Ready For Some Magic In Derby 150

Champion and 'TDN Rising Star' Fierceness training beneath the Twin Spires | Coady


LOUISVILLE, KY — Weeks and months of preparation, with a healthy dose of good luck, are complete. A full field of 20 will line up for the 150th anniversary renewal of the GI Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Much of the pre-race hype has revolved around the defending juvenile champion Fierceness (City of Light). A runaway winner in the GI Florida Derby in his latest start, the 'TDN Rising Star' has been training like a beast, signaling he is ready to do big things come Derby day. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, will be looking for his third Derby win following 2010 scorer Super Saver and Always Dreaming in 2017.

Standing in his way is GI Toyota Blue Grass S. victor and fellow 'TDN Rising Star' Sierra Leone (Gun Runner). A confirmed closer, the Chad Brown trainee came from well off the pace to win his first Grade I in style after taking a sloppy renewal of the nine-furlong GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds Feb. 17. He will try to employ similar tactics in Saturday's 10-furlong Classic.

“I knew I wanted to run [in the Risen Star] because of the long stretch and the timing of the race,” Brown said. “You know it came up a super tough race and the weather was really challenging. But the horse ran against everything and still won…especially on a track that not many horses were closing on that day. This horse was able to overcome a lot and get there. And he's really moved forward from there.”

Less fancied in the odds but hinting that he might be sitting on a big effort is Brown's other entrant, Domestic Product (Practical Joke). The near-black colt took the GIII Lambholm South Tampa Derby Mar. 9.

Likely to be employing similar tactics to the $2.3 million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga salestopper, Catching Freedom (Constitution) will try to add to his last out win in the GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Mar. 23. Trainer Brad Cox will also saddle Blue Grass runner-up Just a Touch (Justify). Cox got off the mark early on Friday's card, winning with Idiomatic (Curlin) in the GI La Troienne S. and First Mission (Street Sense) in the GII Alysheba S.

“He has definitely improved in the mornings,” said Cox of Catching Freedom, who breezed five furlongs in :59.1 (2/58) at Churchill Apr. 27. “He had to show us a little bit to make us a believer. He obviously made us a big believer in the Louisiana Derby and a few works leading up to that. We have seen a tremendous amount of that and even more since the Louisiana Derby.”

The colt won the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones S. before finishing third in the Risen Star.

“Even though he broke his maiden [at Churchill last October] and won the Smarty Jones, we felt like there was room for improvement,” Cox told TDN. “But he's definitely improved through the winter and throughout the spring.”

In regards to the pace scenario, Cox said, “He is going to have to get a set up, he'll need some pace in front of him. The pace will have to collapse, and if it does, he will be there in the end.”

According to Cox, his other runner offers a natural compliment to Catching Freedom's style

“He's very talented and has tactical speed. He should be in the mix early,” he said. “I think he got a lot out of his last race going a mile and an eighth. He's a smart horse. I think if he gets the trip, he is going to be there. He is a very nice horse.”

Japan is represented by a pair of runners, the undefeated colts G2 UAE Derby and G3 Saudi Derby winner Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) and T O Password (Jpn) (Copano Rickey {Jpn}). The former has handled his international shipping schedule with aplomb and doesn't seem to have put a foot wrong since his stateside arrival. Both colts are winners over nine furlongs and have given every indication they can extend that another furlong.

Loaded Graded Action on Derby Undercard

An additional seven graded stakes highlight Churchill's Saturday card, including another three at the top level. Alva Starr (Lord Nelson), winner of the Apr. 6 GI Madison S. at Keeneland, is undefeated in two starts this season and looks to extend her streak in the GI Derby City Distaff S. Later in the card, the GI Churchill Downs S. features the returning 'TDN Rising Star' Zozos (Munnings), unraced since a fifth in last fall's GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile after taking the one-mile GIII Ack Ack S. over this surface in September. The 5-year-old posted a five-panel move in :59 3/5 (5/58) Apr. 27.

“I like him,” Cox said. “He's had two really good works in the last two weeks and he's gotten ready kind of quick. It's a Grade I and I thought he can compete with these horses , so we're taking a chance. I think if he breaks well and has his way, he has a shot.”

Last year's GI Hollywood Derby and GI Saratoga Derby Invitational winner Program Trading (GB) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) marks his seasonal debut in the GI Turf Classic. He faces the 2023 GI Belmont Derby scorer 'Rising Star' Far Bridge (English Channel), a winner of a mile-and-a-sixteenth optional claimer at Gulfstream Mar. 31. Representing Godolphin, G2 Singspiel S. winner Naval Power (GB) tries to go one better than a second-place effort to Master Of the Seas (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}), last year's GI Breeders' Cup Mile hero, in a soggy renewal of the GI Maker's Mark S. at Keeneland Apr. 12. Frankie Dettori gets the call.

Rounding out the undercard stakes are the GII Twin Spires Turf Sprint, GII Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, GII Pat Day Mile and GII American Turf S.

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