05/03/2012 10:27AM

2012 Kentucky Derby: Maragh officially gets mount on Alpha

Tom Keyser
Alpha finished second in the Wood Memorial under Ramon Dominguez, but will be ridden in the Kentucky Derby by Rajiv Maragh.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rajiv Maragh finally got some sleep Wednesday night.

Earlier in the day, he received the phone call from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin confirming that he would ride Wood Memorial runner-up Alpha in Saturday’s $2 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Ever since Maragh worked Alpha at Belmont Park last Saturday, it was widely believed he would get the mount, but it always came with the caveat that McLaughlin could switch if someone like Ramon Dominguez - who had ridden Alpha three times this year - became available.

“I can tell you one thing, I slept a lot better last night than I did the previous three nights,” Maragh said Thursday by phone from New York.

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Coincidentally, Maragh was with Dominguez when McLaughlin called him in the Belmont jockeys' room. The two riders were about to sit down to breakfast.

“We started talking about the horse and he had positive things to say about the horse,” Maragh said. “He told me about the one gate experience when the horse got upset. He was being aggressively handled by the gate guy and he told me that’s what triggered him off.”

That was in the Count Fleet Stakes, where Alpha overcame a poor start to win by 2 1/2 lengths. In the Withers, a race he won by 3 1/4 lengths, and again in the Wood Memorial, in which he was beaten a neck when second to Gemologist, Alpha was well behaved in the gate.

In the Derby, where horses are loaded two at a time, Alpha will be loaded first into the gate because he drew post 11, and 1 and 11 go in first.

“I’m going to use it as a positive and figure I’m going to have a lot of time to settle my horse in the gate really well, get him to catch his breath when he goes in there,” Maragh said. “I know the horse acted up a couple of times last year. From what he showed me the other morning when I sat on him I don’t expect him to misbehave.”

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This will be Maragh’s third Derby mount. In 2010, he finished ninth on Mission Impazible. Last year, he finished third on Mucho Macho Man.

“The horse I ride this year has got a very similar running style to the one I rode last year, probably going to come from behind a little bit,” Maragh said. “It seems like there’s a lot of speed in the race and I’ll just try to get a clear trip from where I’m coming from.”

That Maragh has the mount for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum shouldn’t come as a surprise. Between Darley and Godolphin, Maragh has ridden five Grade 1 winners for Sheikh Mohammed, including Little Belle (Ashland), Seventh Street (Go for Wand, Apple Blossom) and Music Note (Beldame, Ballerina).