He has purchased two horses in the U.S. for Sano to train: Manana, a 4-year-old filly who is winless in 16 starts, and Gunnevera, a three-time graded-stakes winner.
“I’m very excited. This is the best horse I’ve ever owned,” said Del-Valle, who is visiting Churchill Downs for the first time but who came to the U.S. for the first time to watch Venezuela’s Canonero II make a failed bid to sweep the 1971 Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.
HENCE/LOOKIN AT LEE/UNTRAPPED–It was a busy morning for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who sent all three of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls to the track Monday for their final workouts ahead of Saturday’s race.
Hitting the track before 6 o’clock  was Mike Langford’s Untrapped, who breezed a half-mile under Juan Vargas in :50.40 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.80 with splits of :12.60, :25.20 and :37.60. He was followed closely by L and N Racing LLC’s Lookin At Lee, who was the last of the trio to make the field after the Saturday defection of Malagacy. He breezed a half-mile in :50.20 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.60 under Vargas as well. His splits were :12.80, :25.40 and :37.80.
Both moves were accomplished over a track labeled as sloppy. Lookin At Lee’s time was the 15th fastest of 22 at the distance; Untrapped the 17th fastest.
“I love the way both are doing,” Asmussen said. “They both ran in the Arkansas Derby (GI) three weeks ago, so they’re plenty fit. I like how they’re traveling over the track right now.”
Untrapped has earned his qualifying points by finishing second or third in three prep races and was most recently sixth in the Arkansas Derby in which he wore blinkers for the first time. He will not wear them in the Kentucky Derby.
“He has a Classic horse presence,” Asmussen said. “He gets over the ground very well. We have taken the blinkers off. That was an experiment that did not work out. We’re very happy with how he’s training over the Churchill track.”
Calumet Farm’s Hence worked a half-mile during the special 8:30 a.m. training time breezing in :48.80 over a “good” track under Angel Garcia. His splits were :12.20, :24.40, :36.60 and he galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.80 and six furlongs in 1:16.40. The half-mile time was the eighth fastest of 22.
“We know he’s fast,” Asmussen said. “It’s just a matter of managing his speed. Angel (Garcia) has done a great job with him.”
Hence enters the Kentucky Derby off a win in the Sunland Derby (GIII), which was his second career start in a stakes race. In his first stakes attempt, he finished seventh in the Southwest Stakes (GIII).
“The Southwest was a disappointing run for him, but since then—and I think you can tell from his training—he’s plenty aggressive and gets a lot out of it,” Asmussen said. “The Sunland Derby worked really well. The timing was good. We couldn’t be happier with how he’s trained and acted here.”
IRAP–The Blue Grass Stakes (GII) winner Irap joined the Derby/Oaks crowd taking advantage of their special 15-minute training period right after the renovation break at 8:30 a.m. Monday, going through the six-furlong gap on the backside and into the morning sun with exercise rider Tony Romero attached. Assistant trainer Leandro Mora looked on with assured interest from the rail near the backstretch Media Center.
The husky son of Tiznow went about his business with relish, polishing off a mile and a half of galloping out in the middle of the track like it was a piece of finger food before a big banquet.
“The Tiznows, they just get better as they go along,” Mora said. “This colt has been improving and improving. He’s really doing well.”
Mora noted that Irap would gallop again Tuesday, then gallop, school in the paddock, and go to the gate Wednesday morning.
“We don’t paddock them in the afternoons at all,” he said. “Haven’t done it in 15 years. We’ve had lots of success doing it that way, so we stick with what works.”
Mora’s boss, trainer Doug O’Neill, is scheduled to be aboard a jet this evening from Los Angeles. He’ll join his assistant and the eight horses they’ve brought from the west at Barn 41 Tuesday morning.
IRISH WAR CRY–Isabelle de Tomaso’s Irish War Cry walked the shedrow of trainer Graham Motion’s barn at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland early Monday morning before being loaded onto a van bound for Churchill Downs with an expected arrival time between 4 and 5 p.m.
“I’m very upbeat, but anyone who knows me knows I’m anxious. I want to get him there in one piece. I want him to have a good week,” Motion said prior to boarding a flight to Louisville. “I feel very good about his work and how he’s doing.”
Irish War Cry, who captured the Wood Memorial (GII) at Aqueduct in his most recent start, breezed six furlongs in 1:13.20 Sunday at Fair Hill.
J BOYS ECHO–Gotham (GIII) winner J Boys Echo jogged Monday morning at 8:30 for trainer Dale Romans with regular exercise rider Tammy Fox aboard.
“The heavy lifting is done,” Romans said. “We just want to keep him happy between now and the Derby.”
McCRAKEN–Whitham Thoroughbreds’ homebred McCraken returned to the track a day after working five furlongs in 1:00.80 for a one-mile jog that included a visit to the starting gate after the morning renovation break.
Trainer Ian Wilkes said the gate visit was routine and that McCraken has not had gate issues in his five career starts.
McCraken may visit the paddock Tuesday.
“I might take him to the paddock; I’m thinking about it,” Wilkes said. “I have a slot to do it Tuesday and I might.”
McCraken will represent the first Derby starter for the unflappable Wilkes, who served as the exercise rider for 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and assistant to Carl Nafzger when Street Sense won the 2007 Derby.
Any chance the trainer may “wash out” leading up to Saturday afternoon?
“Nope. I don’t have to run,” Wilkes said.
Brian Hernandez Jr., who has been aboard for all five of McCraken’s races, will be making his second Derby appearance. He finished 12th last year on Tom’s Ready.
“My parents are coming in from Lafayette (Louisiana) tomorrow and spending the week,” Hernandez said. “Last year, they just came up for the day, but this time they will be doing everything and coming out in the mornings.”
PRACTICAL JOKE–Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s Practical Joke galloped 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Fernando Rivera during the Kentucky Oaks and Derby training session, just as he’d done the morning prior.
“The horse galloped fine,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He’s doing really well.”
A final decision has not been reached on whether the Blue Grass Stakes (GII) runner-up will add blinkers for the first time in the Derby.
“I’m not sure what I’m doing yet,” Brown said.
SONNETEER–Calumet Farm’s Sonneteer had his final work for the Kentucky Derby Monday, breezing a half mile in :47 under jockey Corey Lanerie, who was substituting for the horse’s rider, Kent Desormeaux, after he had travel problems.
The Midnight Lute colt had splits of :11.80, :23.20, :35.20 and galloped out five furlongs in :59.60 and six furlongs in 1:13.60 over a track labeled as good after the morning renovation break. The half-mile work was the fastest of 22 at the distance Monday.
“It was a good work,” Lanerie said. “(Trainer) Keith (Desormeaux) said he wanted a good stiff work and hopefully he got it. He did everything I asked and seems like a nice laid back horse. He galloped out real nice.”
THUNDER SNOW–Godolphin Racing’s homebred UAE Derby (Group II) winner Thunder Snow remains in quarantine at Barn 17 until late tonight and likely will make his first appearance on the Churchill Downs main track Tuesday morning.
Godolphin representatives declined comment and referred all inquiries to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who is expected to arrive in Louisville in time for Tuesday’s exercise.

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