The Kentucky Derby prep scene

April, 15, 2011
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- As one reader commented on my last entry, so much happened on the Kentucky Derby prep scene in less than a week. To Honor And Serve was sidelined with an injury, Silver Medallion finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, and Swift Warrior -- my first option as a Blue Grass Stakes mount -- was injured.

Those are just horses with an immediate connection to me, not to mention Uncle Mo's third-place finish in the Wood Memorial and the way Bob Baffert's maiden winner, Midnight Interlude, won the Santa Anita Derby. These 3-year-olds are all over the board this year, and to tell you the truth, I don't know exactly what to think.

People asked me what I thought of Wilkinson, since I rode him in the Louisiana Derby and his performance there was a little lackluster. He came with a little run but he wasn't into the race a whole lot, but then you think of the fact that the horse he beat in the Lecomte, Pants On Fire, came back and won the Louisiana Derby, and even though Wilkinson got beat seven or eight lengths to him, you're trying to figure out what that means because in the previous start for Pants On Fire, he ran sixth in the Risen Star. All these horses have no pattern to them. We're trying to figure out which ones are good and which ones are bad, and we're running out of time.

With Silver Medallion in the Santa Anita Derby, at the half-mile pole I had a smile from ear-to-ear. I got him in a rhythm and he was just cruising. I waited for him to switch leads and he went two jumps and just let go. I was like, 'Oh, man,' because the stretch is where the running starts and instead of moving forward he was moving backward. All of the sudden I thought, uh-oh, I'm in trouble. I was trying to encourage him without causing him to lose confidence. A lot of times when you're on a horse that likes synthetics or grass and you try them on dirt, they'll travel really well in your hand but when you ask them they start to struggle and the more you ask the more they struggle. I was trying to help him hoping that sooner or later he'd find himself moving forward, but from the quarter pole home he never really switched it on -- and he still only got beat a couple lengths. It's the kind of race that makes you scratch your head.

Someone asked me if I could remember a Kentucky Derby prep season that was similar to this one and honestly, it's unusual. I feel like I'm flustering around and don't know which way to go. I know I'm not alone because when Todd's horse got beat in the Wood, people had said going into the race 'if they don't ask him, he'll win by eight lengths, if they squeeze him he'll win by 12,' and that obviously didn't happen.

I picked up the mount on one of Mike Maker's starters, Joes Blazing Aaron, in the Blue Grass Stakes tomorrow at Keeneland. I know he's got a little bit of speed; he just won the Palm Beach Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream on March 12, and one of Todd Pletcher's Blue Grass starters, Queen'splatekitten, was second to him that day. I was supposed to ride Swift Warrior, the Rushaway Stakes winner, for John Terranova, but he got hurt Wednesday morning and they called us around 8:00 a.m. on entry day so all of the sudden we didn't have a mount, and we're like, "Great, what do we do now?" My agent made some phone calls and we got lucky and ended up on this one. Turf horses typically transition well to the Polytrack at Keeneland, so hopefully he'll do well.

I'm not in Lexington today, though, I ride Miss Match for Neil Drysdale in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. I had the option between riding her or Blind Luck, but then Jerry Hollendorfer decided he wanted to give Blind Luck a little more time and run her in the La Troienne at Churchill Downs on May 6. That was good for me, because I just won the Grade I Santa Margarita on this mare on March 12 and she's a nice runner, a come from behind mare that just kind of grinds. She outran Switch last time so hopefully she shows up again.

I've won three races so far out of four days of riding at Keeneland, which isn't a bad percentage from 16 total mounts. One of the winners was Shotgun Gulch, who took the Vinery Madison yesterday. It was nice to win the race with her because it was the owner's first Grade I win, and he really appreciated the victory and was excited about it. He trains his own horses, too, and he did a good job with this one.

People have asked how things are jelling with my new agent, and the above case is a great example. I'd like to think that I'm pretty easy to work for -- I hire somebody to do a job and I let them do their job -- but I'm like a lot of people, I don't like change and I don't like trying new things. Sometimes it's good, though, because it kind of gives you a little kick in the pants and gets your competitive juices flowing again, gets you focused on the task at hand. The change has been good for me and I've noticed in a very short period of time working with Tony that he's very businesslike, very smart. He's got his own program and he's able to catch on pretty quick, so hopefully we keep finding those winners together.



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