Horse racing newsletter: Special Kentucky Derby newsletter

Bob Baffert
(Charlie Riedel / AP)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we hear about the jockey that Bob Baffert at first wanted to ride American Pharoah.

Let’s take one more spin around the backside and see what some of the Kentucky Derby horses were doing on Wednesday. Rain is expected all day on Thursday, so things might get altered.

All this information comes courtesy of the Churchill Downs notes team.

Known Agenda (post 1), Sainthood (5), Dynamic One (11), Bourbonic (20): These are the four horses from the Todd Pletcher barn. Known Agenda, Sainthood and Dynamic One all went out in the 7:30-7:45 a.m. time reserved for Derby and Oaks starters. Bourbonic went out at 7:50 a.m. All galloped 1 ¼ miles. Pletcher plans to send them out on Thursday despite the wetness. “The only way we won’t train Thursday is if it’s unsafe (lightning) outside,” Pletcher said.

Like the King (2): This Wesley Ward trainee went out and galloped a little more than a mile around 9 a.m. after shipping in from Keeneland on Tuesday. Santa Anita-based trainer Blake Heap was overseeing things for Ward, who isn’t here. “[Ward’s] father Dennis had a horse named Do Right by Dudley in 1987 at Turf Paradise,” Heap said of his involvement with Ward. “A few years later we started being stabled next to each other and starting helping each other out.”

Brooklyn Strong (3): The Danny Velazquez trainee just walked the shedrow on Wednesday and will make his first trip to the Churchill Downs surface on Thursday. He had his final work on Monday at Parx in Philadelphia.


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Keepmeinmind (4): This colt went out on the track at 5:30 a.m. and looked good. “He’s been working really good,” said trainer Robertino Diodoro. “In his first race this year at Oaklawn (Rebel), it was a speed biased track. It wasn’t (jockey) David’s (Cohen) fault, but he got hung four or five wide and when it looked like he was about to make a move, he just hung. In the Blue Grass, we knew there wasn’t much speed so we tried to put him closer to the front. We did, but he didn’t do it on his own. David had to force him to lay closer and when it came time to run, he was empty. He’s had excuses. I think he’ll show up to be the real horse on Saturday. It’s hard to say I’m confident with a 50-1 shot, but I do think he’ll show up. He’ll come running.”

O Besos (6): He galloped about a mile and schooled in the paddock on Wednesday morning. “We’re ready to roll,” trainer Greg Foley said.

Mandaloun (7), Essential Quality (14): This pair for Brad Cox went out 5:15 a.m. These are Cox’s first Kentucky Derby starters. “I’m not too nervous yet, just getting excited,” Cox said. “This week is a lot of fun and I’m really excited to be a part of it in this role.” If either horse wins, Cox will be the first Louisville-born trainer to win the Kentucky Derby.

Medina Spirit (8): He galloped 1 ½ miles during the 7:30 a.m. slot for trainer Bob Baffert. “The thing about Medina Spirit is he’s an overachiever,” Baffert said. “He’s a real fighter and if there’s a battle, he’ll be right there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a piece of it.”

Hot Rod Charlie (9): The Doug O’Neill trainee galloped 1 ¼ miles at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Chuck, as the horse is known, is going to have one of the biggest on-site cheering sections. There are three racing syndicates involved in the ownership including Boat Racing, a collection of five former Brown football players, all of whom work in California. All all the owners brought their own entourages. “They’re quite a group,” O’Neill said. “They’ll be good for business here in town. By Friday night I expect them to be up around 150 people.”


Midnight Bourbon (10), Super Stock (18): The pair of Steve Asmussen trainees hit the track during the designated 7:30 a.m. time. Midnight Bourbon did less as it was his first time out since a Monday breeze. Super Stock galloped 1 ¼ miles.

Helium (12), Soup and Sandwich (19): David Carroll, assistant to Mark Casse, said both horses galloped on Wednesday morning and also that a Tuesday schooling session went well. Casse is supposed to be on the backstretch on Thursday.

Hidden Stash (13): This horse made his first appearance at Churchill since running here on Nov. 28. He galloped 1 ½ miles under his trainer Vicki Oliver. She has been commuting between Keeneland and Louisville. “I usually gallop 7 or 8 in the morning at Keeneland,” Oliver said. “The 7:30 training window is perfect for us.” Hidden Stash also schooled. “I was going to do it on a race day, but with the rain in the forecast, I didn’t want to do it then,” Oliver said. “He was good and we don’t have to do that again.”

Rock Your World (15): The John Sadler trainee went during the 7:30 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. special window and a nine-furlong gallop. Sadler addressed the long relationship with jockey Joel Rosario and how he chose to replace Umberto Rispoli with him. “I first rode [Rosario] on a horse at Golden Gate and he got beat a whisker,” Sadler said. “But I said ‘Wow’ to myself, that kid rode the hair off my horse. When he came south I was on him right away. I put him up on his first winner at Hollywood Park – he came through a hole that I didn’t think possible in order to do it -- and we were off and running from there. … Make no mistake, Umberto Rispoli is a terrific rider. He’s won Santa Anita’s stakes the last two weekends for me and we’ve won a lot of races together. But the analytics with Joel are so strong I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I’m hoping, of course, it all works out.”

King Fury (16): Trainer Kenny McPeek explained the morning gallop succinctly: “It was a mile-and-a-half, uncomplicated.”

Highly Motivated (17): This Chad Brown trainee went out and galloped 1 3/8 miles during the morning Derby starters window. “I like the way he’s going, I thought he was moving a little better [Wednesday],” Brown said. “He had a strong work and now, the second day back galloping out of the breeze, he’s loosening up again and looks super. I’m really happy with him.”


The one that got away

Today’s story from the backside is from the legendary jockey agent Ron Anderson. He has been the agent for riders such as Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens and Garrett Gomez. He currently controls the books of Joel Rosario and John Velazquez.

(We interrupt this story with a rumor that Johnny V may move his tack to Southern California for the winter. Uh, not true right now, but not out of question, either. “It’s his call, whatever he’s comfortable with,” Anderson said.)

OK, back to the story. Jockey agents rarely get the credit they deserve for landing their clients the best horses, which Anderson has been doing with great skill for years. His successes are a mountain compared to his missteps. But Wednesday morning, swapping stories with trainer Bob Baffert and two reporters, he told about the big one that got away.

“I blew it with one of the Triple Crown winners,” Anderson said. “I cost Joel Rosario a Triple Crown.”

Here’s how it would have had to happen. Rosario was in Del Mar on Aug. 31, 2014, then he rode the next day at Saratoga. Then, he would have had to go back to Del Mar on Sept. 3 to ride in the Del Mar Futurity. Follow that up with going back to New York for opening day at Belmont on Sept. 5.

“That’s the worst trip for a rider is to go from Del Mar to Saratoga and back,” Anderson said.


“So, Bob [Baffert] texts me two days before he entered and said can you get here on Wednesday because the [Del Mar] Futurity was on a Wednesday. I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to tell this jock, he’s got to be back to New York on Friday.’

“[Baffert] texts back, ‘It’s a maiden.’ I text back, ‘I can’t get there.’ If I had just picked up the phone. We communicate a lot … I know by the tone of his voice, the confidence level. He would have said, ‘He’s a maiden but he’s definitetly OK.’ I would have been there in two seconds.

“That cost me American Pharoah.

“I’ve made a lot of great calls in my life. I’ve made a few bonehead calls. That’s the worst one.”

You have to remember Pharoah lost his first race, finishing fifth in a maiden special at Del Mar. Martin Garcia rode him that time. In the Futurity, Garcia was scheduled to ride another Baffert horse, Holiday Camp, who Garcia had ridden twice before including his first win. So, Pharoah needed a jockey.

And that’s how Victor Espinoza became the first Triple Crown winning jockey in almost four decades.

A final thought

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No entries or results, we’ll be back tomorrow with the usual Friday newsletter, and Jon White’s Derby rankings.