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2012 Kentucky Derby: Motion, Matz follow successful patterns with Went the Day Well, Union Rags
By Jay Privman
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Why mess with success? Graham Motion and Michael Matz both have won the Kentucky Derby, Motion last year, Matz in 2006, and they are back this year at Churchill Downs with runners whose final works on Saturday were almost carbon copies of what the trainers did with their Derby winners.
When Motion won with Animal Kingdom, he worked that horse one week in front of the Derby, in company, just as he did on Saturday with Went the Day Well, who, like Animal Kingdom, won the Vinery Spiral Stakes in his last start. Went the Day Well wore blinkers, which Motion intends to use for the first time in the Derby.
Barbaro gave Matz his Derby win six years ago, and that colt touted his readiness with a sharp workout the weekend before the Derby in which he started at the half-mile pole but galloped out strongly another quarter-mile past the wire. Union Rags did the exact same thing on Saturday morning in a move that, combined with his popularity, might propel him to favoritism by next Saturday’s race.
Went the Day Well and Union Rags were two of four Derby runners to work on Saturday morning at Churchill Downs, along with Dullahan and Prospective. Three other Derby horses – Alpha, Done Talking, and Hansen - worked at three other locations.
John Velazquez – who combined to win the Derby with Motion and the Team Valor International partnership headed by Barry Irwin – flew in for Went the Day Well’s workout, which was timed by Daily Racing Form in 1:00.80 for five furlongs. Motion has cautioned that Went the Day Well is not a good work horse, but he was sharp on Saturday, the addition of blinkers appearing to make a significant difference.
“It couldn’t have gone any better,” Motion said. “That was the first time he’s kicked on, gone away from another horse. I think the blinkers really helped.”
Motion said both he and Velazquez had discussed the idea of adding blinkers, and Velazquez “encouraged me,” Motion said.
“I feel he’ll end up wearing them eventually, so it’s crazy not to use them now,” Motion said. “It’s against my principle, doing something like this for a big race, but I don’t want to be kicking myself afterwards for not doing it.”
Because Went the Day Well won his last start, Motion must get approval from the Churchill Downs stewards to make the switch.
Motion admits to being an emotional person, and gets a hitch in his throat when asked about the experience of winning the Derby last year.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year,” he said.
Should Went the Day Well prevail, Motion, Velazquez, and Irwin would be the first repeat winners of the Derby since Lucien Laurin, Ron Turcotte, and Penny Chenery with Riva Ridge and Secretariat in 1972-73.
“First of all, I can’t believe I’m back here with a chance, and with the same connections,” Motion said. “I didn’t expect to be back so quickly. I don’t want to be here with a horse who doesn’t belong. He belongs.”
Motion apparently has retained his profile as the best trainer nobody knows. He sent Twitter alight on Friday afternoon when he said the agent at the rental car counter in Louisville, from whom he has rented in the past, asked him if he’d been to the Derby before. He got a good laugh out of that.
What did he say to the agent? Per usual, Motion was unfailingly polite.
“Oh yeah, I’ve been there a couple of times,” he said.
Just as Went the Day Well was completing his drill, Union Rags was right behind, motoring through the stretch under jockey Julien Leparoux. Though he broke off at the half-mile pole, he was timed by Daily Racing Form going five furlongs in 59.97 seconds, and continued out to the six-furlong pole in 1:13.34.
“By the time he got here,” Matz said back at his barn, “he wasn’t blowing at all.
“I wanted a strong work,” Matz added. “He had a nice strong work. It’s great to have a chance.”
Union Rags was third most recently in the Florida Derby.
Dullahan, the Blue Grass winner, and Prospective, the Tampa Bay Derby winner, also worked five furlongs, Dullahan in 1:00.99, Prospective in 1:01.08
A mere six miles away at the Churchill Downs Trackside training center, juvenile champion Hansen, coming off a runner-up finish in the Blue Grass, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20. He was joined late in the work by Derby Kitten, the 2011 Lexington winner.
The relatively unconventional approach of having a workmate join the breeze in the stretch left trainer Mike Maker pleased.
“Obviously we are trying to harness his speed,” Maker said. “So if we put a workmate with him from the starting point of the work, he’s got a tendency to be very aggressive. So we just sprinkled it in during the last part.”
At Belmont Park, Wood Memorial runner-up Alpha worked five furlongs in 59.54 seconds over the training track. Rajiv Maragh was on Alpha for the work, which was done in company with the 3-year-old maiden Steele Road.
“All systems go,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who said Alpha would be flown to Kentucky on Monday.
McLaughlin said that, barring the unforeseen, Maragh would ride Alpha in the Derby. Maragh is in Kentucky that day to ride Groupie Doll in the Humana Distaff for female sprinters.
At Laurel, Illinois Derby winner Done Talking worked five furlongs in 1:01, the best time of 17 at the distance.
At Palm Meadows, sloppy conditions prompted trainer Todd Pletcher to postpone planned workouts for Gemologist and El Padrino. Pletcher had moved the workouts from Sunday to Saturday in anticipation of rain – which came earlier than forecast. Both horses were expected to work Sunday over what almost certainly will be a wet track.
Also Saturday, Creative Cause, I’ll Have Another, and Rousing Sermon arrived here following a flight from California.
– additional reporting by David Grening and Byron King
I also remember Matz winning the Florida Derby. But everybody here says he wasn't trying to win.
Here's the deal. Until we have the draw for post position, none of this banter means anything. Bode has come home as the best horse with gas to spare, regardless of the 108 Beyer and we don't know if he has the tactical capability to match his speed. I have him in a future bet and I think he is hands down the best horse in the field. Honestly, it's a very weak field - that's how paramount the draw really is. If he comes out and runs anything near the Ark from a 5-12 (really up to 15 post) this is just a formality. Union Rags, truest definition of a "monster" (we all know how awful that description is), can not run straight. It's Saturday, but come Wednesday with a decent post (stalking or speed), we will know who the Derby winner will be. Bodemeister.
Union Rags and Hanson are reasons I can't like Bodemeister to win the Derby. Rags is sitting on top of a big one and he and Hanson will be there harassing Bodemeister up to the mile post thus softening him up for the stalkers such as Creative Cause, Gemologist, Alpha and (YES!!) Take Charge Indy who I expect to run a stalker's race at Churchill Downs!!
Bodemeister is the best horse, that being said I never saw this much speed in the Derby. So I will leave Bode off all tri tickets and maybe even superfecta tickets. All closers in the Derby for me. Hoping number 21 draws in
What Classy, Classy outfits these are. If there's long range hope for Racing in America it just might lay in Fair Hill and at Aiken.
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