“Fit and Ready” Sierra Leone Tunes up for Kentucky Derby

April 20, 2024

Sierra Leone works inside of White Palomino (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)

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Keeneland Barn Notes

LEXINGTON, Ky.— Peter Brant, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg Limited and Brook Smith’s Toyota Blue Grass (G1) winner Sierra Leone had his penultimate workout for his expected start in the $5 million Kentucky Derby (G1) Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4 by clocking 4 furlongs in :48.80 on a fast track Friday morning.

In company with recent Keeneland maiden winner White Palomino, Sierra Leone logged splits of :12.40, :24.20 and :36.80 before galloping out in 1:01.20 and 1:15.60 under exercise rider Kriss Bon.

“(He) worked super,” trainer Chad Brown said at the barn after watching Sierra Leone cool out. “The horse is really fit and ready. It was just what I wanted.”

Brown said Sierra Leone would ship to Churchill Downs on Sunday and have his final timed workout there Saturday, April 27, depending on the weather. Today’s move was Sierra Leone’s first since his come-from-behind 1½-length score in the Toyota Blue Grass on April 6.

“I’ve always worked him in company in the mornings,” Brown said. “He’s always been a decent workhorse, just needs a little focus. Obviously, we’ve added blinkers this year, which have helped. But a little competition so he just feels a horse next to him just keeps him in the bridle nicely.”

Sierra Leone was reluctant to load into the starting gate prior to the Toyota Blue Grass. While Brown was not overly concerned about the behavior, he said Sierra Leone will receive some extra gate schooling at Churchill. Brown said he would prefer to be one of the later entrants to enter the Kentucky Derby gate in case the colt needs extra time.

“I have a plan set up so he can see the gate a couple of times this week coming up,” he said. “I really don’t anticipate any problems. He’s really never been much of a problem at the gate.”

Brown said if he had a choice for post position, the center slots would give Sierra Leone his best chance.

“I’d be more interested with the post position of where he’s going to be strategically in that first turn more than the loading process,” he said. “Maybe I’ll regret those words, but I feel somewhere in the middle of the field always seems to be the (best). But there’s no telling. You’ve seen horses win from the far outside and some that draw inside and run well. We’ll take what they give us, but somewhere in the middle would be ideal.”

Post positions for the Kentucky Derby (and Kentucky Oaks-G1) will be drawn next Saturday evening.

Brown, who has trained a parade of top-shelf runners in his 18-year career, including Toyota Blue Grass winners Good Magic (2018) and Zandon (2022), said Sierra Leone is exceptional.

“He’s a good-feeling horse – a nice horse to work around,” he said. “He’s a very alpha horse. He’s definitely in charge of what’s going on everywhere, and we give him his space and we let him be him. He’s a very rare horse to have in your shedrow.”

Brown’s other Derby hopeful, Klaravich Stables’ Domestic Product, breezed at Payson Park training center in Florida this morning (4 furlongs in :48.40). Brown said the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G3) winner is expected to arrive at Churchill on Monday, April 22 with a fleet of other Brown trainees, including Kentucky Oaks contender Ways and Means (who worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 this morning at Payson Park).

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