LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Art Sherman was the exercise rider for Swaps when he won the Derby in 1955 and rode here in the boxcar with the horse. If the 77-year trainer wins Saturday’s 140th running with favorite California Chrome, he’ll be the oldest to do it. And if California Chrome takes the roses, he’ll be the first California-bred entry to do it since Decidedly in 1962.
“With a good break and a clean trip, I think it’s a done deal,” predicted co-owner Steve Coburn, whose horse took his last four races by a combined 24¼ lengths, including a 5¼-length triumph in the Santa Anita Derby.
Wicked Strong trainer Jimmy Jerkens, whose horse is starting on the outside, is hoping that the race unfolds so that he can save ground and make the kind of late charge that won him the Wood Memorial and earned him a ticket here. “The speed horses have to do what it looks like they’re going to do on paper for it to work for us,” Jerkens said. “If they come in front of the stands in one big ball, we’re going to be in trouble.”
As expected, favored Untapable ran away with the 140th Kentucky Oaks race for 3-year-old fillies on Friday, prompting comparisons with the extraordinary Rachel Alexandra and stoking speculation that she similarly would be entered in the Preakness Stakes, which Rachel Alexandra won in 2009.
“I am so happy for her to show who she is on this stage,” said trainer Steve Asmussen after Untapable, who started on the outside of the 12-horse field and came out of fourth place at the half mile to win by 4½ lengths over My Miss Sophia.
It was a less popular triumph than it might have been since Asmussen is under investigation for animal cruelty in the wake of allegations by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals that he used drugs for non-therapeutic purposes and condoned the use of electrical shocks by a jockey during races.
Asmussen, who would not address the issue during the postrace press conference, told NBC in a Friday interview that PETA’s charges, which followed an undercover investigation, were “horribly misleading and false.”
It was the second Oaks victory for Asmussen, who had Summerly in 2005, and also for jockey Rosie Napravnik, who rode Believe You Can in 2012. “She was magnificent,” said Napravnik after Untapable calmed down after some misbehavior in the paddock and shrugged off a delay at the gate after Empress of Midway flipped in her stall and was scratched.
Napravnik will get a chance to complete the double on Saturday when she rides Vicar’s In Trouble, a 20-1 shot who’s starting on the rail. “Everyone’s a little more concerned with the 1-hole than I am,” she said.
Pablo Del Monte a no go
The owners of Pablo Del Monte turned down the offer to replace Hoppertunity, who was scratched on Thursday because of a foot injury, opting to enter him in the Preakness instead.
“I was pushing as hard as I could to get him into the race,” said trainer Wesley Ward, “but the more prudent decision would be to run him in the Preakness with five weeks’ spacing between races.”
With the field reduced to 19 starters, the inside stall at the gate will be vacant.