A Derby test-drive at Santa Anita

April, 8, 2011
ARCADIA, Calif. -- I hit the Kentucky Derby prep circuit hardcore this season, all with different horses. I rode Sway Away in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park, Wilkinson in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course and To Honor and Serve in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. This weekend, I ride in the Santa Anita Derby. We're searching and trying to find that Derby winner, we've got our feelers out. Hopefully this year we find the right one.

The Derby trail is somewhat tough this season because other than Mike Repole's horse, Uncle Mo, nothing's really jumping off the page at you. To Honor and Serve ran a very respectable race for me the other day in the Florida Derby, but he's still got some questions after finishing third. We have a couple more preps to go, and believe it or not it's kind of fun for me because even though I don't have one horse eyeballed where I can say, "That's the one!" just being able to venture out and ride all these preps on all these different horses is kind of like being able to test-drive three or four really nice cars. You're getting the opportunity to ride top contenders and match them side-by-side in your mind, and hitting all of these races, hopefully when all is said and done, gives you a better feel for which one the winner might be coming out of.

Last year, everyone knew I was on pretty much the premier 3-year-old in Lookin At Lucky, kind of like Johnny Velazquez is with Uncle Mo. After the Derby, when Bob Baffert decided to make a change, everyone still had me connected to his horse in the back of their minds, and that made it harder to go out and find contenders for the Preakness, Belmont and other 3-year-old races. Also, I hadn't gotten on a lot of those horses in their preps, so other jockeys had the top contenders locked down. That's just the way it goes sometimes. So what we're doing this year is a different avenue, but not necessarily a bad one.

I think the most impressive performance this year to date, as far as what it felt like to ride another horse against him, the time and stuff like that, would probably be Bob's horse, The Factor, in the Rebel. The question with Bob's horse is whether he'll go further and what he'll do when he's faced with a little bit of pressure. I thought the winner of the Kentucky Derby might come out of the Florida Derby or the Wood Memorial, but time-wise the Florida Derby wasn't very impressive. The fractions were solid but they didn't come home as well as you thought they might, so I don't know. I'm still questioning a lot of things going into this weekend's races, and that's why we keep running these preps.

I was very excited about Sway Away in the Rebel, and he ran sixth. That was a big disappointment to me because, going into the race, I couldn't picture him running worse than fourth. I don't know what went on with him. Wilkinson, who I rode in the Louisiana Derby, just never really kept pace in his race. Right now, as far as the horses I've been riding so far, To Honor and Serve is still "the one."

In the Florida Derby, I didn't like my trip at all. I ran a lot of scenarios through my mind ahead of time about how the race could have unfolded, and that wasn't one of them. The speed horse we thought would be on the lead couldn't even keep up on the first turn. He was pushing along outside of me and I was trying to get my horse to settle, and it's an awkward situation for a young horse to be a half-length off the pace on the inside. I'd rather have him be on the outside. I don't want to make too many excuses for him because he traveled really well to the quarter pole but didn't really kick home like he had in races past, but I wasn't really able to ride him the way that I wanted. He broke running and I had to be a little more aggressive in securing a spot going into the first turn, and every time I wanted to take him outside to give him a better trip, the horse next to me was right there keeping me in the pocket. I was hoping to get him just a little further back and with a little bit different trip he would have been more comfortable, but maybe come Derby time we'll look back and say that race didn't take much out of him, so maybe he'll be ready.

In the Santa Anita Derby I'll be on El Camino Real Derby winner Silver Medallion. He's trained by Steve Asmussen and actually won his debut at Saratoga last summer on the grass under Johnny Velazquez. I picked up the mount in his next start, which was the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes, also on the turf. We got annihilated leaving the gate and didn't really have a chance that day. Soldat, who went on to take the Fountain of Youth, was the winner.

Fast forward to last December and I'm on him again, this time in California in the Eddie Logan Stakes, still on the turf. I didn't remember that I'd ridden him at Saratoga, but I looked at the past performances and it all came back to me. He hadn't shown much speed in the past, but he'd really blossomed since Steve brought him out to California. I thought I would have to try to get him up on his toes and moving forward, but he broke running and I could hardly keep him off the front end. That was a solid win.

Up north he was forwardly placed in the El Camino Real Derby and was useful in his race, handy. He ran good there on the synthetic track at Golden Gate, seemed to handle what they threw at him. The dirt at Santa Anita is going to be a question but he worked really well here the other day, he breezed very nice, so that's a good sign. You never know how they're going to handle it until they run on it. On Saturday, we'll find out.



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