05/02/2011 2:58PM

Kentucky Derby: Watch Me Go allays O'Connell's fears about wet track


After trainer Kathleen O’Connell saw her Watch Me Go struggle to a sixth-place finish in the Illinois Derby over a racetrack officially listed as fast but which had plenty of moisture in it, the last thing she needed to see after arriving at Churchill Downs on Friday was more rain. But that’s exactly what O’Connell has gotten a steady dose of for the last three days while attempting to get a final prep into the horse representing her first Kentucky Derby starter on Saturday.

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O’Connell finally had to give in to the elements and work Watch Me Go five furlongs over a sloppy racetrack in 1:02 here early Monday morning. Watch Me Go appeared to handle the strip nicely while galloping out with high energy under jockey Freddie Lenclud.
“He went super and I was extremely happy with the gallop out,” O’Connell, 59, said. “Freddie does a super job. He also worked this horse for me before he won the Tampa Derby as well.”

Although Lenclud worked Watch Me Go on Monday, Rafael Bejarano will have the mount in the Derby.

“I like Rafael as a rider,” said O’Connell. “He fits the horse well. He’s a good judge of pace and a strong finisher.”

O’Connell had originally planned on working Watch Me Go the previous morning but postponed for one day after overnight rains left the strip wet and to her un-liking on Sunday.

“I checked the track shortly after I got to the barn this morning, around 4:15 a.m., and it looked good,” said O’Connell. “Because they had sealed it overnight I thought it was much better and much safer than it was the previous morning even after the break. I didn’t mind waiting a day or two but I couldn’t wait any longer. He really needed to stretch his legs and do something by today.”

O’Connell, a regular on the south Florida circuit since 1985, had one previous Derby hopeful, Blazing Sword, who finished second in the 1997 Fountain of Youth only to drop off the trail after getting sick shortly thereafter.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet that I’m going to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby,” said O”Connell who along with fellow south Floridian Kathy Ritvo is bidding to become the first woman trainer to win the Derby. “But I’m sure it will by tomorrow or the next day.”