04/27/2012 3:02PM

2012 Kentucky Derby: Planned Union Rags drill could be delayed by storm

Audrey C. Crosby
Union Rags gallops over the Churchill Downs main track on Friday morning.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A desire to avoid the unpredictable spring weather in Kentucky has kept a fair share of Derby horses away from Churchill Downs so far this year, and this weekend, plus the results next week, might tell the tale over who made the better choice.

A significant rainstorm was forecast for the weekend here at Churchill Downs, most notably Saturday, when Union Rags headed the list of Derby horses scheduled to work. His trainer, Michael Matz, said Friday morning he was willing to wait a day until Sunday, but he was hoping to go full speed ahead Saturday morning.

By contrast, weather was of no concern in California, where Santa Anita Derby winner I’ll Have Another completed his serious training for the May 5 Derby with a six-furlong drill in 1:13.80 on Friday morning at Hollywood Park. The work was termed breezing by the track clockers, a designation given out stingily in California.

Weather was of mild concern in Florida, where trainer Todd Pletcher has been out of sight, but hopefully not out of his mind, training Gemologist and El Padrino the past three weeks at Palm Meadows. Pletcher had penciled in Sunday as the final work day for his horses, but was contemplating moving the drills to Saturday because of an increasingly gloomy forecast. Pletcher has not had his horses’ training interrupted this spring, in contrast to the wet weather that plagued him here a year ago with Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty.

It was hard to imagine that the weather was about to turn in Kentucky on Friday. It was a delightful morning, a bit chilly, but dry, and the temperature had not even touched 60 degrees by noon. But Matz was well aware of what was potentially coming. The forecast called for a 60 percent chance of rain on Saturday, with, according to weather.com, “variable clouds with showers and thundershowers, mainly in the morning.”

“A few storms may be severe,” the website reported.

Matz wanted to work Union Rags after the renovation break Saturday and said he would not be inclined to move the work up to first thing early Saturday morning if the rain was coming later.

“I want to do it in the daylight,” he said. “If I wait until 7, the track has had horses training over it for an hour. That’s why I’d rather do it after the break.

“I’ll do it Sunday if the track is muddy” Saturday, Matz added. “But it looked like the the track needed some moisture today.”

Union Rags got over the surface quite well Friday morning, his first gallop at the track since arriving from Keeneland, where he had spent the last two weeks. But he had extensive experience here last fall, when he was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He picked up steam as his gallop progressed.

“The farther he goes, the stronger he gets,” Matz said. “He’s amazing that way.”

At Hollywood Park, I’ll Have Another had an unconventional workout for trainer Doug O’Neill. I’ll Have Another worked from the eighth pole, around the clubhouse turn, and finished six furlongs near the end of the backstretch, at the half-mile pole.

O’Neill, who is based at Hollywood Park, said he frequently works horses in that fashion.

On Friday, I’ll Have Another, with exercise rider Johnny Garcia, worked well in front of stablemate Liberal Arts.

“I don’t want to turn it into a big racing setup,” O’Neill said. “It did its job.”

O’Neill said he does not plan an extensive exercise schedule for I’ll Have Another once he arrives at Churchill Downs.

“He’ll gallop strongly over it in a manner that will give him a feel of the track,” O’Neill said.

I’ll Have Another has won both his starts this year. He captured the Robert Lewis prior to his victory in the Santa Anita Derby.

I’ll Have Another was scheduled to fly to Kentucky on Saturday, along with Creative Cause, whom I’ll Have Another narrowly defeated in the Santa Anita Derby, and Rousing Sermon.

– additional reporting by Steve Andersen and David Grening