04/26/2009 11:00PM

Ryan training Derby colt his way


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - That guy in a green jersey-style T-shirt and white visor pulling up to Barn 41 on a rusted low-end mountain bike late Monday morning - that guy was a groom, right? Hotwalker?

Guess again. That was trainer Derek Ryan. And for a man about to send out his first Kentucky Derby starter, Musket Man, Ryan is keeping things typically low-key at Churchill Downs.

The mountain bike was the property of Musket Man's groom, brought along from Florida, where Musket Man and Ryan's 16-horse string wintered at Tampa Bay Downs. Besides the bicycle, Ryan also has ridden Musket Man since the horse shipped here from Hawthorne Race Course the day after winning the Illinois Derby, galloping him on two occasions before the regular exercise rider arrived.

"He felt fine on this track," Ryan said. "No problems. He's ready."

Ryan's face might have tightened when asked how Musket Man has been training at Churchill; tough to tell behind the wraparound shades that Ryan, 40, seems to wear constantly. Seven years ago, Ryan won the Grade 2 Jersey Derby with Emergency Status. Until Musket Man came along, it was his only graded stakes win during a training career that began in 1996. Musket Man earned a trip to Churchill Downs with the Hawthorne victory, but now that he's here, some have voiced skepticism about his morning exercise. Musket Man worked six furlongs Saturday in 1:14.81, according to Daily Racing Form timing, and appeared to labor late in the work. Not so, according to Ryan.

"Hell no," Ryan said, when asked if he had concerns about the Saturday breeze. "He worked three-quarters in 1:14. What's wrong with that? His major work was the week before. Anyway, I caught his final quarter in 24" seconds.

Musket Man worked several bullets over the winter at Tampa, on two occasions shading a minute for five furlongs over a track surface notoriously deep and slow. But the fast works in February and March were meant to push Musket Man harder than he needs to be pushed now, Ryan said. And what's more, Musket Man is not the most willing work horse, regardless of how fast he breezes; the horse needs company just to get sufficient conditioning from his work. No surprise, though, that Musket Man doesn't have everything completely figured out.

"He's a May foal," Ryan said. "He's not even 3 yet."

Seems like the guy on the rusty bike knows his horse.

Ice just the latest in a long line

Dr. Kalarikkal K. Jayaraman has changed trainers so many times in his 27 years of horse ownership that it would be understandable if he lost count.

He hasn't.

"I went back and counted them, and it was 82 public trainers and seven private ones, including me," he said, laughing.

That's right. Jayaraman, who owns Kentucky Derby hopeful Summer Bird with his wife, Vilasini, even fired himself. In 1999, after being involved in the game as strictly an owner, he tried training his own horses, only to discover about six months later that it wasn't for him.

"It was a lot of hard work," said Jayaraman, a retired cardiologist. "It's not that easy to manage people."

Nor is it easy to satisfy Jayaraman. He wants to win, and when he doesn't, he often goes looking for a change.

"Results," he said. "That's all the matters."

Right now, Jayaraman is getting those results with Tim Ice, a 34-year-old in just his first year of training. Ice is 13 for 63 in 2009, with most of those wins coming with horses owned by the Jayaramans.

And of course, he got them to the Derby with Summer Bird, whose third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby provided the horse with $100,000 in graded stakes earnings, enough expected to secure him a starting position in what will likely be an oversubscribed field.

Summer Bird would be the Jayaraman's second Derby starter, following Irish Actor, who ran seventh behind Sunday Silence in 1989.

Ice said his relationship with Jayaraman is strong.

"He is a great guy," Ice said. "He wants to win, but he gives you the time when you need it."

Deegan a go-to rider at Churchill

Joe Deegan has been aboard a group of star horses any rider would envy: millionaires Perfect Drift and Rock Hard Ten, 2001 Kentucky Oaks winner Flute, 2005 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and now probable Kentucky Derby favorite I Want Revenge - just to name five.

His rides on those horses, however, have come not in races, but during morning training hours at Churchill Downs.

Deegan, 49, who ended his jockey career two years ago, now trains and is among the most sought after freelance exercise riders at the track.

As an exercise rider he is much more in demand than he was as a jockey in the United States, where he won with 535 of 6,780 career mounts. That followed a successful apprentice-riding career in his native Ireland.

His lone mount in the Kentucky Derby, Wilder Than Ever, finished 15th behind Strike the Gold in 1991.

It is his versatility as a trainer and rider that makes him a popular choice to gallop stakes horses when they ship to Churchill Downs, said TVG television analyst Jill Byrne. It was Byrne, in fact, who recommended that Deegan gallop I Want Revenge to Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stables, which owns part of the colt.

"Joe's just an expert horseman, so calm and comfortable on a horse," she said.

Although Deegan has not been aboard for I Want Revenge's works at Churchill Downs - his regular jockey, Joe Talamo, has flown in to breeze him - Deegan said he has been pleased by how I Want Revenge has galloped.

"He's training really, really good over the track," he said.

- additional reporting by Byron King