A quiet morning April 25 beneath the Twin Spires saw more Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) developments off the Churchill Downs racing surface itself than on it.
Caddo River , runner-up to Super Stock in the April 10 Arkansas Derby (G1), was officially removed from the Derby lineup early Sunday morning after spiking a mild fever the afternoon of April 24, trainer Brad Cox said. The colt’s defection, one of many from the Derby this spring, clears the way for Brooklyn Strong to join the field.
The latter, winner of last year’s Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack for owner Mark Schwartz, is scheduled to breeze April 26 at Parx Racing, trainer Danny Velazquez said. If he breezes and cools out satisfactorily, he will then van to Churchill from Pennsylvania around 6 p.m. ET on Monday, the trainer added.
The 3-year-old Wicked Strong gelding has just 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, leaving him as the 20th ranked horse on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. But in a year with numerous defections from the Derby field, that is surprisingly enough to run, barring a last-moment addition to the Derby lineup before entries are taken April 27. The Derby field is larger than other North American races, capped at 20 horses.
No additional horses are listed by Churchill Downs officials as under consideration for the Derby. Starrininmydreams , who had been listed as a possible entrant last week, is pointed toward the Pat Day Mile Presented by LG&E and KU (G2) on the Derby undercard, trainer Dallas Stewart said.
Since the points era began in 2013, usually horses have needed to obtain at least 20 points to make the Derby. The exceptions came in 2013 when Giant Finish was the last horse to gain entry with 10 points and last year during a COVID-19-postponed race in September when no points were required. Eighteen horses raced in the 2020 Derby.
“We don’t know what to feel. We are kind of like in awe,” Velazquez said from Pennsylvania in a telephone interview. “In a weird way, I almost felt like this was going to happen, but you don’t know—if that makes any sense. And here we are. Blitzed. Shocked. We don’t know what to do, but pull the trigger and go.”
Brooklyn Strong finished fifth in his last start, the April 3 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2), his only race this year. That followed a winter in which his racing and training plans were disrupted by sickness and frozen tracks.
“Honestly he is doing great. I have no complaints moving forward with him,” Velazquez said. “Obviously, nothing is ever ideal with this horse. It hasn’t been easy at all lately.”
Velazquez said Sunday morning that a Derby jockey had not yet been firmed up.
Trainer Brad Cox expressed disappointment in the “terrible timing” of Shorfleaf Stable’s Caddo River running a high temperature a week before the race. That led to follow-up tests that showed a high white blood cell count, which can indicate sickness or infection.
“Hopefully back to the track in a few days,” he said.
Caddo River had been considered one of the least definitive Derby starters before Cox said he intended to run him in the Derby about a week ago. The May 15 Preakness Stakes (G1) had been discussed as a race option, though Cox said it was “hard to say right now” whether that could still be in play following the colt’s setback.
Cox still has two Derby starters in Godolphin’s Essential Quality , the anticipated Derby favorite, and Juddmonte Farm’s Mandaloun , both of whom emerged from Saturday workouts in good condition, the trainer said.
In recent weeks, one of the few confirmed Derby prospects without an assigned rider was WinStar Farm and China Horse Club’s Sainthood . That changed Sunday when trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that 19-time Churchill Downs riding champion Corey Lanerie would have the mount.
Pletcher utilized a local rider for his first Kentucky Derby victory in 2010 when Calvin Borel piloted WinStar Farm’s Super Saver to victory. Pletcher then picked up his second Derby in 2017 with Always Dreaming by teaming with his longtime go-to rider John Velazquez.
“Corey is a top-class rider and he knows Churchill as well as anyone. We felt like that worked well for us with Super Saver and Calvin. Happy to have him on board,” Pletcher said.
Lanerie has ridden in the Derby four times with his best finish being a runner-up finish on Lookin At Lee behind Always Dreaming in 2017. The latter closed up the inside, rail-hugging tactics often utilized by him and three-time Derby winner Borel at Churchill.
“He’s had some good solid breezes here with Known Agenda ,” Pletcher said, referring to Sainthood’s stablemate, the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa (G1) winner. “The concern is his lack of experience, having only three starts. But he’s run well every time, showing improvement in his training that indicates he is maturing.”
Known Agenda was one of the few Derby prospects to gallop Sunday after active workout days April 24-25. Pletcher said Known Agenda galloping was in response to his colt feeling “so good, was afraid of him getting too fresh.”
Monday is expected to be another day with limited training activity from Derby prospects. Only Midnight Bourbon scheduled to breeze at Churchill. A moderate half-mile workout is planned, standard for most Steve Asmussen-trained horses five days before a stakes start.
California invaders Rock Your World and Hot Rod Charlie arrived at Churchill Downs Sunday after traveling from Southern California, where they completed their final workouts at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.