By Steve Sherack
LOUISVILLE, KY – With the Churchill Downs backstretch and apron buzzing with socially distanced and mask-wearing fans, you could feel the excitement building during training hours on a steamy Wednesday morning.
Cloudy skies and humid conditions greeted the GI Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders during the special, 15-minute training period beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert held court by the main gap and posed for a quick photo-op holding the lead shank of his overachieving $35,000 OBS July 2-year-old Medina Spirit (Protonico) as the main track was still being harrowed.
Three of four members of the 'Todd Squad'–Dynamic One (Union Rags), Known Agenda (Curlin) and Sainthood (Mshawish)–were among the first of the Derby horses to enter as trainer Todd Pletcher stood on the track to watch through the binoculars.
The GI Curlin Florida Derby winner certainly wasn't done any favors at Tuesday's draw with the dreaded one hole, but couldn't have looked any better getting over the surface.
The stretch-running King Fury (Curlin), sporting a blue bridle for Kenny McPeek, was another chestnut to immediately catch the eye. Any chance his namesake, two-time world heavyweight champ Tyson Fury, shows up to root him on Saturday?
Accompanied by former Doug O'Neill stable star Lava Man, the black blinkered and red shadow-rolled Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow) was raring to go passing by a nice group of media and photographers assembled along the rail on the backstretch. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, media credentials were capped at 1,200, or 60% of capacity.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen ponied house horse Super Stock (Dialed In) to and from the track. Owned in partnership by his father Keith, the exercise rider had a tight hold of the reins as the GI Arkansas Derby winner displayed great energy throughout his gallop.
With trainer Vicki Oliver aboard, longshot Hidden Stash (Constitution) made his first local appearance, galloping a mile and a half beneath the Twin Spires after arriving Tuesday.
Wood Memorial upsetter Bourbonic (Bernardini), the final entrant of the Pletcher quartet, galloped shortly after the main track re-opened to the general horse population just before 8 a.m. Hector Ramos, also aboard Known Agenda earlier, was back in the irons.
Unbeaten morning-line favorite and 'TDN Rising Star' Essential Quality (Tapit), meanwhile, stuck to his early routine and galloped 1 1/2 miles for Brad Cox at 5:15 a.m.