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Keeneland has provided a training option for Derby hopefuls

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — While the path to the Kentucky Derby has wound through Florida, New York, California and other places, some hopefuls have found a quiet little stopover down the road from Churchill Downs at Keeneland.

No matter what happens in the 142nd Run for the Roses on May 7, some trainers have found a comfort zone for preparation at the picturesque little track in Bluegrass country.

Keeneland has stabled four of 20 Derby qualifiers for various stints this month and even more filly hopefuls in the Oaks on May 6. The Blue Grass Stakes produced a possible Derby contender in winner Brody’s Cause, who has another Grade 1 victory along with a third in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile here.

A peaceful setting including lush, rolling meadows might explain his love of the track.

“It’s laid out for horses,” said trainer Dale Romans, who quickly moved Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine, who finished third in the Blue Grass, to Churchill Downs.

“It’s big and nice, almost like a park environment. I think the horses enjoy being there.”

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Many have returned this spring.

Keeneland welcomed 45 horses who competed in the Breeders’ Cup last October, including four winners who raced during the spring meet that concludes on Friday.

Blue Grass runner-up My Man Sam has also trained at Keeneland before moving to Churchill a couple of weeks ago.

One notable Breeders’ Cup champion at Keeneland has been Juvenile winner Nyquist, who has trained here since winning the Florida Derby on April 2. The unbeaten colt figures to draw a sizable crowd for Friday’s final workout on the main track before heading to Louisville, and trainer Doug O’Neill is eager see him take another big step toward the Derby.

O’Neill has an Oaks hopeful in Land Over Sea here as well and has been pleased with all of his horses’ workouts and temperament. He credits being at Keeneland for providing a friendly training atmosphere.

Bad weather hasn’t been a deterrent thanks to a training track with a synthetic surface that sits just below the main track that switched to dirt nearly two years ago. The view is pretty good, too.

“It’s the best of both worlds here,” O’Neill said of Keeneland. “If every race track had enough real estate to add a synthetic track as a training track, it’s really gold. It has a big barn area, a full barn area, yet it’s spread out. It’s a place where horses are happy.”

Though Nyquist didn’t race at Keeneland, O’Neill praised track officials for making him and his horses welcome and comfortable during their extended visit. Those qualities didn’t surprise him nor Romans, who added that horsemen have always received “first class treatment” there.

Whether Nyquist’s comfort level helps him earn the garland of roses in eight days remains to be seen. O’Neill certainly believes being here trumped the logistics of trying to ship the horse back to his California base.

Keeneland vice president of racing W.B. Rogers Beasley said creating that option was part of the plan. The goal was bringing the track in line with the industry in hopes of attracting top-flight competitors, trainers and events such as the Breeders’ Cup.

Keeneland’s plan came to fruition with the track’s first Breeders’ Cup and paid off with the presence of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, who capped his stellar career by dominating the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The subsequent return of past competitors and Derby contenders suggest good feelings remain.

“Having all those horses come and run here, especially for a lot of people from California who would not come in very often, I think it was a big boost for us,” Beasley said. “That tells you several things: how much they liked racing here and how much they liked the services.”

Beasley is hopeful that horsemen will spread the word and help lure others to Keeneland in prepping for the first jewel in racing’s Triple Crown. For now it’s just a matter of whether training here produces a Derby champion, a prospect Romans feels good about.

“It’s by far the best choice I’ve had there,” he said. “I like prepping at Keeneland and doing all my work in Kentucky.”

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.