West Saratoga

Florida Connections: The Iroquois winner cycled back to good form in Florida in early 2024 with a second in the Pasco and a  third-place finish in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs before being a runner-up in the Jeff Ruby Steaks behind Endlessly. The gray galloped Thursday morning at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington.

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,” Veruchi said.

Jockey: Jesus Castanon

Trainer: Larry Demeritte

Owner: Harry Veruchi

Career record: 10 starts – 2 wins – 5 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $460,140

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 93

Kentucky Derby points: 67

Pedigree: Exaggerator – Mo Wicked, by Uncle Mo

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Every year it seems, one horse brings connections to the Kentucky Derby that attract a groundswell of support from fans of the sport, and West Saratoga more than fits the bill as that contender for 2024. Owner Harry Veruchi and trainer Larry Demeritte are making their first appearance in America’s most famous horse race, and Demeritte is doing so after coming to the U.S. from his native Bahamas in the 1970s to build a career in the sport. Based in Kentucky, the trainer has kept a stable comprised of inexpensive horses while battling cancer since 1996, and West Saratoga has outrun his $11,000 auction price and then some for Veruchi and Demeritte over the past year. The colt won the very first race on the Road to the Kentucky points series back in September, taking the Iroquois Stakes under the Twin Spires, and cycled back to good form in early 2024 with a third-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and a runner-up finish in the Jeff Ruby Steaks behind Endlessly. West Saratoga has outrun long odds in all three of those aforementioned races and it would not be a surprise to see him do it again in Derby 150. He would have to elevate his speed figures around 15 or more points to hit the board in the Derby, however, and based on his established plateau through 10 career starts that is unlikely to occur.

Derby History: While West Saratoga’s owner and trainer will be competing in their first Derby, veteran jockey Jesus Castanon has had one prior horse in the race: Shackleford finished fourth in 2011 and won the Preakness Stakes with Castanon aboard in his next start.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Track Phantom – ©Coady Media

Track Phantom

Florida Connection: Owned by L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy, the horse has connections from Oklahoma to Virginia to Florida. The managing director of Breeze Easy is Mike Hall who on a visit to Ocala, fell in love with the area and decided to buy a farm. After forming associations with many people in Ocala’s thoroughbred industry, he started attending the OBS sales, and bought his first Thoroughbred in 2016. His involvement in team roping led him to becoming the co-owner of Classic Rope Company, and later Equibrand and now he plays a vital role as a supplier to the equine industry. Hall also stands a stallion Curlin’s Honor in Florida at Pleasant Acres Stallions.

Standouts to carry the Breeze Easy colors have been multiple graded stakes winning sprint star, Imprimis; Late Night Pow Wow, a West Virginia-bred, who captured the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie S. and was G1-placed; G3 Marine scorer Easy Time; multiple stakes winner and GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf third Outadore; and other stakes winners Curlin’s Honor (owned in partnership with John Oxley), Devine Mischief, Curlin’s Catch and Karak. Most recently, Boppy O (owned in partnership with John Oxley) captured the 2022 G3 With Anticipation at Saratoga.

Breeze Easy scored a notable triumph in 2018 with Florida-bred Shang Shang Shang to win the  G2 Norfolk at Royal Ascot. In 2019, Four Wheel Drive was undefeated in three juvenile outings, culminating in the G2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Clark Brewster owns 60 horses but has been in the press as of late as he serves on the team of trial attorneys representing Bob Baffert to reclaim Florida-bred Medina Spirit’s 2021 Derby victory.

Track Phantom had another routine mile-and-a-half 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.


Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy

Career record: 7 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $405,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100

Kentucky Derby points: 70

Pedigree: Quality Road – Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Track Phantom should have a say in the outcome of this year’s 150th Kentucky Derby even if he does not pull off the upset. He’s a confirmed pacesetter in a field that overall lacks a lot of early speed, so assuming he does secure the lead soon after the start, he should be able to dictate how fast the field runs through the first half-mile at least. Truthfully, this colt has shown a lot of determination in his career, never throwing in the towel even in the races he hasn’t won. He rolled to an easy win at age 2 back in November on the same Churchill Downs track he’ll race on in the Derby, and then shipped to Louisiana for his Kentucky Derby preps over the winter and early spring. After winning both the Gun Runner Stakes and the Lecomte Stakes, he set the pace in both the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby but tired late to finish second and fourth behind Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom, respectively. The Derby prep races at Fair Grounds in Louisiana have been the strongest in any region this year, and Track Phantom was competitive in all of them. Both his pedigree and his past two efforts do suggest that winning at the Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance could be difficult, but it would not be a surprise at all to see Track Phantom leading the field into the homestretch on the evening of May 4 under good pace jockey Joel Rosario. Notably, Track Phantom will race with blinkers for the first time in the Kentucky Derby, and they could help him stay sharp and focused as he breaks from the starting gate amongst a large field.

Derby History: Steve Asmussen, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame and the all-time winningest trainer in North America (as well as at Churchill Downs), is seeking his first Kentucky Derby win with Track Phantom. He’s had 25 prior starters, training runners-up Nehro in 2010, Lookin At Lee in 2017, and Epicenter in 2022 as well as two third-place horses. Joel Rosario won the Derby in 2013 aboard Orb; he was aboard Epicenter in 2022 for his only other in-the-money finish from 12 starters. L and N Racing owned Lookin At Lee outright and is the only member of this partnership that’s been to the Derby before.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Just A Touch – ©Coady Media

Just a Touch

Florida Connection: Based at Reid Nagle’s Oak Ridge Training Center in Morriston, Fla, David Scanlon’s operation is well represented for this year’s Derby.

His Scanlon Training & Sales pinhooked Grade 3 Gotham Stakes runner-up Just a Touch and he was in charge of the early training of Derby contender Sierra Leone also.   

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owners: Qatar Racing, Resolute Racing, and Marc Detampel

Career record: 3 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $281,700

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 105

Kentucky Derby points: 75

Pedigree: Justify – Touching Beauty, by Tapit

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Just a Touch is a lightly raced Kentucky Derby contender, having only made three starts, all coming earlier this year. In that respect, he follows in the hoofsteps of sire Justify, who brought a 3-for-3 record to the 2018 Kentucky Derby and won commandingly to set up a sweep of the Triple Crown. Just a Touch, on the other hand, is 1-for-3, his win coming in a six-furlong sprint back in January, followed by back-to-back runner-up efforts in Kentucky Derby preps. He rallied late to nab second in the one-mile Gotham Stakes in early March, and then in his two-turn debut, he took the lead in early stretch of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes April 6 but could not withstand a late rally from Sierra Leone and settled for second, 1 ½ lengths behind that foe. Just a Touch was 3 ¾ lengths clear of third-place Epic Ride in the Blue Grass, however, and earned a good speed figure. With only three starts under his belt, this colt has plenty of untapped potential – and if he can muster a career-best race on May 4, he’s got a chance to finish in the top three at good odds. Just a Touch retains the services of jockey Florent Geroux, who’s been aboard for all of his prior starts, and Geroux should have his mount forwardly placed early in the Derby and in position to challenge the leaders around the far turn.

Derby History: Louisville native and two-time Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox gained his first Kentucky Derby win on a severely delayed timeline as Mandaloun was officially confirmed as 2021 victor earlier this year following the disqualification of Medina Spirit. He has also finished third twice in this race from nine prior starters. Geroux was aboard Mandaloun in 2021 and is now enshrined into history as a Derby winner. The jockey has one third-place finish as well from seven prior starters.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Catching Freedom – ©Coady Media

Catching Freedom

Florida Connections: Those connected with the horse know he has a legitimate chance to win the whole thing. He was purchased by Barry Berkelhammer as a yearling for the Albaugh Family Racing stable. He was started and trained at AbraCadabra Farm in Ocala and sent to trainer Brad Cox. AbraCadabra Farm in Ocala had three starters in last year’s Kentucky Derby, one of them being Albaugh’s Angel Of Empire that ran a credible third.

Berkelhammer’s wife Terri Pompay said, “I’m very proud of my husband for his success at purchasing quality babies and prepping and training them to the next step.” And the horses are proving that out.

Berkelhammer also prepped contender Endlessly, who was managed by Bloodstock agent Bob Feld for the owners the Amermans. He breaks and trains all the babies for the Amermans who also owned Oscar Performance the sire of Endlessly who was also started at AbraCadabra.

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.

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owner: Albaugh Family Stables

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $877,350

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Kentucky Derby points: 125

Pedigree: Constitution – Catch My Drift, by Pioneerof the Nile

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Fierceness and Sierra Leone have captured much of the attention heading into Derby 150 as the probable post-time favorites, while this accomplished colt has been preparing somewhat under the radar. His best speed figures are a cut below that pair, but overall, Catching Freedom is a solid middle-tier Derby contender and if he can move forward from his final Derby prep he can pull off the mild upset on May 4. He enters off of a last-to-first rallying victory in the Louisiana Derby on March 30, where he angled toward the middle of the track after wheeling into the homestretch and out-finished Honor Marie, who made a similar move from behind, to prevail by a length. Prior to that win, Catching Freedom finished third behind Sierra Leone and Track Phantom in the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 17, when he was in tight quarters between those foes in the late going but still gave a good effort. He also has another two-turn stakes win in the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones Stakes on his résumé, and on Derby day will have the services of jockey Flavien Prat, who has finished in the top three with five of his six prior Kentucky Derby starters. As with Sierra Leone, Catching Freedom will need the pace in the Kentucky Derby to be fast enough to set up his rally, and Prat must maneuver him through what typically is a bunched-up group of tiring horses in early stretch in order to find clear running room. Look for this colt to make his presence felt in the final sixteenth of a mile if he gets a clean trip.

Derby History: Trainer Brad Cox, a Louisville native and two-time Eclipse Award winner, officially secured his first Kentucky Derby win at last earlier this year, when the connections of Medina Spirit dropped their appeal of that colt’s disqualification in the 2021 Derby. Mandaloun, trained by Cox, was elevated to first in 2022 and the 2021 Derby chart was revised this February. Cox, who also sends Just a Touch and Encino to the 2024 Derby, has also finished third twice in this race from nine prior starters. Owner Albaugh Family Stables has been represented by six prior horses in the Derby, four as sole owner. Their colt Angel of Empire finished third in last year’s run for the roses with Flavien Prat aboard. That showing added to Prat’s fine record through six Derby appearances. He won the race in 2019 aboard Country House after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference, finished second in 2021 on Hot Rod Charlie (elevated from third after Medina Spirit was DQ’d), and has checked in third three times, including last year.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Endlessly – ©Coady Media

Endlessly – Connection Update!

Florida Connections: He was managed by Bloodstock agent Bob Feld for the owners the Amermans and then shipped to AbraCadabra Farms for early schooling and prepped by Barry Berkelhammer at AbraCadabra Farms in Ocala. Berkelhammer breaks and trains all the babies for the Amermans, who also owned Oscar Performance the sire of Endlessly who was also started at AbraCadabra.

Trainer Michael McCarthy confirmed Saturday that Endlessly will run the Derby.

“We’ll be running in the Derby,” the conditioner said.

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 (G2) 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.

Jockey: Umberto Rispoli

Trainer: Michael McCarthy

Owner: Amerman Racing

Career record: 6 starts – 5 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $707,200

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 100

Pedigree: Oscar Performance – Dream Fuhrever, by Langfuhr

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Endlessly’s career accomplishments place him among the top handful of contenders for the race, but they’ve all come while racing on turf courses or all-weather surfaces. A son of turf standout Oscar Performance, Endlessly has already won four stakes races in his six starts to date, and his only defeat came last November competing against some of the best 2-year-old turf horses in the world when he finished eighth by only 3 ½ lengths in the Prevagen Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. This year at age 3, Endlessly has made two starts in stakes on the all-weather Tapeta Footings surface, winning the El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 10 and then dominating the Jeff Ruby Steaks by four lengths on March 23. He has since moved to Churchill Downs and posted three timed workouts on the dirt track, and a decision will be made soon as to his next start: if he bypasses the Kentucky Derby, he is expected to target the American Turf Stakes on the May 4 Derby undercard, where he would be one of the favorites. If he stays in the Kentucky Derby, he’ll be coming from off the pace under jockey Umberto Rispoli, who’s been aboard Endlessly for both of his wins this year – and how well he handles racing on dirt for the first time will be the overriding factor in whether he makes an impact in the race.

Derby History: This will be Rispoli’s second Kentucky Derby appearance, and the first for Endlessly’s owner Amerman Racing and trainer Michael McCarthy. Berkelhammer’s AbraCadabra Farms in Ocala had three starters in last year’s Kentucky Derby, one of them being Albaugh Family Stables’ Angel Of Empire that ran a credible third.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Dornoch – ©Coady Media


Florida Connections: As reported in the popular column ‘Tales from the Crib’ by Kelie Reilly for, Dornoch had his early education with Raul Reyes at his famed Kings Equine in Ocala. At the academy that he operates with his wife, Martha, Reyes has tutored such stars as Hall of Famer Beholder. At one point Reyes noticed Dornoch was not moving as well in the behind. With his experienced eye, Reyes figured out the cause of the juvenile’s discomfort, a testicular issue. As a developing youngster one testicle did not descend. The simple solution was to remove it and horse still could have a future stud career, like Hall of Famer and leading sire A.P. Indy. Read more at ‘Tales from the Crib: Dornoch.’

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 (G2) 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.”

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Danny Gargan

Owners: West Paces Racing, R. A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing, and Pine Racing Stables

Career record: 6 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $552,275

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 102

Kentucky Derby points: 75

Pedigree: Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Dornoch was one of the leading Kentucky Derby contenders in future wager pools over the winter after he closed out 2023 with back-to-back wins, including a nose victory over Sierra Leone in the Remsen Stakes. He kept that status after winning his 3-year-old debut, the Coolmore Fountain of Youth Stakes, March 2 against a field that was reduced by four scratches on the day of the race. In his next start, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, Dornoch settled off of the early pace for a change instead of contesting it, and did not muster much of a closing rally when asked by jockey Luis Saez, finishing a distant fourth behind last-to-first winner Sierra Leone. Much of the esteem surrounding Dornoch has diminished as a result of his final prep effort, but he could be eligible for a bounce-back effort at decent odds, especially if he reverts back to his forwardly placed running style. Dornoch has consistently posted speed figures that give him a chance to at least finish third or fourth in the Kentucky Derby if not win the race, and his pedigree is beyond reproach for handling the 1 ¼-mile classic distance: as a son of sire (father) Good Magic and out of the dam (mother) Puca, he’s a full-brother to last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Mage.

Derby History: Saez experienced the feeling of winning the Kentucky Derby for about 22 minutes in 2019, as his mount Maximum Security crossed the finish line in front. However, that colt was disqualified by stewards for drifting out and interfering with several horses at the top of the stretch, so as it stands, Saez’s best finish in the Derby from 10 prior starters came aboard third-place Essential Quality in 2021. Trainer Danny Gargan will also start Society Man in the 2024 Derby and made his first appearance in 2019 with Tax, who finished 14th. Randy Hill (R. A. Hill Stable) was co-owner of Tax and is the only member of this ownership group with previous Derby experience.

Dornoch’s brother Mage won the Derby, a win would mean the first-ever sibling double.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Catalytic – ©Nicole Thomas/Coglianese Photo


Florida Connection: Owners Tami Bobo, Julie Davies, and George Isaacs are from Ocala, Florida area. Bobo owns First Finds, a pinhooking operation and farm, and George Isaacs is the general manager of historic Bridlewood Farm. In addition to being a co-owner, Davies also provided the early training for Catalytic. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. is Florida-based racing at Gulfstream Park and is the 2023 leading Florida trainer by earnings with more than $2 million and co-leading trainer by black-type wins and overall wins.

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.

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.

Owners:  Tami Bobo, Julie Davies, and George Isaacs

Career record: 3 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $216,825

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 90

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Catalina Cruiser – One Show Only, by Distorted Humor

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Catalytic outran his 29-1 odds to finish second in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa on March 30, punching his ticket to the Kentucky Derby where he’ll need to outrun what are very likely to be even longer odds to finish in the money. He won his only start last year at age 2 in a sprint race and returned in another sprint to check in second on March 8, before attempting two turns and a major class hike in the Florida Derby. In that race, Catalytic raced behind pacesetting Fierceness throughout and was no match for that foe, who won by 13 ½ lengths, but he also finished a clear second, 2 ½ lengths in front of Grand Mo the First. Outside of Fierceness, Catalytic has not competed against any of the leading 3-year-olds this spring, and he would have to increase his speed figures by about 15-20 points to be a factor during the closing stages of the Kentucky Derby. A far more likely scenario has Catalytic involved in the early pace setup, which could speed up the early fractions in the Derby and help come-from-behind horses such as Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom.

Derby History: Catalytic’s co-owner Tami Bobo also co-owned 2022 Derby fourth-place finisher Simplification. Saffie Joseph will bring his third horse to the Kentucky Derby this year. Jockey Jose Ortiz has made eight prior starts in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second aboard Good Magic in 2018 and third a year later on Tacitus. He also rode Simplification in 2022.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Fierceness – ©Nicole Thomas


Florida Connection: Trainer Todd Pletcher’s family are in the business in Ocala, Florida. His father JJ Pletcher has a training center. The horse also received early training at the oldest active Thoroughbred farm in the state, Ocala Stud, under the tutelage of Joseph, David, and Mike O’Farrell. This means Fierceness trained on the very track famed Florida-bred Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled trained, passing the turn where dreams are made, Dreamer’s Point.

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 Curlin Florida Derby (G1) 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.

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Repole Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $1,703,850

Earnings per start: $340,770

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Kentucky Derby points: 136

Pedigree: City of Light – Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: If Fierceness brings his “A” game to Churchill Downs on May 4, all of the other contenders in Kentucky Derby 150 could be competing for second. He’s shown elite talent on the track three times through his five career starts dating back to last summer at Saratoga, when he won his debut easily in a sprint race. His subsequent two wins going longer have been even more impressive, as he thrashed an accomplished field of 2-year-olds in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance back in November, and then in his final Kentucky Derby prep, romped in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa on March 30. Fierceness’ three wins have come by a combined 31 lengths – but then there are his two other starts to consider, a defeat by 20 ¼ lengths last October when seventh in the Champagne Stakes, and a third-place dud in his 3-year-old debut back in February in the Holy Bull Stakes. If you adhere to the good/bad alternating start theory, Fierceness could be in for a letdown on Kentucky Derby day coming off of his Florida Derby blowout. On the other hand, there are legitimate excuses for both of his defeats (a sloppy track in the Champagne Stakes, and perhaps he wasn’t fully cranked up for his 2024 debut in the Holy Bull). This colt has been training superbly in Florida since his victory in March and has a three-time Derby winner riding him in John Velazquez. Velazquez has been aboard Fierceness for both of his two-turn wins and knows that he’s most effective when forwardly placed and close to the early lead. Look for this colt to make a bid for the lead on the far turn of the Kentucky Derby and attempt to separate from the field at the top of the stretch under strong handling from his rider. If Fierceness is not in that position by the stretch call, his win chances will diminish considerably.

Derby History: Owner Mike Repole has been a regular presence in the Kentucky Derby and other big races over the past dozen years or so, and his best finish in the Kentucky Derby came in 2022, when eventual Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal finished fifth for Repole and Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing. Todd Pletcher, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame and an eight-time Eclipse Award winner, holds the record with 64 Kentucky Derby starters prior to this year. He won the race in 2010 with Super Saver and 2017 with Always Dreaming, and has finished second twice and third four times. Fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez’s three Kentucky Derby wins have come from 25 mounts: Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming, and Authentic (2020). He has also finished second twice in the Derby.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Grand Mo the First – ©Lauren King

Grand Mo the First

Florida Connection: He earned enough qualifying points for the Derby in Florida in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in early March and finished third. His trainer hails from Venezuela, Victor Barboza Jr., and he has been a previous leading trainer from his homebase at Gulfstream Park. His jockey, fellow Venezuelan Emisael Jaramillo moved to Florida in 2015. Jaramillo is the all-time leading rider in Venezuela, having won his nation’s Triple Crown three times out of the eight crowns. He rode in his first Kentucky Derby in 2016.

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.

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.”

Jockey: Emisael Jaramillo

Trainer: Victor Barboza Jr.

Owner: Granpollo Stable

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $214,650

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 91

Kentucky Derby points: 40

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Lilies So Fair, by Giant’s Causeway

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This well-bred colt moved into the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby April 21 when the connections of Deterministic announced they would bypass the May 4 classic and target a race in New York for that colt’s next start. Grand Mo the First earned enough Derby qualifying points to sit on the starting-field “bubble” by finishing third in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in early March (only a neck behind winner Domestic Product) and then third again in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa at the end of March. Unlike his run in the Tampa Bay Derby, Grand Mo the First was no threat whatsoever in the Florida Derby, finishing 16 lengths behind dominant victor Fierceness and 2 ½ lengths back from fellow longshot and runner-up Catalytic. He’s related to some successful racehorses on both dirt and turf who excelled at longer distances, but Grand Mo the First appears to be overmatched against the leading Kentucky Derby contenders based on career accomplishments and speed figures. He would need a pace meltdown to occur in order to have any chance at picking off some tired horses late and hitting the board against this field.

Derby History: This is the first Kentucky Derby appearance for Grand Mo the First’s owner and trainer, and the second for Florida-based jockey Emisael Jaramillo.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Sierra Leone – ©Coady Media

Sierra Leone

Florida Connection: The horse trains in South Florida at the famed Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center known as Club Med for horses, in Indiantown. Part of the horse’s ownership, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Westerberg, have had success with Florida-breds including 2021 Florida Horse of the Year Golden Pal.

Another Florida connection is that the horse had his early training at Scanlan Training. Ocala horseman David Scanlon has an impressive list of training graduates for Godolphin, Coolmore, Don Alberto, and Calumet Farm. His operation is also represented in the Derby from his sales division, Scanlon Training & Sales, where he pinhooked Grade 3 Gotham runner-up Just a Touch.

With Kriss Bonin the irons for Sierra Leone and Tyler Gaffalioneup 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.

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owners: Peter Brant, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, and Brooke Smith

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $918,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 107

Kentucky Derby points: 155

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Heavenly Love, by Malibu Moon

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The leading Kentucky Derby points earner for 2024 should vie for post-time favoritism with Fierceness, and this well-bred, expensive colt has a running style that’s in contrast to his main Derby rival. Sierra Leone is a deep closer who will need some racing luck by way of a solid early pace and a clean trip in order to put forth his best effort on Derby day. He’ll be positioned near the back of the large field early on in the race and probably won’t be given his cue to rally by jockey Tyler Gaffalione until the field enters the far turn at Churchill Downs – at which time Fierceness may have already moved up to challenge for the lead. Sierra Leone, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a yearling in 2022, has assembled a nearly perfect race record through four career starts. His only defeat came by a nose last December to Kentucky Derby foe Dornoch in the Remsen Stakes, and he’s won both of his starts this year – the Risen Star Stakes and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes – with impressive off-the-pace rallies. His pedigree is a plus for handling the Kentucky Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance, and his speed figures are competitive with the top Derby contenders. Look for him to be surging into contention as the field turns for home, angling to the outside of horses to avoid any tiring runners that could block his momentum. If he can do that, Sierra Leone can live up to his billing and win the Kentucky Derby.

Derby History: Chad Brown will send his eighth and ninth horses to the Derby starting gate this year, with Domestic Product joining Sierra Leone. The four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer has two prior in-the-money Derby finishes: runner-up Good Magic in 2018 and third-place Zandon in 2022. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione, an 11-time leading rider at Churchill Downs, will make his seventh Derby start; his best finish came aboard seventh-place War of Will in 2019. Sierra Leone’s owners have entered horses in several prior Derbys over the years either alone or through other partnerships, most successfully in 1984 when Peter Brant owned an interest in victor Swale and in 1995 when Michael Tabor’s Thunder Gulch won the Derby. In 2004, Lion Heart finished second for the partnership of Tabor and Derrick Smith.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing


Resilience (in back inside) – ©Coady Media photo


Florida Connection: Resilience trains at the famed Payson Park in Florida. The horse received both his two-year-old early schooling and later workouts between races there. His jockey Junior Alvarado got his start in South Florida at Calder Race Course and made his home there until he joined the jockey colony in New York a few years later.

According to Churchill Downs, the Wood Memorial (G2)-winner may breeze Sunday morning.

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Emily Bushnell and Ric Waldman

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $494,630

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 110

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Meadowsweet, by Smart Strike

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt has continued to improve during early 2024 and has a chance at hitting the board in the Kentucky Derby if he continues on that trajectory. Resilience enters off of a 2 ¼-length win in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino on April 6, a race in which he saved ground for most of the 1 1/8 miles before moving a few positions outside and taking command entering the stretch under John Velazquez. Prior to the Wood Memorial, Resilience finished a solid fourth in the Risen Star Stakes back in February – a race that as it turns out was the best Kentucky prep of this year’s series, as Sierra Leone, Track Phantom, and Catching Freedom filled out the top three positions. The Risen Star was Resilience’s stakes debut and came one start after he posted a dominant win in a maiden race on New Year’s Day. Resilience has one of the best pedigrees in the 2024 Kentucky Derby field for handling the race’s taxing mile-and-a-quarter distance and his forwardly placed running style should be an advantage as well. He gets a new jockey for the Kentucky Derby in Junior Alvarado, as John Velazquez has the mount on Fierceness.

Derby History: Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the reigning Eclipse Award winner, earned his first Kentucky Derby win in 2019 via disqualification when Country House, who finished second to Maximum Security, was elevated to first minutes after the race by Kentucky racing stewards due to Maximum Security interfering with several horses at the top of the stretch. That victory is Mott’s only in-the-money finish in 12 starts to date. Alvarado will be making his fifth Derby start.

Notes and History courtesy America’s Best Racing

Return to the April 26 issue of Wire to Wire


Society Man (Outside) and Dornoch (Inside) – ©Coady Media

Society Man (50-1)

Florida Connection: 

Society man was trained by Grade One Investments located at Two Springs Farm in Micanopy, Fla.

Grade One Investments is a full-service Thoroughbred training operation, specializing in schooling/training, sales preparation, layup/rehab and boarding and is owned by Chetley and Nellie Breeden, both born and raised in Williston, Fla. The story behind the company name is multi-faceted, first, paying homage to Nellie’s parents, Jimmy and Martha Gladwell’s, Kindergarten Farm. Grade One Investments is continuing the tradition. Chetley’s roots are in agriculture, he began working in his family’s timber business at the age of 14 where he continued until Grade One Investments originated. He began pinhooking when he and Nellie were married in 2011 and quickly developed keen skills on identifying athletic prospects.

Nellie has been immersed in the Thoroughbred industry since birth. She began by pinhooking with her parents and later formed a partnership with her two brothers, JNR Bloodstock (Jimbo, Nellie, Raymond). In high school and college, Nellie spent each summer prepping yearlings and shopping the sales. For the past three training seasons, she has served as assistant trainer to her father, while simultaneously working together with Chetley to grow Grade One Investments.

They grew up as friends turned high-school sweethearts. Chetley graduated from the University of Florida earning a bachelor of science, majoring in agricultural education and communications with a minor in leadership. Nellie graduated from the University of Florida earning a bachelor of science, majoring in food and resource economics with a minor in agriculture communication.

Jockey: Frankie Dettori

Trainer: Danny Gargan

Owners: West Paces Racing, Danny Gargan, and GMP Stables

Career record: 5 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $196,705

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Good Magic – You Cheated, by Colonel John

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This gelding jumped into the Kentucky Derby discussion on April 6, when he finished second behind Resilience in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2) at gargantuan odds of 106.75-1. Society Man probably won’t approach that number when the gates open at Churchill on May 4, but he’ll definitely be one of the longest shots in the race. After finishing a distant eighth in the Feb. 3 Withers Stakes (G3), Society Man has improved his speed figures over two subsequent starts: a win in a one-mile maiden race March 9 and then his runner-up effort in the Wood Memorial. He’s had trouble at the start in three of his five races and certainly would not be able to recover from similar difficulty in the Derby, but drawing the far outside post should help him in that regard as he can ease back and try to save ground early trailing near the back of the field for the first half-mile, or longer. With a legendary jockey in the irons, Society Man could be the type of grinding horse that’s able to pass several tired opponents in the stretch and secure a top-10 finish, with filling out the superfecta a best-case scenario.

Derby History: Trainer Danny Gargan has two chances to win his first Derby with Society Man and Dornoch as he returns after training 14th-place finisher Tax in 2019. Frankie Dettori, a leading jockey competing on an international level since the late 1980s, was named to ride Society Man on April 23. This will be Dettori’s second mount in the Kentucky Derby; his first came back in 2000 aboard sixth-place China Visit. Dettori has been based in the U.S. since last year and decided to postpone a planned retirement at the end of 2023 and continue riding on these shores. For nearly the entirety of his career, he concentrated on riding horses in the classic 3-year-old races in Europe during the spring months instead of American Triple Crown races.

Facts and History courtesy America’s Best Racing