’Pretty hairy’ lightning hits Churchill Downs
Exercise rider Abel Flores takes Kentucky Derby hopeful Tapiture for a morning workout in the rain at Churchill Downs Monday in Louisville, Ky.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Tapiture was cool and poised in his final Kentucky Derby workout despite the rough conditions Monday at Churchill Downs.
The colt stepped onto the track shortly after 6 a.m. as thunder boomed, lightning crackled and torrential rain blew sideways. Some horses would be spooked, but not Tapiture.
He worked a half-mile in 50 seconds, a very respectable time considering the circumstances.
“I was glad to see him move so well over this racetrack this wet,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “We were fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with him here last fall. He stepped right back into a rhythm here this spring.”
Tapiture won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November. He ran three times this winter at Oaklawn Park, including a win in the Southwest Stakes and a fourth in the Arkansas Derby.
Kentucky Derby week got off to a miserable start after a severe overnight storm lingered into the morning and turned the racing surface into a sea of slop.
Training was halted for about 30 minutes around 6:45 a.m. as the maintenance crew used heavy equipment to pack down the top layer of dirt to keep water on the surface and prevent seepage into the base.
A lightning strike briefly knocked out a bank of lights near the far turn.
When training resumed, Hoppertunity was the only other Derby horse to work. Trainer Bob Baffert, seeking a fourth Derby win, sent the Rebel Stakes winner out for a half-mile drill in 48 seconds.
“A big relief,” Baffert said. “When I got here at 6:15, it was really coming down. I was panicking. There were ruts in the track. I was almost ready to call it off until tomorrow. Then it started to let up a little bit, but the lightning was pretty hairy out there.”
Hoppertunity finished second to probable Derby favorite California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby.
Baffert has a second Derby runner in Chitu, the Sunland Derby winner.
The other Derby horses that hit the track at Churchill Downs merely went for jogs in the slop.
Baffert ruled out a Derby run for Bayern following the colt’s disqualification from first place to second in the Derby Trial on Saturday night.
A victory would have given him enough points to make the cut, with the top-20 horses earning spots in the starting gate. Baffert said he would look elsewhere for another race, even if defections this week open up a spot for Bayern.
“I’m happy with my horse,” he said. “At least he ran his race. He’ll get a lot out of it. It was basically a prep for something else.”
Baffert would not designate the Preakness as the “something else.”
“I’ll just let my horse tell me what’s next,” Baffert said. “We’re still trying to figure out this horse. He’s still a young horse and has a big future.”
Bayern ran third in the Arkansas Derby, his previous start before the Derby Trial.
Starlight Stables and Skychai Racing doubled their Derby chances by purchasing General a Rod on Monday. Terms of the acquisition from J. Armando Rodriguez were not disclosed.
Starlight teamed with Skychai to buy the colt that has never been worse than third in five starts. General a Rod comes into the Derby off a third-place finish in the Florida Derby.
Starlight also owns Derby contender Intense Holiday, giving the partnership headed by Jack Wolf two of the 20 horses in the field.
Starlight has had four previous Derby entrants, with its best finish seventh by Harlan’s Holiday in 2002.
Skychai already had Harry’s Holiday in the field, so that syndicate group also has a pair of Derby runners.
Skychai and primary owner Jim Shircliff have been in the Derby twice before. Hansen produced their best result: ninth in 2012.
General a Rod will remain with trainer Mike Maker and Joel Rosario retains the ride.