Thursday, May 5, 2011

Derby trio get first taste of Churchill Downs

Thursday, May 5, 2011

LOUISVILLE ? Three Kentucky Derby contenders took to the Churchill Downs track for the first time Wednesday morning in a bone-chilling cold.

  • Derby Kitten, racing April 23, joined the Kentucky Derby field on Tuesday.

    By Mark Zerof, US Presswire

    Derby Kitten, racing April 23, joined the Kentucky Derby field on Tuesday.

By Mark Zerof, US Presswire

Derby Kitten, racing April 23, joined the Kentucky Derby field on Tuesday.

Trainer Mike Maker sent his two Derby horses — Twinspired and Derby Kitten — to the track after bringing them on the short trip from Trackside Training Center.

The horses galloped the track and schooled in the paddock, Maker said, adding both were coming into the race fit and ready to go.

"I don't think either one of my horses will have trouble with the distance," he said.

Derby Kitten made the field for Saturday's race after Toby's Corner dropped out of contention Tuesday.

Comma to the Top also made his first trip to the dirt Wednesday. The horse, who brings the experience of 13 starts to the Derby field, was shipped to Churchill Downs on Tuesday from California, where he recently had run at Hollywood Park.

Trainer Peter Miller said Comma to the Top shipped well and looked like he handled the track well. "He was feeling good out there," Miller said.

Miller initially had said this horse wasn't going to make the trip to the Kentucky Derby. As things developed in the season, he said, his plans for Comma to the Top changed.

"The favorites didn't perform well or dropped out of the Derby, and we ran a bang-up race in the Santa Anita Derby," he said. "So that's kind of what changed our mind. I started to look at it and said my horse is every bit as good as these horses. … He deserves a chance, so here we are."

Comma to the Top is a speed horse who will likely be out in the front as he can show sprinter's speed, Miller said.

"If (the other horses) try to keep up with him, they're going to feel it," he said.

Twice the Appeal:

Twice the Appeal took to the Churchill Downs track for a gallop Wednesday morning.

"Visually he looked really good," trainer Jeff Bonde said.

Bonde is mounting his first Derby horse, though he has been to Churchill Downs with Kentucky Oaks contenders.

"I've been here before and seen the carnival," he said. "It's a lot more fun being in it."

Bonde brought Twice the Appeal to Churchill Downs early to give him time on the track and lucked out by snagging a stall in a barn that previously had been used to quarantine Breeders' Cup horses, making it a bit more isolated from the crowds. Bonde said his horse had ample space to graze and stay quiet.

"He's had a good week," Bonde said.

One of Twice the Appeal's strengths is that he's a finisher and knows how to close in on a race, Bonde said. That style also suits jockey Calvin Borel, who will ride the horse during the Run for the Roses.

"He's a man who knows this course," Bonde said of Borel.

Borel, scheduled to ride nine horses on the 10-race schedule, skipped racing Wednesday because of an illness.

Brilliant Speed:

Trainer Tom Albertrani is hopeful his horse Brilliant Speed can make a smooth transition from synthetic turf to dirt Saturday.

"He made the one transition," Albertrani said, referring to Brilliant Speed's transition from sprint races on dirt to turf and then to the Polytrack at Keeneland, where he won the Toyota Blue Grass. "I'm still optimistic that he can handle the dirt."

While some might throw out horses that have won on turf and Polytrack, Albertrani said it was not an impossible transition.

"I feel we have a realistic chance here," he said. "He could be a main threat. Naturally, you need a lot of racing luck."


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