Sierra Leone, Catching Freedom, Tarifa Lead Derby, Oaks Workers

'TDN Rising Star' Sierra Leone (inside) tunes up Saturday at Keeneland | Sara Gordon

With less than two weeks to the first weekend in May, a gaggle of contenders for the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Kentucky Oaks took to racetracks across the country for some critical breezes Saturday morning.

'TDN Rising Star' Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) has remained at Keeneland since his slashing victory in the Apr. 6 GI Toyota Blue Grass S. and returned to the worktab for the first time on a chilly morning, breezing a half-mile in the company inside of recent Keeneland maiden winner White Palomino (Kitten's Joy) in :48.80 (19/127) (video).

The $2.3-million topper from the 2022 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale was caught in even splits of :12.40, :24.20 and :36.80 before galloping out a strong five furlongs in 1:01.20 and three-quarters in 1:15.60. Exercise rider Kriss Bon–apparently optimistic that Joel Embiid would be suiting up for Game 1 of the Philadelphia 76ers first-round NBA playoff appearance against the New York Knicks–in the stirrups.

 

 

 

“I've always worked him in company in the mornings,” said trainer Chad Brown. “He's always been a decent workhorse, just needs a little focus. Obviously, we've added blinkers this year, which have helped. But a little competition so he just feels a horse next to him just keeps him in the bridle nicely.

“He's a good-feeling horse–a nice horse to work around,” he continued. “He's a very alpha horse. He's definitely in charge of what's going on everywhere, and we give him his space and we let him be him. He's a very rare horse to have in your shedrow.”

Sierra Leone heads to Churchill Sunday and is tentatively scheduled to have his final breeze Apr. 27, weather permitting.

Brown's second Derby hopeful, GIII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Domestic Product (Practical Joke), went a half-mile in:48.40 at Payson Park Saturday morning and ships to Kentucky on Monday, with the commonly owned Oaks contender and 'TDN Rising Star' Ways and Means (Practical Joke). The latter drilled five panels in 1:00.60 at Payson Park Saturday.

Catching Freedom Goes Early at Churchill

With the majority of the pre-Derby hype focused on 'TDN Rising Star' Fierceness (City of Light) and Sierra Leone and to a lesser extent Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}), Catching Freedom (Constitution) is arguably the most-accomplished horse getting the least amount of attention two weeks out.

The GII Louisiana Derby winner was one of the first to visit the Churchill main track Saturday morning at 5:15 and covered five furlongs in 1:00.80, breaking off slowly through fractions of :25.40 and three-eighths in :37.80 before galloping out six furlongs in an energetic 1:13.20 and seven in 1:26.20, per clocker John Nichols. Trainer Brad Cox sent out stablemate Just a Touch (Justify), a latest second in the Blue Grass, for a half-mile breeze that was timed in :48.20 (:24.20, 1:01.20).

 

'TDN Rising Star' Tarifa (Bernardini), in many eyes the Oaks favorite, was out soon after to breeze five furlongs in the company of fellow Oaks hopeful Gin Gin (Hightail). The duo stopped the clock in 1:00.80 in fractional times of :13 and :37.20, with a six-furlong gallop out in 1:14.20.

 

Just Steel (Justify) breezed an eventful six furlongs in 1:13.80 (:13.40, :37.20, :49.40). After beginning his move by himself, he was joined by a stablemate to his inside and the duo was confronted by a pair of Norm Casse workers at the half-mile pole. But by the time they reached the stretch, the Wayne Lukas trainees had separated themselves and completed the work in tandem.

The Lukas-trained Lemon Muffin (Collected), who earned her way into the Oaks with an upset in the GIII Honeybee S., breezed five furlongs in 1:02.20.

Gargan, McPeek Each Breeze A Pair

New York-based trainer Danny Gargan will have two runners in this year's Run for the Roses, and that team eyeballed one another through a half-mile breeze in :48.20 (16/123) Saturday in Louisville.

Dornoch (Good Magic), the full-brother to 2023 Derby hero Mage who won the GII Coolmore Fountain of Youth S. Mar. 2, worked outside of stablemate Society Man (Good Magic), long-odds runner-up in the GII Wood Memorial S.

 

Mystik Dan (Goldencents), upset winner of the GIII Southwest S. and third in the GI Arkansas Derby, will carry the hopes of the Ken McPeek barn and earned the bullet for his five-furlong work Saturday that was timed in :59.40 (1/71) beneath the Twin Spires. 'TDN Rising Star' Thorpedo Anna (Fast Anna) continues to thrive following her comebacking victory in the GIII Fantasy S. and went a five furlongs in 1:00.60 (14/71).

“She's a super nice filly,” McPeek said. “I was very impressed with how easily she was able to win the Fantasy off the layoff and she's run very well over this surface here at Churchill. They better bring a bear [in the Oaks] because I'm bringing a grizzly. I wouldn't be afraid to run her against the colts.”

Stronghold Breezes A Bullet At Santa Anita

Stronghold (Ghostzapper), last-out winner of the GI Santa Anita Derby, worked a swift half-mile in :46.60 Saturday morning in Arcadia beneath jockey Antonio Fresu and under the watchful eye of trainer Phil D'Amato.

Coming onto the track just after 6:30 a.m., Stronghold broke off at the half-mile pole a few lengths behind a stablemate, drew even with a sixteenth of a mile to the finish and was narrowly in front at the wire. Crack California-bred sprinter The Chosen Vron (Vronsky) shared the bullet time for the half-mile.

“He did it so easy,” said Fresu. “I was actually expecting about :48 the way he was going,” he added. “The track was a little fast today. I didn't ask him for anything.”

Per D'Amato, Stronghold will ship to Kentucky this coming Tuesday and will have his final Derby work next weekend.

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