Gun Runner, Mor Spirit and Creator get in final Derby work
LOUISVILLE, KY. >> A day after storms drenched Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby horses Mor Spirit, Gun Runner and stablemate Creator enjoyed sunny skies and solid footing in their final workouts for racing's marquee event.
All three came through Monday's workouts in good order as a result, with newly elected Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen particularly encouraged by the showings of Gun Runner and Creator entering Saturday's 142nd Run for the Roses. Said Asmussen, "they're cooling out extremely well and we're very excited for the Derby."
Fellow Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was just as confident about Mor Spirit, his lone Derby pupil this year after guiding eventual Triple Crown champion American Pharoah and Dortmund here last May. The colt covered five furlongs in 59.80 with jockey Gary Stevens aboard.
"It went just as planned," Baffert said. "Gary was happy with him. He loves the surface. He goes over it much better than Santa Anita. That's half the battle, if they like it."
Baffert has tempered expectations of Mor Spirit following American Pharoah as a Triple Crown champion and noted that it took 37 years before that stellar colt finally succeeded last spring.
Stevens was just as cautious and pointed out that Saturday's challenge will be trying to knock off unbeaten Nyquist, the likely favorite in the 11/4 mile Derby featuring 20 entrants. But he suggested anything was possible with the colt's impressive record — three wins and four seconds in seven starts — and his progress toward the Derby after a runner-up finish to Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby.
"Like Bob has said, he's no American Pharoah, but we don't know that yet," said the Hall of Fame jockey, who was second in last year's Derby aboard Firing Line.
"Maybe lightning can strike two years in a row, who knows? We'll see what happens."
Most important on Monday was the absence of lightning and any threatening weather on a mostly sunny morning. The track was in surprisingly great shape and gave the trio of Derby hopefuls something to work with.
Derby points leader Gun Runner, who has four wins with a fourth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Club Stakes at Churchill, ran four furlongs in 50.40. Creator, who enters sixth with 110 points after his Arkansas Derby victory nearly three weeks ago, covered the same distance in 50.60.
The performances were just what Asmussen wanted with five days remaining before the Derby, and he was thankful for the dry surface that made them possible.
"I've been very happy with how they've done here at Churchill," Asmussen said. "The best news of the morning was the condition of the track. To come out this morning and see how good a shape it was in was very pleasant. It definitely made the morning go well."
AP Freelance Writer Mike Farrell contributed to this report