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Pair of races keeping politician busy
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jack Conway is the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He is running neck-and-neck in a heated primary race among Democrats for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated this year by Republican Jim Bunning. He has a 9-month-old daughter at home in Louisville. And he is a 50 percent owner of Stately Victor, a starter in the 136th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
"No, I haven't been getting much sleep lately," said a smiling Conway, obligatory coffee cup in hand after conducting an early-morning television interview Tuesday on the Churchill Downs backstretch.
These are busy days indeed for Conway, 40, who owns Stately Victor with his father, Louisville attorney Tom Conway, 72. Stately Victor is a latecomer to the Derby scene, having posted the biggest-priced upset in the 86-year history of the Blue Grass Stakes when he won that April 10 race over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland as a 40-1 shot for jockey Alan Garcia and trainer Mike Maker.
Since then, Stately Victor has returned to training in the quiet environs of the Trackside training center, located just a few miles east of Churchill.
"After the Blue Grass, Mike said, 'Listen, he's going to sleep in his own stall and train where he likes it,' and we were just fine with that," Conway said.
Conway said Stately Victor and his Derby-bound stablemate, Dean's Kitten, were scheduled to ship into Churchill and remain through the Derby after training hours Wednesday.
Even though he is swamped with his full-time job and the political race, Conway still has made time to handicap the Derby.
"I think we stand a decent chance," he said. Stately Victor "was really compromised by a liver infection over the winter, and he's by Ghostzapper, who was a late bloomer. Maybe we're coming to hand at just the right time."
Seeking the Title misses out on Oaks
Seeking the Title galloped Tuesday morning in the pink saddle cloth assigned to horses whose connections wanted to run in the Kentucky Oaks, but the yellow saddle cloth Derby hopefuls wear might have been more appropriate. Black-Eyed Susans, after all, have yellow petals, and the stakes at Pimlico bearing their name is probably where Seeking the Title will make her next start.
The Oaks field maxes out at 14 entrants, and when the race was drawn later Tuesday morning, Seeking the Title was No. 15 on the list. For all the talk this year of flaws in the graded stakes earnings rule that determines the 20-horse Derby field, the same rule applies to the Oaks and may have excluded a worthy participant. Age of Humor, for instance, was the last horse into the race. She finished third in the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds, beaten 10 lengths by runner-up Quiet Temper in a race won by Jody Slew. In the Fair Grounds Oaks, Seeking the Title rallied powerfully for third, beaten three-quarters of a length by winner Quiet Temper and well ahead of seventh-place Jody Slew.
"I think we'd have a very good chance to hit the board, to be right there if we could get into the Oaks," trainer Dallas Stewart said.
Stewart would know. He won the 2006 Oaks with Lemons Forever and rates Seeking the Title in the same class.
"I think she's pretty close," he said
Problem is, Seeking the Title didn't make her career debut until Jan. 23. She won her maiden second time out when stretched out to two turns before her highly encouraging performance in the Fair Grounds Oaks.
"She never gets tired, she never backs up, and she's eager and willing to train," Stewart said.
Stewart said he had Seeking the Title working from the gate last summer at Saratoga, but the filly "had some minor setbacks" that delayed her racing career. Stewart had to be patient in getting the filly to the races; now he must bide his time trying to engineer a stakes win.
"We're looking at races like the Alabama, Coaching Club, things at a mile and a quarter," he said. "I'm disappointed not to be able to run here, but I think there's a lot to look forward to."
Homeboykris still waiting for Derby work
Trainer Rick Dutrow has decided not to let Mother Nature get the best of him.
Dutrow continues to wait out the weather for Homeboykris's final Derby work. Dutrow, who won the 2008 Derby with Big Brown, pulled the plug again Tuesday on a scheduled workout for Homeboykris after steady showers rendered the track muddy. It was the fifth straight morning the racetrack has been graded as less than fast.
"I was hoping to work him today, but the track just wasn't good enough for me to have him breeze," Dutrow said of Homeboykris, the 2009 Champagne winner.
Dutrow said if he gets a fast track Wednesday, Homeboykris would work an easy half-mile. If he has to wait until Thursday, Homeboykris will go what Dutrow described as a "routine" three-eighths.
"If I can't work him the next two days, then I'll just blow him out on Derby morning," Dutrow said. "It would be nice to be able to dot all the I's and cross all the T's when it comes to training my horse into the Derby, but I'm not going to take chances [with the racetrack] to do it."
Joanie's Catch vans in from Florida
Joanie's Catch arrived at Churchill Downs early Tuesday morning following a 19-hour van ride from south Florida - just in time to draw post 14 in the Oaks.
"The weather wasn't bad during the trip, we only caught rain when we left Florida and arrived here," said trainer Barry Rose, who followed the van by car. "Originally, I was going to bring her to Kentucky early and give her a work over the track, but was advised against it. As things turned out, with all the rain in Louisville this weekend, we probably got in a better work at home."
As for drawing post 14, Rose took it all in stride.
"It shouldn't be a problem," he said. "It's not like she's going for the lead. She just needs to find a position and settle."
Joanie's Catch will be ridden in the Oaks by Paco Lopez, the leading rider at the recently concluded Gulfstream Park meet.
Texas man wins $100,000 win wager
A Houston-area man will be making a $100,000 win wager on the Kentucky Derby after being named the winner of the first "Call the Close" contest co-sponsored by Churchill Downs Inc. and the CNBC television network. Glen Fullerton will make an actual bet into the Derby win pool after beating out more than 67,000 contestants in picking the daily close of the Dow Jones industrial average earlier this month.
Fullerton, whose mother lives in Louisville, will be onsite to make his wager. He told Churchill officials this week that he has not yet decided on a selection.
Johnson readying for 'Late Show' racecall
Dave Johnson has not called the Kentucky Derby since 1999, but he's kept rolling right along with a faux call previewing the Derby every year on "The Late Show with David Letterman." It's often a hilarious exchange between the two Midwest natives, who communicate only by phone, with Letterman doing an exaggerated impression of Johnson's signature call, "And down the stretch they come," before bringing Johnson on.
Johnson is scheduled to appear on "The Late Show" on Friday night, less than 24 hours before Derby 136.
"This will be the 10th straight year I'll be on Dave's show," Johnson said Tuesday from his home in New York. "Funny thing is, I've never met Dave."
Johnson called the Derby for 24 straight years for ABC, ending with the upset victory by Charismatic in 1999. These days, he can be heard as the host of "Down the Stretch," a radio show on Sirius/XM heard every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern time. Johnson will be hosting that show this Saturday from New York and will not be attending the Derby in person.
Gomez part of Dodgers advertising campaign
On billboards in Los Angeles, and at Dodgers home games, jockey Garrett Gomez is part of the team's successful advertising campaign, "My Town." Gomez is on a pair of billboards near Hollywood Park. But at games, his face joins those of Larry King, Kim Kardashian, the Black-Eyed Peas, Manny Ramirez, and Joe Torre in advertisements on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard.
"This type of exposure puts Garrett in front of 3 million baseball fans," said David Arroyos, who coordinated the deal between Gomez and the Dodgers.
Gomez and Torre will be competing against one another in the Derby. Gomez rides Lookin At Lucky, the Derby favorite, while Torre is co-owner of Homeboykris, a longshot.
Wiggins back on Churchill backstretch
On Tuesday morning, Hal Wiggins was on the Churchill backstretch with his wife, Renee, visiting their son Lon, who followed in his dad's footsteps as a trainer. It was the first time Hal Wiggins had been back here since he retired from training last fall by winning with his final starter, a 26-1 shot named High Spirit.
On Tuesday of Derby week last year, Wiggins entered Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks, and the superstar filly responded with a 20 1/4-length triumph as a huge favorite.
"There was a little more pressure on me at this time last year," Wiggins said with a grin. "But it was all good."
* Diane Lane, the star of the Walt Disney Pictures movie "Secretariat," scheduled for release Oct. 8, will appear at a press conference Thursday morning at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Lane will play Penny Chenery and co-stars with John Malkovich, who plays trainer Lucien Laurin.
- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh, Jay Privman, and Mike Welsch