Bobby Zen

LOUISVILLE, KY–What a difference a day makes. The activity on the backside only a day ago offered a hint that something big was encroaching, however, Wednesday dawned with an explosion of activity straight out of the gate. Masses piled onto the barn area to watch the morning workouts, reminding me just how different Churchill Downs is Derby week when compared to almost any other racetrack in the United States. Fans are given a tremendous amount of access, creating an atmosphere that is difficult to compare most other venues. Trying to skirt around the masses en route en route to my post trackside (no one seems particularly in a hurry to get anywhere except for those at work!), I find a suitable spot just in time for the Kentucky Derby/Oaks work session between 7:30-8 a.m. Only the day before, Chad Brown offered an astute assessment–individually, the Classic aspirants have quality, but when you have the chance to see them collectively during the designated Derby/Oaks session, you quickly realize that they are all pretty much there because they are good! Enjoying the smorgasbord of quality on a sunnier (and drier!) morning, several of the Classic contenders made an impact. From my point of view, the standout of the morning was last year’s champion juvenile filly and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Just F Y I (Justify). Appearing beautifully turned out and moving effortlessly over the track, the Bill Mott-trained filly has been doing everything right in the mornings and giving all the right signs that she is ready for a big effort. While I can’t fault fellow Oaks contender Tarifa (Bernardini) in any way, the George Krikorian homebred looks like a million bucks and seems to know it!

Meanwhile, the volume was noticeably cranked up at the Brown barn Wednesday morning (likely courtesy of the more informed racegoers), and the shedrow was teeming with activity. Of course, Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) got a lot of attention as the second choice on the morning line, but in my opinion, the morning belonged to Domestic Product (Practical Joke). Interestingly, during my chat with Brown a day before, I was intent on talking about the GI Toyota Blue Grass S. winner, but Brown also mentioned the Klaravich homebred, unsolicited, a couple of times. So obviously, the next morning I paid a bit more attention. Going to the track a little bit after the designated training session Wednesday, the GIII Tampa Bay Derby winner looked as good as a horse could look. And the chatter is that he’s been training very well. Throw in another Practical Joke sophomore, Ways and Means, into the mix and maybe a little Brown Oaks-Derby double wager is in order?

A lot of talk has swirled around GI Curlin Florida Derby winner Fierceness (City of Light)’s chances of victory hinging on a clean start. Having failed to get to the winner’s circle after a less-than-perfect start, the Repole homebred was among the Todd Pletcher horses to get a little refresher at the gate Wednesday. Whether that helps or not remains to be seen, however, it certainly couldn’t hurt to give the colt another reminder.

If there was an award for fostering the most fan-friendly spirit during derby week, it would surely go to the D. Wayne Lukas team. While Lukas is renowned for recruiting little kids along the way to a winner’s circle photo, the Hall of Famer has clearly rubbed off on his team, as evidenced by his assistant, Bas Nicholl, calling over groups of children to offer treats and take photos with the barn’s flashy and uber popular pony, Rally. Recalling my own encounter with Lukas after winning Saratoga’s King’s Bishop S. with Chimes Band in 1994 Saratoga when I was a teenager, I was reminded of just how much a moment of generosity of spirit and kindness can go in creating a lifelong racing fan.

The post Fan Fueled Wednesday at Churchill Downs appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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