Horse racing newsletter: Getting closer to Kentucky Derby Day

Dynamic Duo makes a run from the back on the final stretch at Del Mar Race Track.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome to our horse racing newsletter as we send good thoughts the way of jockey Vinnie Bednar.

As will be the case this week, there is very little original reporting going on, so the quotes you see here were gathered by the Churchill Downs notes team. Rather than get into what each horse did Wednesday morning (Hint: They galloped on a wet track and some went to the new starting gate), we’ll run down some observations made by the connections.

We’ll use the same format we used yesterday. That way you’ll have to keep reading to the bottom for the horses you really care about.

1. Finnick the Fierce (trainer Rey Hernandez, jockey Martin Garcia, 50-1). Hernandez on why he gallops his own horses: “I think it’s a big plus you can feel how they’re doing and you know everything about them,” Hernandez said. “It’s to your advantage.” … Co-owner Arnaldo Monge on his horse missing a right eye because of a congenital cataract: “In the beginning we tried to be really careful with him, how we approached him on his blind side. Rey did a great job when he was breaking him of giving him the confidence that everything was going to be OK. Kudos to Rey for how he handled this horse in the beginning.”

2. Max Player (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1). Asmussen on late Derby date: “This late in the year, I think horses are a lot more sorted out in what they are going to do. It’s going to be interesting. There are certain people in the race, riders you know their tendencies. I don’t think pace is going to be as fast as it could be because of that. We’ll be watching how the track plays this week. This is unprecedented to say the least. We feel fortunate to have Max Player, a horse of his talent that is doing this well right now.”


3. Enforceable (Mark Casse, Adam Beschizza, 30-1). Assistant trainer David Carroll: “Mentally he’s in a great place, I couldn’t be any happier with him. … Personally I would like to see him a little further out in the draw but we couldn’t be asking for him to be doing any better.”

4. Storm the Court (Peter Eurton, Julien Leparoux, 50-1). Eurton: “He matured early even though he is a late May foal. He has been running well and figuring things out. This would be the perfect time for him to do that. … It is a quality field. Art Collector not entering Tuesday was a big loss for the public and the Derby.”

5. Major Fed (Greg Foley, James Graham, 50-1). No report on the colt who is one-for-six lifetime.

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6. King Guillermo (Juan Carlos Avila, Samy Camacho, 20-1). No report on the colt who hasn’t raced since May 2.

7. Money Moves (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano, 3-1). Pletcher is staying in Saratoga this week and has designated Hall of Famer Wayne Lukas, 85, to handle this horse. … Lukas: “I just did what I was told. I sent him out there and he had a good maintenance gallop. We’ll school him in the gate [Thursday]. Todd just said ‘Run him like you would any of your others’.” … Pletcher by phone: “[Lukas is] a remarkable man. My biggest concern was I knew he had a bout with COVID-19 and I didn’t want to be a burden in any way on him. But I could tell from talking to him that his voice was strong and he was feeling good compared to the week before. That was my main concern was I didn’t want to be a burden for him.”

8. South Bend (Bill Mott, Tyler Gaffalione, 50-1). Assistant trainer Kenny McCarthy: “He was previously with [trainer] Stanley [Hough] so he’s trained over this track many times. It was a bit of a last-minute decision to go into the race but having said that, I think initially when the horse was purchased, that might have been in the back of their minds to try and get themselves a Derby horse. Obviously with the defection of Art Collector, they figured let’s take a shot.”

9. Mr. Big News (Bret Calhoun, Gabriel Saez, 50-1). Calhoun: “He’s bred with a lot of turf on both sides of the family. He worked over the turf here twice and I don’t think we’ll get a good grip of how good he would handle the surface with how soft it is. He’s breezed great over the dirt here and was very impressive over the winter at Oaklawn.”


10. Thousand Words (Bob Baffert, Florent Geroux, 15-1). Baffert on both Thousand Words and Authentic: “It’s a wet track so you really can’t tell if they like it or not, but so far everything seems well. It’s gone smooth, that’s what you want. … They’re coming off of wins and that’s very important. And you need to, you need to be at your best right now. That’s why they’re doing well.”

11. Necker Island (Chris Hartman, Miguel Mena, 50-1). Nothing new from Hartman, 47, who will be making his first Kentucky Derby start on Saturday.

12. Sole Volante (Patrick Biancone, Luca Panini, 30-1). Nothing new from assistant trainer Andie Biancone, who has handling things while her father Patrick stays in South Florida.

13. Attachment Rate (Dale Romans, Joe Talamo, 50-1). Romans: “We’ll continue to gallop two more days and be ready for Derby.”

14. Winning Impression (Dallas Stewart, Joe Rocco, Jr., 50-1). Exercise rider Emerson Chavez: “We’re ready for the Derby.”

15. NY Traffic (Saffie Joseph Jr., Paco Lopez, 20-1). Joseph: “I thought he went well. The track was a little sloppy, so I was undecided if we were going to gallop or jog today, but looking at the weather, there’s more rain on the way, so we may jog tomorrow and I decided to go on and gallop. He went well. He was nice and relaxed. He showed good energy. He stood in the gate. So far, all is well. … He’s done well. He’s trained forwardly. He has a good series of breezes in. Our preparation as far as a race horse coming into a race has gone as well as we could have asked. The Haskell was his best race as far as handicapping figures. He’s going to need to improve to compete with horses like Tiz the Law and Honor A. P., but we feel with the spacing of his races he should have improvement again.”

16. Honor A.P. (John Shirreffs, Mike Smith, 5-1). Shirreffs: “He’s doing good, excellent. The gate was a good learning experience for him. He needed that.”

17. Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg, Manny Franco, 3-5). Sackatoga syndicate head Jack Knowlton: “There was a lot of tension at the table as the numbers drew down. It was down to the two or 17 and I think the 17 is a great spot.”

18. Authentic (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez, 8-1). Ned Toffey, general manager of co-owner Spendthrift Farm: “He should be able to put himself in a good position. And we’ll see how he goes down the stretch.”


Jockey Bednar paralyzed

Quarter-horse jockey Vinnie Bednar, who was involved in a one-horse accident at Los Alamitos on Aug. 22, is paralyzed in his lower limbs, his father told Steve Andersen of the Daily Racing Form. “The injuries are significant,” Scott Bednar told DRF. “He lacks movement in his lower extremities. We’re hoping for the best in the long-term prognosis.” Bednar was riding Peek It Up when the horse broke down sending Bednar to the ground. Peek It Up was euthanized. Bednar, 28, will be sent to Craig Hospital in Engelwood, Co., for more treatment. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with expenses. You can find it here. For more on this, you can read Andersen’s story. Just click here.

A final thought

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We’ll be back tomorrow with a more normal newsletter with our usual Friday features. See you then.