Five Derby Hopefuls Tune Up Sunday

Just Steel | Renee Torbit/Coady Media

Five contenders took advantage of a mild, dry Sunday morning in Louisville to put in final works at Churchill Downs ahead of next weekend's GI Kentucky Derby. First of the group to work was BC Stable's Just Steel (Justify), who went out just as the track opened at 5:15 a.m. Sunday. The bay colt worked four furlongs in :50.40 (52/60), registering splits of :13.40 and :25.20 before being eased up on the gallop out.

“Just a slow maintenance work. We're close to the race, we didn't want to do much,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who watched the work from his pony, said. “We pretty much did what we thought. I didn't want him to gallop out much because I didn't want to do too much this close. He probably could have done more, but that's what it was.”

Runner-up in the GI Arkansas Derby, Just Steel won the Ed Brown S. over the Churchill strip last November. He worked one mile in 1:40.00 in Louisville Apr. 20.

Lukas said the colt should have no problem with the Derby's 1 1/4-mile distance.

“I think he has a pedigree to do this, very much so,” Lukas said. “And his running style probably complements it too. If he's good enough, he'll show up. But we've got something to work with with his pedigree.”

L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom and Breeze Easy's Track Phantom (Quality Road) was next of the Derby contenders to work, hitting the track before 6 a.m. Sunday. The GIII Lecomte S. winner and GII Risen Star S. runner-up worked five furlongs in company in 1:00.00 (5/16). He began his move through a solid opening quarter-mile of :24.20 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.60, according to Churchill Downs Clocker John Nichols.

“I think Track Phantom has a beautiful rhythm to him with a nice, beautiful stride,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “I don't think he's a horse that has to be on the lead. In his last two starts there were very tepid paces. I think for him to be wrangled back in either of those two races wouldn't have been to his style. I obviously expect there to be more pace in the Derby, everybody does with the quarter-mile run into the first turn. I think in a full field, I still want him to jump away from there well, but I'd be very surprised to see him on the lead in this year's Derby.”

Track Phantom was most recently fourth in the GII Louisiana Derby Mar. 23.

During the 7:30-7:45 a.m. training window for Derby and Oaks horses, Eric and Sharon Waller's Stronghold (Ghostzapper) worked five furlongs in company in :59.80 (3/16). Joe Talamo was aboard for the work, which was done in company with GII Twin Spires Turf Sprint contender Motorious (GB) (Muhaarar).

“He felt real good,” Talamo said of the GI Santa Anita Derby winner. “I've worked this horse before and today he showed me another gear. He's a different horse now; he did this easy.”

Trainer Phil D'Amato, who watched the work from the frontside grandstand, said he was pleased with the drill.

“I told them I just wanted a maintenance work today; nothing too serious,” D'Amato said. “And in the end, it was an ideal drill. I said maybe go in 1:01 or so, but the way the track is playing right now their times were plenty good. This horse has raced six times at six different racetracks and he knows what he's doing out there now. We've checked all the boxes and I'm very happy with where we stand coming up to the Derby.”

Stronghold | Renee Torbit/Coady Media

Emily Bushnell and Ric Waldman's Resilience (Into Mischief) put in his third work in 10 days when going four furlongs in :49.20 (37/60) Sunday morning. The GII Wood Memorial winner worked just after stablemate Just F Y I (Justify) worked four furlongs in :49.40 (38/60) in anticipation of Friday's GI Kentucky Oaks.

“I would say I was hoping to see exactly what we got,” trainer Bill Mott said. “I was hoping for a :49 work. We put a really good work into both horses six days ago, so we just wanted our final work to be nice and smooth and cross our fingers and hope they come back good. It looked like they both breezed well, finished up well and came back nicely. Neither one of them was being pushed.”

Mott said that, rather than a walk day, he may send Resilience back to the track on Monday for an easy jog.

Tami Bobo, Julie Davies and George Isaacs' Catalytic (Catalina Cruiser) worked four furlongs in :47.80 (13/60) in company with Jose Ortiz aboard Sunday.

“It was a good time, a good work,” said trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who added he was pleased with the colt's post five. “I thought it went as good as we could have asked, and Jose is happy with him. Hopefully we have a good week, and go on from here.”

Ortiz gave a thumbs-up to the work.

“He looked great, felt great,” Ortiz said. “It was just a maintenance work, and exactly what we were looking for. The horse is happy. Keeping him happy is all we have to do until Saturday.”

Catalytic will be making just his fourth lifetime start Saturday. He captured his debut at Gulfstream last October and was second in a six-furlong optional claimer at Tampa Bay in March before earning his spot in the Derby with a runner-up finish in the GI Curlin Florida Derby.

“He's showing a lot more energy here than he does at Gulfstream,” Joseph said. “And there, he doesn't seem to pay attention. Here he seems very focused.”

Courtlandt Farms' Our Pretty Woman (Medaglia d'Oro), listed as the first also-eligible for the Oaks worked a half-mile in :50.60 (53/60). Also working for the Oaks, Foster Family Racing, William Wargel, R.K. Eckrich Racing and Maxis Stable's Everland (Arrogate) went four furlongs in :51.60 (60/60).

While the official Kentucky Derby draw was held Saturday, Churchill Downs will host an aftercare post-position draw at 10:30 a.m. Monday, pairing each Derby runner with an aftercare organization.

Each organization is guaranteed at least a $5,000 donation from the Churchill Downs Foundation with the organization paired with the winner of the Kentucky Derby receiving a $25,000 donation. The runner-up will be awarded $20,000, the third-place finisher will receive $15,000 and fourth place will garner $10,000.

The organizations chosen this year are: After the Races, Friends of Ferdinand, Galloping Out, Horse and Hound Rescue, James River Horse Foundation, Kentucky Equine Adoption Center, MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, New Vocations, Old Friends, Racing For Home, Remember Me Rescue, ReRun, Inc., Second Stride, Secretariat Center, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Thoroughbred Retirement Network of Louisiana, TRRAC, United Pegasus Foundation, Virginia Thoroughbred Project and Win Place Home.

Fans can place a donation in the name of their favorite Derby contenders online at www.kentuckyderby.com/derbygives.

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