The crowds are beginning to mass on the backstretch, and on Tuesday were treated to a whirlwind of Derby horses training, including new faces Carpe Diem, who vanned over from Keeneland Monday morning at 5:30 and mystery horse Mubtaahij, who arrived from Arlington Park 12 hours later at 5:30 p.m., greeted by trainer Michael de Kock. The son of Dubawi journeyed to Churchill Downs by way of England, Dubai, and Arlington, boasting a dirt record of four victories in five starts, including an eight-length romp in the UAE Derby at 1 3/16 miles.
The consensus opinion is that this the best-looking field of Derby horses seen in a long time from a physical standpoint, as well as being one the deepest and most talented. But, despite this, it is amazing how many trainers of Derby horses are in awe of American Pharoah and called his last work scary good. One trainer said American Pharoah breathes different air than the rest of the horses.
We'll start today off with the arrival of Mubtaahij, who arrived in good order and showed no ill effects from his trp and stopover at Arlington, where he trained over the Polytrack surface.
Mubtaahij steps off the van to begin his new adventure. Mike de Kock said if should ever return with another Derby horse, he would seriously consider shipping straight to Churchill Downs following the UAE Derby and let the horse become acclimated to the track where he will be running. The forthright De Kock admitted he's still learning, but said that Mubtaahij has recovered fully from the trip and has been eating well, despite not having his normal feed, which a special mixture that is not registered with the FDA.
Mubtaahij seemed right at home in his new surroundings, and was allowed to walk on the grass and do a little grazing immediately after arriving. He does wear a blanket on the track as well, so we haven't gotten a good look at the whole package. But he does seem bright and alert and happy to be here.
Mubtaahij took his first spin over the track and moved over the ground smoothly. So far, everything has gone as good as de Kock could have hoped.
Carpe Diem had a good gallop over the track for the first time, then schooled in the gate, where all went well, much to the relief of his connections. He then took another lap around the track with the pony. He is one of those horses who are a pleasure to look at, with his smooth powerful stride and effortless way of going. Like American Pharoah, he just glides over the ground and has that great extension without missing a single beat.
Carpe Diem, a study in class. I spoke to many of the colt's handlers, such as his physical therapist, hot walker, and barn foreman and all said the same exact thing; that he is an absolute pleasure to be around; extremely kind and equally as intelligent. You can see it in his face.
Todd Pletcher's powerful one-two punch, Carpe Diem (left) and Materiality, make a formidable team to go up against Bob Baffert's dynamic duo. Pletcher, however, has double the firepower, and as I've been mentioning each day, Itsaknockout certainly is no slouch and has been looking and training great following his Florida Derby meltdown. Materiality is a powerhouse of a colt, especially through the shoulder, and packs a lot of punch.
Speaking of American Pharoah, the champ was back on the track this morning. As mentioned earlier, the Arkansas Derby winner has been the recipient of some major praise from rival trainers and horsemen in general, who feel he could be in a class by himself. But that's why they run the races, and we'll find out once and for all on Saturday.
Bolo was allowed to stretch his legs this morning, and trainer Carla Gaines was absolutely thrilled to hear from an elated exercise rider how much better the colt moves over this surface than at Santa Anita. Back home he has a fairly high knee action, indicative of a turf horse, but at Churchill Downs his stride is much lower to the ground, and Churchill does have a history of being extremely kind to grass horses. Remember, grass horses Animal Kingdom and Barbaro won the Derby. Big Brown began his career on the grass and finished his career on the grass, and grass horses Dullahan and Paddy O'Prado finished third in the Derby at big prices. So, this colt could be a lot more live than people think, and he'll relish the mile and a quarter.
Firing Line was motoring around there at a good clip and you couldn't ask a horse to be doing any better. He and Bolo have really taken to the track and should represent California very well at good prices. As I've been saying, Firing Line is an extremely appealing horse, with a finely chiseled head and alert eye, and just a wonderful demeanor about him. His jockey Gary Steven has a great deal of confidence in this colt and feels he is fresh and fit and has a big chance.
Danzig Moon has been improving every day. Some have mentioned the colt's slight skin rash, but he has always been very sensitive to allergies, and the feeling is that it may have been caused by going back to straw from shavings, as Palm Meadows, where he was stabled, doesn't allow straw, which had been his regular bedding.
Trainer George Weaver grazes Wood Memorial runner-up Tencendur, who is a huge powerhouse of a colt, standing around 17 hands, but packing a ton of muscle up front and behind. Looking at this horse and his progression, he certainly appears to be improving quickly and could reach his peak in the Belmont Stakes.