Winchell Family Counting on Epicenter for a First
Simplification Gets Acquainted with Racetrack at Pimlico
Hernandez: ‘Minister’ Needs to ‘Put Big-Boy Pants On’
Statement from Rick Dawson, Owner of Rich Strike
LAUREL, MD – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has been a modern-day trendsetter in many ways, including his successes with running fillies and mares against males in some of America’s biggest dirt races. Among them are champions Winning Colors, Lady’s Secret, Serena’s Song, Althea and Life’s Magic. He’d like to make Briland Farm’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath an Eclipse Award winner as well and believes running in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes (G1) could be an important step.
But before that, Lukas said he needed to believe that Secret Oath fit with her male competitors in the May 21 Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown and, most important, that she came out of her two-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks over favored Nest in good order.
“We discussed it thoroughly,” Lukas said, referencing owners Rob and Stacy Mitchell. “We kind of researched who was going and who might be going, trying to get a feel for the race. Checked her another day and found that she was full of life and playing out there. So we decided we’d take a shot and go.”
Lukas said there were no other logical races on Secret Oath’s dance card until the July 23 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga, leaving plenty of time after the Preakness.
“She’ll have an eight-week break, which is important, before the Coaching Club,” he said Thursday. “Then she’ll get another month before we run in the Alabama. Those are the two we’re actually trying to get her ready for.
“The Preakness, I think it’s a decent fit. I think we’re very competitive in there with those horses. I have the greatest respect for some of those horses that ran in the Derby. It will not be easy, but she’ll make the race very interesting,” he added. “I don’t think the (Oaks) was extremely hard on her. They’re all tough, but she was on cruise speed down the backside, and then she made that big run. We wanted a couple of days to see where we’re at, and it looks like we’re in pretty good shape.”
Lukas acknowledged he’s looking at the big picture.
“If she would put the Preakness on her resume, it’s going to take her to another level,” he said. “The media members will start thinking of her as one of the really good ones. If we can pull it off, it will be exceptional for her.”
Lukas won his first of four Kentucky Derbys with Winning Colors, whose weapon was her speed.
“This filly has a little better dimension,” he said. “She stalks them and then makes a run. She doesn’t have to be near the pace, she can come from back. She’s very versatile, very manageable. [Jockey] Luis [Saez] will be able to manage her, depending on how the race goes.”
Meanwhile, Oaklawn Park’s Rebel (G2) runner-up Ethereal Road is headed for the $100,000 Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard for horses that haven’t won an open stakes. The colt was scratched from the Kentucky Derby(G1) because Lukas didn’t feel Ethereal Road was as sharp as he wanted after running in both Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G1) and Lexington (G3) a week later.
Ethereal Road indicated he has rebounded with a “bullet” five-furlong workout in a minute Wednesday at Churchill Downs. Lukas said he galloped out six furlongs in 1:12 and that the Sir Barton could be a launching pad to the Belmont Stakes (G1).
Winchell Family Counting on Epicenter for a First
Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter, who looked like last Saturday’s winner until passed in the final strides along the inside by 80-1 Rich Strike, now will try to give the Winchell family its first victory in a Triple Crown race in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.
In the lead-up to the Derby, owner Ron Winchell referenced his family’s 70-year quest to win the 1 1/4-mile classic: 50 by his father, Verne, and 20 more since the Las Vegas entrepreneur took over the stable upon his dad’s death.
“The family has won races all over the country and won a few in Europe, but the three classics have eluded us up to this point,” said David Fiske, the Winchell family’s longtime bloodstock manager. “Thought we had won last Saturday. We were second in the Preakness last year (with Midnight Bourbon). We were third with Tenfold in (2018 Triple Crown winner) Justify’s year. We’re sneaking up on it. Maybe we can complete the set of collector coins.”
Epicenter had an easy training day at Churchill Downs Thursday morning, making his weekly visit to stand in the starting gate and loping around the track. He is scheduled to work an easy half-mile on Monday and van to Baltimore Tuesday.
Simplification Gets Acquainted with Racetrack at Pimlico
Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric’s Simplification took another step toward the Preakness Stakes (G1) at 6 a.m. Thursday with a leisurely tour of the track at Pimlico Race Course.
Accompanied by a pony and under exercise rider Ismal Ramirez, who has been up on the colt daily since he arrived at trainer Antonio Sano’s barn, Simplification got his first look at the track he will compete over on May 21. Sano’s longtime assistant, Jesus ‘Chino’ Prada, watched as Simplification, the lone Preakness prospect on the grounds, walked from the gap to the five-eighths pole, stood for five minutes and galloped a complete circuit of the historic track.
“Everything is excellent,” Prada said. “My exercise rider said that everything was good with the horse.”
Simplification finished fourth in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1). Since Sano is based in South Florida, he opted to ship the son of Not This Time directly to Pimlico overnight Monday. Prada, Sano’s longtime assistant, met the colt when he arrived at 5 a.m. Tuesday and is supervising his care until Sano flies up to Baltimore on Sunday.
Prada and Sano are both natives of Venezuela and have known each other since they were teenage students at the country’s school for trainers, 1986-88. Sano became one of the most successful trainers in Venezuelan racing history. Prada also trained at the Valencia track but decided to leave the increasingly dangerous country and moved his family to Florida in January 2001. He said he worked in horse racing in Florida, stepped away for a few years before going to work for Sano – twice a victim of kidnapping – when he immigrated to the U.S. and opened his stable in 2010.
Hernandez: Creative Minister Needs to ‘Put Big-Boy Pants On’
Trainer Kenny McPeek won the 2020 Preakness with the filly Swiss Skydiver, beating eventual 3-year-old male champion and Horse of the Year Authentic. He won the 2002 Belmont Stakes with 70-1 Sarava, a horse who earned his shot at the Triple Crown finale by winning Pimlico’s Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard. Now, McPeek will try to win another Preakness with Creative Minister, a horse who has never been in a stakes race.
Jockey Brian Hernandez has ridden Creative Minister in his three prior races, including an impressive allowance victory on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
“His last race was really good,” Hernandez said Thursday morning at Churchill Downs. “He didn’t get away from the gate very well, but he overcame it. Going around the first turn, he was down on the inside and kept pricking his ears back and forth at me, like telling me ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. We’re in good shape.’
“He just traveled the whole way on Derby Day like a winner. He hit his spots and gave me all the right cues and he did everything I needed him to do that day. Once we turned for home, you could tell he was going to run those horses down, which he did,” he added. “He’s a horse that Kenny’s really, really high on. And we’ve been high on him since before he made his first start down at Gulfstream. He was working right along with (Grade 1 winner) Rattle N Roll and Smile Happy.”
The latter is a Grade 2 winner who finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby after coming in second to Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby (G2).
“I think everybody saw his work at Gulfstream, because he was like 6-1 first time out in the program and he went off at 8-5,” Hernandez said. “For a first timer for Kenny to go off at 8-5, I think everybody knew about him. And he ran a respectable race. It was only going seven-eighths, but he just missed right at the wire.
“He’s done everything correct so far. But now we’re stepping into a Grade 1 against some really good 3-year-olds,” he added. “Everything is going to get faster from here on out. He’s just going to have to step up and put on his big-boy pants and we’ll figure it out.”
Creative Minister galloped Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.
Cypress Creek Equine LLC’s Un Ojo had a scheduled walk day at Churchill Thursday and will go back to the track Friday. Clay Courville, trainer Ricky Courville’s son and assistant, said he’ll let the one-eyed gelding tell him in the morning what he wants to do as far as jogging or galloping. Un Ojo is scheduled to work Saturday morning.
The gelding was withdrawn from the Kentucky Derby the morning of entries with a minor foot bruise that Clay Courville said is no longer an issue.
Early Voting Gallops in Preparation for Preakness
Trainer Chad Brown’s Preakness prospects, Early Voting and Zandon, galloped at Belmont Park Thursday morning.
Early Voting, owned by Baltimore native Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables, is scheduled to work this weekend and ship to Pimlico Race Course early next week for a start in the May 21 Preakness Stakes (G1). After Early Voting won the Withers (G3) and finished second by a neck in the Wood Memorial (G2), he was considered for the Kentucky Derby. His connections decided to pass on the Kentucky Derby and aim for the Preakness.
Jeff Drown’s Zandon engaged in a thrilling duel with Epicenter in the stretch of the Derby but ended up third when they were passed by 80-1 Rich Strike inside the sixteenth-pole. Brown said that he would watch the Upstart colt train for a few days before deciding whether to enter him in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking, who finished third in the Wood Memorial, is scheduled to breeze at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach Country, FL. Friday.
Owner/trainer Rudy Sanchez-Salomon’s Shake Em Loose is scheduled to breeze on turf at Laurel Sunday before it is determined whether the son of Shakin It Up will run in the Preakness or the James W. Murphy, an undercard turf stakes.
Statement from Rick Dawson, owner of Rich Strike, on the withdrawal of the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner from the list of Preakness Stakes (G1) contenders: “Our original plan for Rich Strike was contingent on the KY Derby, should we not run in the Derby we would point toward the Preakness, should we run in the Derby, subject to the race outcome & the condition of our horse, we would give him more recovery time & rest and run in the Belmont, or another race and stay on course to run with 5 or 6 weeks rest between races. Obviously, with our tremendous effort & win in the Derby it’s very, very tempting to alter our course & run in the Preakness at Pimlico, which would be a great honor for all our group, however, after much discussion & consideration with my trainer, Eric Reed & a few others, we are going to stay with our plan of what’s best for Ritchie is what’s best for our group, and pass on running in the Preakness, and point toward the Belmont in approximately 5 weeks. We thank the wonderful Preakness & Pimlico folks that have reached out to us & very much appreciate the invite. We wish you all a great race!!!!”