Sierra Leone Tops Heavy Work Tab of KyDerby150 Hopefuls

April 27, 2024

Sierra Leone works inside of Domestic Spending for Chad Brown. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Kentucky Derby Update

LOUISVILLE, Ky.On a picture prefect Saturday morning at Churchill Downs, Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner Sierra Leone headlined a list of nine Kentucky Derby hopefuls who put in their works for the 150th running of the $5 million Kentucky Derby (GI) presented by Woodford Reserve.

Working in company with stablemate Domestic Product, the duo breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20. Splits for the duo were :13, :24.80, :36.40 and galloped out in 1:13.20 and 1:26.20.

Also working Saturday morning over a fast track were Catching Freedom and Encino (five furlongs together in :59.20), Dornoch and Society Man (four furlongs together in :46.60), Just a Touch (five furlongs in 1:00.80), West Saratoga (three furlongs in :37.20) and Mystik Dan (five furlongs in 1:01.20).

Scheduled to work Sunday morning are Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Stronghold, Florida Derby (GI) runner-up Catalytic and Ashland (GI) runner-up Just F Y I. Possible to breeze are Wood Memorial (GII) winner Resilience and Arkansas Derby (GI) runner-up Just Steel.

Post positions for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks will be drawn this evening at 7:15 ET following the third race on the Opening Night of the 44-day Spring Meet.

Catalytic's Saturday work. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Catalytic’s Saturday work. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was preparing Tami Bobo, Julie Davies and George Isaacs’ Catalytic for a planned Sunday work. On Saturday, the Florida Derby (GI) runner-up was out with exercise rider Olaf Hernandez during the designated training time for Oaks and Derby horses.

“He’s doing well,” said Joseph, who plans to keep a string of horses stabled at Churchill for the entire meet. “He had a nice gallop today, about a mile-and-a-half again. I thought he got over the track well.”

Catalytic is scheduled to work Sunday during the designated training period for Oaks and Derby horses that starts around 7:30 a.m.

Just A Touch puts in a breeze Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Just A Touch gets in a breeze Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

“Let’s go to work.”

That was the statement Brad Cox said when he arrived at Barn 22 early Saturday morning before his trio of Kentucky Derby contenders Catching Freedom (five furlongs, :59.20); Encino (five furlongs, :59.20) and Just a Touch (five furlongs, 1:00.80) all had their final works prior to the “Run for the Roses.”

At 5:15 a.m., Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom worked to the inside of Godolphin’s Encino. The duo went an opening quarter-mile in :23.80 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.

Then, during the 7:30 a.m. exclusive training window for Derby/Oaks contenders, Qatar Racing, Resolute Racing and Marc Detampel’s Just a Touch breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80.

“Solid morning overall,” said jockey Florent Geroux, who worked both Encino and Just a Touch. “I thought both horses worked well. Encino seems to have bounced out of the Lexington in good shape and was solid. Just a Touch was very easy. He did everything on his own.”

Geroux is set to ride Just a Touch while 2023 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice rider Axel Concepcion, represented by Cox’s son, Bryson, will ride Encino.

Encino works in company on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Encino works in company on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

“All three had good, solid moves this morning,” Cox said. “I liked the breeze this morning for Encino and that was really the thing we were looking for as far as making the decision to enter the Derby. His work went great. We did a little more with him this morning than we normally would back in two weeks. He responded well and so did Catching Freedom.

“I thought Just a Touch went pretty working a minute and change and galloped out in hand.”

All three Derby contenders are scheduled to have an easy Sunday morning and walk the shedrow.

Sierra Leone works outside of Domestic Spending for Chad Brown. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Sierra Leone works outside of Domestic Spending for Chad Brown. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Call it trainer speak, but Chad Brown was definitive in his belief that what he saw from his two Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders Saturday morning was just the eyeful he was looking for one week out from the first leg of the Triple Crown

Heading up a busy work tab morning under ideal weather conditions, the Brown-trained duo of Peter Brant, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg and Brook Smith’s Sierra Leone and Klaravich Stables’ homebred Domestic Product put in their final major piece of work ahead of the 10-furlong classic on May 4. Working in company with Blue Grass Stakes (GI) winner Sierra Leone inside, the duo drilled five furlongs in 1:00.20 over the fast main track.

With Kriss Bon in the irons for Sierra Leone and Tyler Gaffalione up on Domestic Product, the duo notched splits of :13, :24.80, :36.40 and galloped out in 1:13.20 and 1:26.20. Gaffalione is set to be aboard Sierra Leone on Derby Day, but has ridden Domestic Product in the past and was filling in for Irad Ortiz Jr., who had to be in New York.

“Just that,” Brown said when asked what he wanted to see from his Derby duo. “It was executed perfectly. I wanted them to a good five-eighths out in three-quarters but well within themselves. (Sierra Leone) is super fit and it was just an outstanding work. I’m just trying to get him in there happy and sound.

“He’s a very rare horse. He’s just everything you want as a trainer.”

Touting himself in the morning hours is nothing new for Sierra Leone, as he posted a similarly impressive four-furlong breeze at Keeneland on April 20. With the last breeze now in the books, Brown can now focus on getting the horse who may arguably be his best Kentucky Derby contender yet over to the starting gate in the best condition possible.

“We’re just really trying to stay out of his way. Me and my team, we’ve been managing this horse and just trying to allow him to be who he was meant to be,” said Brown, who best finish in the Kentucky Derby came when he second with champion Good Magic in 2018. “Don’t do anything to prevent him from getting there really. He has a tremendous amount of power and endurance. He might not be the fastest horse early in his races but once he gets moving, it does seem like his stride is probably two to the horses next to him.

Brown added that Sierra Leone, who was fractious while loading for the Blue Grass Stakes, has had two gate schooling sessions at Churchill.

“He’s visited the gate twice this week and did really well, there is no need to take him back,” Brown said.

Domestic Product is one Brown said has been “glowing” since he arrived at Churchill Downs. The winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) on March 9 continued that trend with the way he handled the final workout.

“With these two horses, I feel as confident that I’ll have good runs in the Derby if they can get clear trips,” Brown said.

Society Man works with Dornoch on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Society Man (outside) works with Dornoch on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

The Danny Gargan-trained duo of Dornoch and Society Man have been workmates for each other throughout their careers. Hence, it was fitting the two pushed each other through the last major breeze ahead of the biggest race of their young lives.

Dornoch, owned by West Paces Racing, R. A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing and Pine Racing Stables, and stablemate Society Man were once again in company as they put in a half-mile move in :46.60 during the 7:30 a.m. training period at Churchill Downs Saturday. 

With Dornoch situated on the inside, the two posted splits of :11.60, 23.20, and 34.60 before galloping out in :59 and 1:12.60. 

“The track is playing super fast right now,” Gargan said. “We thought we’d go in 47 and change, I got them 46 and 4. They went out nice though and … that’s kind of the work for everybody, they’re all going around the same time. We wanted to go a little bit slower but they looked good doing it, they were in hand, no one was asking them. We’re just hoping they come back good, everything looks good and they’re cooling out good.”

Society Man, who is owned by the partnership of Reeves Thoroughbreds, West Paces, GMP Stables and Carl and Yurie Pascarella, has been friendly company for his multiple graded stakes winning stablemate since their juvenile seasons with Gargan saying the Wood Memorial (GII) runner-up is one of the few horses he has that can hang with Dornoch.

“They’ve worked together even as 2-year-olds,” Gargan said. “They’ve breezed together multiple times, I couldn’t even tell you how many times. They worked twice before the Remsen together and they’ve worked twice here now together. They worked in Saratoga together as babies so they’re definitely familiar with each other.”

Endlessly (outside) aside Blue Eyed George had a normal training day Thursday, galloping 1 ½ miles
Endlessly (outside) aside Blue Eyed George. (Coady Media)

Trainer Michael McCarthy was asked if the conversation had taken place.  

“It’s been done,” the conditioner said. “We’ll be running in the Derby.” 

The Oscar Performance colt had drilled a half-mile in :47.80 Friday morning and the trainer had called owner John Amerman not long after to discuss the next step for his multiple-stakes winner.  

The bay was a winner of five of his six starts, none of them on dirt. In light of that, the conditioner gently encouraged his boss to consider staying on the sure road and entering Endlessly in the $600,000 American Turf (GII) next Saturday.  

But Derby Fever is hard to cure, and owner-breeder Amerman and his wife Jerry opted to take their big shot at the world’s most famous race.  

So, it will be a first-timers special for the connections around the bay: Owner, trainer and jockey (Umberto Rispoli) will all be experiencing their first go-round in the $5 million headliner.  

The possible Kentucky Derby favorite Repole Stable’s Fierceness had a quiet walk morning Saturday at Churchill Downs following his :48.80 final prep Friday for the Run for the Roses. 

“He looked super this morning,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of his Florida Derby (GI) winner. “We’re all good.” 

The trainer has lined-up Hall of Famer John Velaquez to be at the controls for 2023’s 2-year-old champion. Racing fans with a recall for recent history might remember a similar scenario in 2017. Pletcher won the Florida Derby with Always Dreaming, then gave Velazquez a leg up on the colt in the Kentucky Derby. They met next in the winner’s circle.  

Forever Young gives Japan one of two chances at the roses. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Forever Young gives Japan one of two chances at the roses. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Susumu Fujita’s Forever Young (JPN) warmed up in the mile chute during the morning’s first harrow break and then gallop at a two-minute-mile clip under Yusaku Oka.

Trainer Yoshito Yahagi is scheduled to arrive in Louisville Tuesday night. Fujita is scheduled to arrive in Louisville on Friday.

Granpollo Stables’ Grand Mo the First made his first appearance on the track Saturday morning for trainer Victor Barboza Jr., jogging a mile under exercise rider Amel Macias.

Grand Mo the First walked around in the grass behind Barn 41 before going to the track at 6:45 when equine traffic thinned before the first harrow break of the morning. Barboza said the colt would train at the same time during the coming week.

Grand Mo the First worked six furlongs in 1:16.46 at Gulfstream Park on Tuesday that will serve as his final pre-Derby work.

“No works here, but he will go to the paddock and gate one or two times,” said Barboza, who won an allowance race last year here on Derby Day with Petulante.

Third in the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) and Florida Derby (GI) in his past two starts, Grand Mo the First will be ridden in the Derby by Emisael Jaramillo.

Barboza was eager Saturday morning to see what this evening’s post position draw would bring.

“The draw is very important,” Barboza said. “I don’t want to be inside where a lot of horses could come over on you. I’d prefer the middle to the outside, say from the 12 to the 18.”

Honor Marie (outside) worked with jockey Ben Curtis in the saddle alongside his stablemate Anthem King. (Coady Photography)
Honor Marie (outside) worked with jockey Ben Curtis in the saddle alongside his stablemate Anthem King. (Coady Media) Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up Honor Marie went back to the track Saturday for the first time since his sharp five-furlong drill in :59.20 Thursday.

“He came out of the work great,” trainer Whit Beckman said. “I was very happy when I got back to the barn from the work because he looked like he didn’t do much at all.”

Honor Marie jogged about a mile under regular exercise rider Maurilio Garcia.

Just Steel goes around for the coach. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Just Steel goes around for the coach. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

BC Stable’s Just Steel, runner-up in the Arkansas Derby (GI) in his most recent outing, galloped during the special 7:30 a.m. training period with trainer D. Wayne Lukas looking on. 

“The next couple days I might do something with him,” Lukas said regarding when Just Steel might have his final pre-Derby breeze. 

Mystic Dan works in company on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Mystic Dan works in company on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing and Daniel Hamby III’s Mystik Dan put in his final major tuneup on Saturday for the Derby for trainer Kenny McPeek. He was timed for the five furlongs in 1:01.20 with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., finishing up in 1:14.40.

“It was pretty basic stuff out there,” McPeek said. “For me, he worked fast enough last weekend. He didn’t need a whole lot. I told Brian to go a minute and change, and that I didn’t want him to go 59. He went in 1:01, which is fine, and he had a nice gallop out. He’ll gate school, paddock school, and have regular gallops all week.”

Mystik Dan, the winner of the Southwest (GIII) and most recently finished third in the Arkansas Derby (GI) at Oaklawn Park, will have Hernandez aboard in the Derby.

Traffic problems may have cost him an even better finish in the Arkansas Derby.

“He could have had a cleaner trip. He got turned sideways on the first turn, and I think it cost him some ground,” McPeek said. “But he ran well enough to get him some points to get in. He likes it here; this is his home track. He almost got the track record for five-and-a-half (furlongs) on a dry track. We’re pretty optimistic, whether it’s rain or shine.”  

Resilience gets a frisky Saturday work. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Resilience gets a frisky Saturday work. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Similar to Friday, Emily Bushnell and Ric Waldman’s Wood Memorial (GII) winner Resilience galloped during the 7:30 training session Saturday morning after taking a trip through the new Churchill Downs paddock. Trainer Bill Mott said his intention is to work Resilience on Sunday. 

Stronghold all focus on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Ghostzapper colt Stronghold all focus on Saturday. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

The Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Stronghold again trained during the special 7:30-7:45 Oaks/Derby session Saturday morning at Churchill Downs. The Ghostzapper colt galloped strongly for exercise rider Sherri Alexander, covering about a mile and one half on a fast track during a warm morning.  

Trainer Phil D’Amato looked on from the clocker’s stand on the backside and said he liked what he saw.  

“He seems like he’s full of energy,” the conditioner said, “and that what you like to see. I’m very happy with how he’s coming up to this.” 

D’Amato has scheduled Stronghold’s final prep for the $5 million Derby for Sunday during the 7:30-7:45 special training period for Oaks and Derby runners. He’s signed on local rider Joe Talamo to be aboard for a work of “probably five furlongs.” 

Stronghold’s Derby date means it will be another case of an owner (Eric and Sharon Waller), a trainer (D’Amato) and a jockey (Antonio Fresu) getting their first go-round in the world’s most famous race.  

T O Password won the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama. (Katsumi Saito)
T O Password won the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama to gain Derby eligibility. (Katsumi Saito)

Tomoya Ozasa’s T O Password (JPN) left the Quarantine Barn at 5:45 Saturday morning for his first activity at Churchill Downs since arriving early Friday from Chicago where he was in quarantine.

With training assistant Yuichi Tomomichi aboard, T O Password and stablemate T O Saint Denis (JPN) warmed up for about a half-hour in the mile chute and then galloped a mile before returning to the chute to cool down. T O Saint Denis is a candidate for Friday’s $750,000 Alysheba (GII) presented by Sentient Jet.

Trainer Daisuke Takayanagi is scheduled to arrive in Louisville Monday afternoon. Breeder Bokujo Yanagawa arrives Friday and will represent the owner.

Kazushi Kimura, who has the Derby mount, is scheduled to arrive in Louisville Monday.

Track Phantom did five furlongs in 1:00.80 in his last timed work on Equibase April 21. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Track Phantom out on the track Saturday morning. The Quality Road colt did five furlongs in 1:00.80 in his last timed work on Equibase April 21. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom and Breeze Easy’s Track Phantom had another routine 1 ½-mile gallop Saturday around 5:45 a.m. under exercise rider Roberto Howell.

The Steve Asmussen trainee is scheduled to school in both the paddock and starting gate prior to the Derby.

West Saratoga had an easy Saturday morning. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
West Saratoga had an easy Saturday morning. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Harry Veruchi’s West Saratoga completed his major training for Derby 150 by working three furlongs under jockey Jesus Castanon in :37.20.

With Veruchi and trainer Larry Demeritte looking on from the frontside, West Saratoga clocked an initial eighth in :11.80 and galloped out a half-mile in :50.20.

“He was good this morning and handled the track well,” said Castanon, who waited to work until six other Derby and two Oaks hopefuls had completed their breezes. “He has handled every track that I have been on him … Tampa, Turfway, Keeneland and here.”

Demeritte only got to see the last part of the work.

“By the time we got to the frontside, I just got to see the stretch,” Demeritte said. “I liked the gallop out. I was hoping for :36, but he had strong gallop out.”

Demeritte said West Saratoga would walk Sunday and then gallop up to the race with paddock schooling slated for Monday and a gate visit for Tuesday.

After the work, West Saratoga was a handful after getting a bath.

“He likes to show off for the cameras,” Demeritte said. “If he’s happy, I’m happy.”

West Saratoga is named for the street in Littleton, Colorado, where Veruchi grew up.

“It is six blocks from the old Centennial Racetrack which closed in 1983,” said Veruchi, who is in Louisville through the Derby.

Welch Racing’s Epic Ride galloped a mile under Sophie Doyle for trainer John Ennis.

Epic Ride arrived at Churchill Downs at 8 p.m. Friday from The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington where he worked a half-mile in :51.20 that morning.

Epic Ride will need one defection from the anticipated Derby field to make the main body of the race.

“We are going to go to the paddock maybe Wednesday and the gate Thursday,” Ennis said. “If we get in, we get in. If we don’t, after scratch time Friday we will go back to Lexington. I’m not sure (where he may run next if he does not get in the Derby.”

Average Joe Racing Stables and Dan Wells’ Mugatu galloped at a two-minute lick under Joe Talamo at 9 o’clock for trainer Jeff Engler.

Mugatu arrived at Churchill Downs at 5 p.m. Friday from Belterra.

“We moved to Belterra from Turfway so he could train on the dirt,” Engler said. “If he doesn’t get in the Derby, he would probably work here and then ship Saturday or Sunday for the Peter Pan.”

The $200,000 Peter Pan (GIII) will be run May 11 at Aqueduct going 1 1/8 miles.

One of these horses could get its name engraved on the golden trophy. (Coady Media/Churchill Downs)
One of these horses could get its name engraved on the golden trophy. (Coady Media/Churchill Downs)

Kentucky Derby Morning Works Program Airs Daily The Kentucky Derby Morning Works Show will air daily through Thurby and feature Churchill Downs’ expert handicappers Joe KristufekKaitlin FreeTony Calo and Kevin Kilroy along with an array of popular industry figures such as former leading rider Rosie Napravnik and Churchill Downs Track Announcer Travis Stone.

The 20-minute program will be streamed live on @KentuckyDerby on YouTube, Facebook and X.

Kentucky Derby, Oaks Morning Workouts Open To The Public Continuing through Wednesday, Churchill Downs will be open free-of-charge daily from 7-10 a.m. so guests can watch the nation’s top 3-year-old Thoroughbreds train toward their engagements in this year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Horses train on Churchill Downs’ main track daily from 5:15-10 a.m. There will be an exclusive training window only for Derby and Oaks participants from 7:30-7:45 a.m. following the 7-7:30 a.m. renovation break. Those horses will be identified by special saddle towels which include their names: yellow saddle towels for Derby horses and pink saddle towels for Oaks contenders.

Guests can enter Churchill Downs through the Clubhouse Gate and should park for free in the nearby Yellow Lot for convenient entry. Guests will be directed to Sections 115-117 to watch the morning workouts. 

On Sunday and Monday, fans can enjoy a premium breakfast in Millionaires Row or the Stakes Room for Dawn at the Downs. Tickets and more information can be found on  

The 150th runnings of the $1.5 Longines Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) and $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) will be held Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4, respectively. Opening Night of Derby Week and the 44-day Spring Meet is Saturday. 

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