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Trainers liking new private session
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When it came to training his Kentucky Derby horses, D. Wayne Lukas always kept everybody in the dark.
Lukas, a four-time Kentucky Derby winner, would traditionally send his Derby hopefuls out to train before dawn. None of his horses wore their personalized saddle towels, which would have identified them to both the media and public alike.
But this year, Lukas has seen the light while creating a unique Derby moment on Monday morning by having Dublin work after the 8:30 a.m. renovation break. The 2009 Hopeful winner, Dublin announced his presence to one and all by coming to the track resplendent in his yellow Kentucky Derby towel.
The reason for Lukas's break with his personal Derby tradition, and one also followed by disciples such as trainer Todd Pletcher, is twofold. Training in the dark is a thing of the past in the two weeks leading up to the Derby now that the lightning system in place at Churchill Downs is being used to illuminate the track each morning. Track officials have also created a 15-minute window following the renovation break when only Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses are allowed to train over the main track.
"Closing the track to all but Derby and Oaks horses for that short period each morning is fantastic," Lukas said. "And it only took them 136 years to figure out what a good thing this is."
The decision to allow Derby and Oaks horses to have first dibs on a fresh racetrack each morning came about following an accident that occurred here last year shortly after the renovation break that claimed the life of one horse and jeopardized several Derby and Oaks horses training at the time, including Rachel Alexandra. The only condition trainers must meet to take advantage of the new privilege is that their horses must wear the special Derby and Oaks towels to gain admission to the track immediately after the break.
"You might have up to 100 2-year-olds training on the track any given morning and that alone can jeopardize the safety of these extremely valuable, Derby horses," said Lukas. "Letting our horses have that 20 minutes to themselves doesn't affect anybody while giving us the opportunity to not only have a safe racetrack but showcase our good 3-year-olds to the media and public."
Lukas said the reason he would leave the personalized saddle towels off his horses in the past was driven strictly by safety concerns.
"I was never trying to hide my horses," said Lukas. "I was concerned that some guy with a camera who didn't know any better might rush at one of the Derby horses if he knew who it was, which with all that traffic and hoopla out there could have created a dangerous situation."
Nick Zito and Bob Baffert, who like Lukas have trained multiple Kentucky Derby winners, both agreed the new policy is a good one and a long time coming.
"It's a great idea to allow the Derby horses to have the track to themselves like that," said Zito. "It's just a shame it took a fatal accident to get it to happen."
Loup Breton to Woodford Reserve
Loup Breton, arguably the top turf horse in training on the West Coast, will be supplemented for $25,000 to the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Derby undercard and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez.
Loup Breton, a 6-year-old Irish-bred owned by the Wildenstein Stable and trained by Julio Canani, is one of at least eight older horses expected for the 1 1/8-mile Woodford.
One other Woodford possibility, General Quarters, was among the turf workers at Churchill on Tuesday, the first day this year that training was permitted on the course. General Quarters, 10th in the Derby last year, breezed five furlongs in 1:05 over firm going with the cones well out onto the track.
Court Vision, Battle of Hastings, Nicanor, and Yate's Black Cat are among the other possible Woodford runners.
Gomez taking over on Blame
Gomez will have the mount on Blame when the standout colt makes his 4-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Schaefer Handicap on the May 15 Preakness undercard at Pimlico.
Trainer Al Stall Jr. said Gomez will replace Jamie Theriot, who rode Blame to victory four times last year, including a season-ending triumph over Misremembered in the Nov. 27 Clark Handicap at Churchill.
Blame, bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, will run back in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill four weeks later if all goes well, said Stall, with the Nov. 6 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill being the ultimate goal.
The Alysheba Stakes on the April 30 Kentucky Oaks undercard had been the original goal for Blame to start the season, said Stall, but "due to track conditions at the Fair Grounds this winter, his training got pushed back a couple of weeks."
Leparoux pulls double duty
Jockey Julien Leparoux had a busy morning on Tuesday. About an hour before he worked his Derby mount, Awesome Act, six furlongs for trainer Jeremy Noseda, the Eclipse Award-winning rider breezed Warrior's Reward an easy five furlongs in 1:02.84 for Ian Wilkes. Warrior's Reward, winner of the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in his last start, is prepping for the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes at seven furlongs on Derby day.
Announcer lucky in travel timing
Mark Johnson feels lucky to be here, and not only because this will be his second year at the Kentucky Derby as the ontrack race-caller at Churchill.
Johnson said he was on the fourth-to-last flight out of Heathrow Airport in his hometown of London before air transportation throughout Europe was suspended because of the Iceland volcanic eruptions that began April 14.
"I'm quite sure I wouldn't have made it here for opening day if American Airlines hadn't hurried us out of there when they did," said Johnson.
Johnson was in the barn area Tuesday studying Derby horses "for whatever there is to notice about them," he said. Last year, Johnson nailed his first Derby call by picking up a rallying Mine That Bird well before other race-callers did.
* Churchill conducted a crisis exercise after training hours ended Tuesday, with outriders, medical personnel, veterinarians and other personnel going through a dry run and discussing procedures in case of an ontrack emergency on Oaks or Derby day.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee