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Updated on 09/17/2011 11:23AM
Nothing seems to bother Buddy Gil
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The sight of the twin spires at Churchill Downs has been known to cause a jockey or a trainer to get a dry mouth and go weak in the knees, and the commotion around the track the week of the Kentucky Derby has often caused a Derby contender to become unhinged. But Gary Stevens and Jeff Mullins on Monday had the quiet confidence of poker players waiting for everyone to show their inferior cards, this after Buddy Gil strutted around the track like he owned the joint.
Buddy Gil brings a three-race win streak into the Saturday's 129th Kentucky Derby, but the Santa Anita Derby winner still does not have a large following. He does, however, possess the aura of an athlete with bottomless confidence, bordering on arrogance, and he benefits by having in his corner a Hall of Fame jockey who has won the Derby three times, and a trainer who is a rising star and says he learned a great deal from his first Derby experience of one year ago.
"Lusty Latin," Mullins said, referring to a longshot he ran in last year's Derby, "I think I trained him too much. I drilled the horse. I jumped on the bandwagon. I think I got caught up in everything. This year, I decided to stick to my own schedule."
That includes working a horse nine days after a race, and once a week thereafter. Mullins stuck to it, and Monday - one week after Buddy Gil's last workout - Buddy Gil had his final drill for the Derby, a five-furlong work in 59.60 seconds on a fast track.
"He's like a machine. He continues to amaze me the way he does things," said Stevens, who was aboard for the work.
"He's used to birds flying, quail jumping out of brush, rabbits running under him," Stevens said, referring to Buddy Gil's early days being raised on a ranch in Idaho. "You could probably throw a football like they did in the Preakness, and it wouldn't bother him too much."
Buddy Gil was one of four Derby contenders who worked on Monday. That followed by a day works by five other contenders, including Empire Maker, the Derby favorite off victories in the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial.
As of Monday, 19 horses were still under consideration for the Derby. Included are Domestic Dispute, who was sold to new owners on Saturday, and Ten Cents a Shine, who struggled to work five furlongs in 59.20 seconds on Sunday with jockey Calvin Borel.
Riding assignments have been finalized on almost every runner. Three spots were filled in the past 48 hours, with Cornelio Velasquez picking up the mount on Scrimshaw, Borel committing to Ten Cents a Shine, and Eibar Coa getting the call to ride Eye of the Tiger, if he runs.
Confirmed for the Derby are Atswhatimtalknbout (David Flores the rider), Brancusi (Tony Farina), Buddy Gil (Stevens), Domestic Dispute (Alex Solis), Empire Maker (Jerry Bailey), Funny Cide (Jose Santos), Indian Express (Tyler Baze), Kafwain (Patrick Valenzuela), Offlee Wild (Robby Albarado), Outta Here (Kent Desormeaux), Peace Rules (Edgar Prado), Scrimshaw (Velasquez), Sir Cherokee (Terry Thompson), Supah Blitz (Rosemary Homeister Jr.), Ten Cents a Shine (Borel), and Ten Most Wanted (Pat Day).
Considered possible for the Derby are Eye of the Tiger (Coa), Lone Star Sky (undecided), and Senor Swinger (undecided).
Senor Swinger, who worked five furlongs on Sunday in 1:00.60, most likely will run in the Crown Royal American Turf on Friday, according to trainer Bob Baffert. Eye of the Tiger worked a moderate five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Monday. His trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said he would decide on Tuesday whether to run in the Derby. Lone Star Sky's status was to be determined after a workout on Tuesday, according to his trainer, Tom Amoss.
Final entries are due Wednesday morning, and post positions will be selected in a one-hour show on ESPN that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.
A maximum of 20 horses can run in the Derby. If more than 20 are entered, the field is determined based on earnings in graded stakes. At this point, it appears the earnings rule will not have to be invoked. But the fact that there is room in the field has caused some owners and trainers to consider running longshots. George Weaver briefly contemplated entering Christine's Outlaw, who most recently was a distant third in the Arkansas Derby, but on Monday, Weaver said Christine's Outlaw would not run in the Derby.
The long-range forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 69 degrees on Saturday, but significant thunderstorm activity was predicted from Monday night through Thursday. Because of that, trainer Wally Dollase elected to work Ten Most Wanted on Monday, rather than wait until Tuesday, as previously scheduled.
Ten Most Wanted, the Illinois Derby winner, turned in another sharp move, further solidifying his position as the likely second choice to Empire Maker. With Day aboard, Ten Most Wanted was timed in 59.40 seconds.
"I would like to see the race two days from now. He's ready," Dollase said.
Also working Monday was Scrimshaw, who finished poorly and was timed in 1:02.20 with exercise rider Stacey Maker.
Empire Maker and his Bobby Frankel-trained stablemate Peace Rules both worked six furlongs on Sunday. Both were ridden by exercise rider Mitsu Nakauchida.
Empire Maker, going easily throughout, bested the stakes-class turf horse Requete and was timed in 1:12.60. Peace Rules, who worked earlier in the morning, was timed in 1:14.
"The first one we messed up a little, but he's dead fit," Frankel said, referring to Peace Rules. "We went a little slower than I wanted. We were right on with the other horse."
Atswhatimtalknbout also worked Sunday. He was outfitted with blinkers, and had Flores aboard. Atswhatimtalknbout breezed past Carthage, a maiden winner, and was timed in 59.40 seconds.
"The way he worked gets me excited," said Ron Ellis, who trains Atswhatimtalknbout. He said Atswhatimtalknbout would wear blinkers in a race for the first time in the Derby.
Ellis had worked Atswhatimtalknbout once before in blinkers and was not satisfied with his colt's performance. This work was much better. Ellis said he used a less restrictive plastic cup, similar to the type of blinkers worn by Empire Maker.
"I think he was trying to look around the other blinkers," Ellis said. "He seemed more comfortable with these, and that's what we'll run with in the Derby."
- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee