April 26 (UPI) -- Final preparations are well under way this week for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby, with contenders putting in final works at major tracks around the country and Churchill Downs gearing up for its final week.
There have been no defections from the list of 20 3-year-olds set for the May 4 Run for the Roses but trainers are keeping a close watch on the weather forecast, with the words "rain", "showers" and "thunderstorms" prominent in predictions from Friday right through race day.
Improbable, the only one of trainer Bob Baffert's Derby trio already on the grounds, galloped a mile and a half Thursday morning with the track muddy and sealed after overnight showers. "He'll probably work on Sunday," said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes. "I couldn't be happier with the way he's looking."
Stablemates Roadster and Game Winner are due to arrive on the Churchill Downs backstretch Saturday for the white-haired trainer, who already has handled five Derby winners, two of whom went on to win the Triple Crown.
Derby contenders Haikal and Tax both put in works at Belmont Park on Thursday and are due in Louisville on Monday. Master Fencer, winner of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," cleared quarantine in Chicago and was reported en route to Louisville late Thursday.
The weather issues also affected the Kentucky Oaks candidates. Jaywalk worked 5 furlongs at Keeneland, minus trainer John Servis. "We moved the work up a day because of the weather and I missed it," the trainer said from his Philadelphia base.
Churchill Downs takes the Kentucky racing baton from Keeneland on Saturday, signaling change in the air nationwide. Aqueduct hands over this weekend to Belmont Park and Hawthorne Race Course clears the decks for Arlington Park's summertime run. Oaklawn Park in Arkansas nears the end of its highly successful season.
And speaking of change, be sure to see the News and Notes section for the new members of the Racing Hall of Fame.
But first, a brief look at other weekend action around North America:
Paradise Woods drew outside in a field of eight for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Margarita at Santa Anita and was installed as the morning-line favorite. The Union Rags mare won the 2017 Santa Anita Oaks and Zenyatta, both Grade I affairs, but has come up short in seven graded races since then. None of the rivals has done much to frighten off believers in a comeback.
Filly & Mare Turf
Keeneland rings down the curtain on its all-too-brief spring meeting with Friday's $150,000 Grade III Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares. There's no clear favorite in the 10-horse field with Ickymasho installed as the 7-2 favorite on the morning line. The British-bred Multiplex mare comes off a pair of Grade III seconds at Gulfstream Park and has yet to win in six U.S. starts.
Ten signed on for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III San Francisco Turf Mile at Golden Gate Fields with the favorite, Bowies Hero and River Boyne, drawing the inside and outside gates, respectively. Bowies Hero, a 5-year-old son of Artie Schiller, has not raced since finishing 11th in the Grade II Del Mar Mile last August but has had plenty of success at the trip. River Boyne, a 4-year-old colt by Candy Man, finished fourth in his two previous 2019 starts, both in graded stakes at Santa Anita.
Sunday's $100,000 Singletary Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita got a field of 7, none of whom yet stirs the imagination. That said, Jasikan makes his first U.S. start after ending 2018 with a win at Dundalk in Ireland. On the flip side, Urban Light ran well enough as a 2-year-old in Ireland but hasn't hit the board in two previous tries in California. More likely is Neptune's Storm, who has been competitive and finished second in the Pasadena Stakes in his last race.
Undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Bulletin is the standout in a field of eight 3-year-olds signed on for Saturday's $125,000 William Walker Stakes at Churchill Downs. The City Zip colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, won both starts as a juvenile and opened his 2019 account with an impressive, front-running victory in the Palisades Turf Sprint at Keeneland April 4. His ownership team includes the China Horse Club-Winstar Farm connections who campaigned Triple Crown winner Justify.
Saturday's $125,000 Elusive Quality at Belmont Park is pretty much a "you pick 'em" event with seven starters going 7 grassy furlongs. Krampus is the morning-line pick after winning the Grade III Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park. The 5-year-old Shakespeare gelding is 2-for-2 at Belmont but those races were in the fall of 2017 and the Canadian Turf win was a 5-1 upset.
Sunday's $125,000 License Fee for fillies and mares at Belmont Park has seven takers with Mrs. Ramona G. the highweight while coming off a third-place finish in January in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf for trainer Jeremiah Englehart.
Title Ready and King Abner headline a field of 10 for Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star Park. Title Ready, a 4-year-old More Than Ready colt trained by Steve Asmussen, was second in the Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct in his last start and makes his first Texas appearance. King Abner, a 5-year-old Hansen gelding, exits a runner-up showing in the Tiznow Stakes at Santa Anita.
News and Notes
Royal Delta and jockey Craig Perret have been voted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, joining two other horses and a dozen humans chosen by committees.
Royal Delta, a daughter of Empire Marker from the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess, was trained by Bill Mott for Besilu Stables. She won three Eclipse Awards thanks to wins in nine graded stakes, six of them Grade I affairs. Her record of 12-5-1 from 22 starts with earnings of $4.8 million would be even better but for two unsuccessful trips to the Dubai World Cup.
Perret, 68, was North America's leading apprentice jockey by earnings in 1967 and won the 1990 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey. The New Orleans native won 4,415 races in a career that extended from 1967 through 2005. He won the Belmont Stakes in 1987 with Bet Twice, denying Alysheba the Triple Crown. Three years later, Perret won the Kentucky Derby with Unbridled. He won four Breeders' Cup races, including two editions of the Sprint, as well as two runnings of both the Travers Stakes and Queen's Plate, among others.
Perret and Royal Delta were elected by a panel of racing journalists and other experts. My Juliet and Waya were selected by the museum's Historic Review Committee. Selected by the museum's Pillars of the Turf Committee were James E. "Ted" Bassett III, Christopher T. Chenery, Richard L. "Dick" Duchossois, William S. Farish, John Hettinger, James R. Keene, Frank E. "Jimmy" Kilroe, Gladys Mills Phipps, Ogden Phipps, Helen Hay Whitney, Marylou Whitney, and Warren Wright Sr.