Five Kentucky Derby (G1) hopefuls turned in works at Churchill Downs on Monday. McCraken drilled for Ian Wilkes, while Steve Asmussen sent out his quartet of Hence, Untrapped, and “bubble” horses Lookin at Lee and Local Hero.
McCraken had a target in the shape of stablemate McCormick, who had a sizeable head start. Readily reeling in the fellow Whitham homebred just past the wire, McCraken opened up on the gallop-out beneath Derby rider Brian Hernandez Jr.
Clockers caught McCraken in splits of :12, :24.60 and :36.40, and he finished five-eighths in 1:00.60, compared to McCormick’s 1:01. McCraken galloped out six furlongs in 1:13 and polished off seven in 1:26.
“Everything went great,” Hernandez said. “He sat back and didn’t go until I asked him. He made up a lot of ground from the eighth pole to the wire.
“Before, he was like the football player in high school beating up on the high schoolers and then he gets to college where the talent is deeper and he might not be as tough as he thought. ‘Now I’m going to start paying attention.’”
Wilkes was likewise pleased with what he saw from McCraken, who’s unbeaten in three starts at this track, including last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). After a track record-setting return in the Sam F. Davis (G3), a mild ankle strain caused him to be rerouted to the Blue Grass (G2), where he lost his perfect record in third.
“It was a good, solid work and he galloped out strong,” Wilkes said. “It (the gallop out) shows he had something left in the tank.”
McCraken is scheduled for one final work in advance of the May 6 Derby, with Wilkes leaving himself some flexibility regarding the details.
Two of Asmussen’s team, Hence and Local Hero, worked in company during the same Derby/Kentucky Oaks (G1) training window as McCraken.
Hence, coming off a career high in the Sunland Derby (G3), let Local Hero, 24th on the points list after thirds in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), grab a slight lead on the rail, but soon matched strides. The pair posted fractions of :12.20, :23.80, :35.60 and :47.80 en route to clocking five-eighths in 1:00. They continued upsides on the gallop-out through six furlongs in 1:13 and seven in 1:26.60.
“Hence and Local Hero put in a great work this morning,” Asmussen said. “I’m very comfortable with both horses being here at Churchill. I think the time they spent last year here shows.”
Asmussen also commented on how well Hence’s Sunland Derby form has held up in the interim.
“The race appears to be key, since the running of it,” the Hall of Famer said. “I think from our perspective the horse has always had a lot of talent and he’s putting things together at the right time.”
Hence’s jockey assignment has been determined: he picks up the services of Florent Geroux, who guided the Asmussen-trained Gun Runner to a third-place performance in last year’s Derby.
Untrapped and Lookin at Lee, both exiting the April 15 Arkansas Derby (G1), had gone out earlier in the morning.
Taking to the track at 6:40 a.m. (EDT), Untrapped turned five panels in 1:01.60 without the blinkers he’d tried when sixth in the Arkansas Derby. The frequent placegetter clocked fractions of :12.40, :24.60 and :49.20, and afterward galloped out in 1:14.60 and 1:27.60.
“It’s nine days off of Untrapped and Lookin at Lee’s Arkansas Derby, so we’re in a different point with both of them,” Asmussen said.
“Untrapped went five-eighths and galloped good with the blinkers off of him. I thought he was too aggressive and pulled up into a fast pace in the Arkansas Derby. His breeze today was beautiful. He’s such a gorgeous moving horse.”
Lookin at Lee, a flying third in the Arkansas Derby after zig-zagging in the stretch, toured a half-mile in :51.20 at 7:05 a.m. Currently 21st on the points list, the deep closer went in :13 and :25.80 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.80 as he awaits one defection to get into Derby 143.
“He’s on the outside looking in,” Asmussen said. “He just had an easy half-mile and went about his business.”
In other Kentucky Derby news:
Louisiana Derby winner Girvin, who was expected to work at Keeneland Monday, jogged instead.
“We just decided we are probably going to work him Friday,” trainer Joe Sharp said. “Just one solid stiff work going into the Derby instead of trying to squeeze two half-mile (workouts) in him. Probably five-eighths or three-quarters (of a mile) eight days out from the Derby.”
Blue Grass upsetter Irap, who galloped on the Keeneland training track Monday, is also penciled in to work Friday for Doug O’Neill.
Robby Albarado’s replacement aboard J Boys Echo has yet to be named at this writing.
Albarado fractured his left leg when unseated at the start of Sunday’s 8TH race at Keeneland, and reportedly underwent surgery at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital Monday morning. Now he’ll unfortunately miss a live Derby mount, bringing back memories of his mishap that cost him the winning ride aboard Animal Kingdom in 2011.
Twitter reports suggest that Fast and Accurate will maintain his successful partnership with Tyler Gaffalione from the Spiral (G3), but that does not appear on the official update from Churchill publicity.
Fountain of Youth (G2) victor Gunnevera, who vanned from Florida Sunday, walked the Churchill shedrow Monday. Trainer Antonio Sano plans to let him get his first feel of the track Tuesday.
Dual juvenile Grade 1 winner Practical Joke took the van ride from Keeneland to Churchill on Monday, reaching the historic Louisville track in the afternoon. The Chad Brown trainee comes off a second in the Blue Grass.
Todd Pletcher’s phalanx is beginning to assemble at Churchill. Wood Memorial (G2) runner-up Battalion Runner vanned in Sunday night from Belmont Park. Later Monday morning came his contingent from Keeneland – Tampa Bay Derby (G2) hero Tapwrit and Rebel (G2) winner Malagacy, exiting fifth-place efforts in the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby respectively, and UAE Derby (G2) third Master Plan, 26th on the points list. Florida Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming and Louisiana Derby (G2) second Patch, at their winter base of Palm Beach Downs, are due in Tuesday.
California-based Battle of Midway and Sonneteer (22nd on points) are slated to fly in Saturday, and fellow Santa Anita shippers Gormley, Royal Mo (23rd on the list), and Iliad (25th) are set to follow next Monday. Note that Iliad had been crossed off the list after the announcement that he’d point for the Preakness (G1), but the Doug O’Neill trainee quietly reappeared in the standings over the weekend. Stay tuned on his status.