Confidence in Carpe Diem

By John CoxOriginally written for 4.25.15

It was a calm and cool Saturday morning at Keeneland Race Course when multiple Grade 1 winner Carpe Diem logged his final Kentucky Derby workout, covering a half-mile in :48.60 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

A crowd of around 50 quietly gathered to watch the Todd Pletcher trainee take to the dirt on his own at approximately 5:40 a.m. under a light drizzle Saturday morning. That crowd included Keeneland officials, camera crews from several local TV stations, newspaper reporters and plenty of WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stable representatives, including WinStar’s Elliot Walden and Stonestreet’s John Moynihan.

Hitting the opening furlong in :13 and quarter-mile in :25, the winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner galloped out in 1:01.20, 1:14.80 and 1:29.40.

Once the son of Giant’s Causeway exited the track, the crowd navigated briskly through the dark Keeneland barn area down to Barn 6 to meet the trainer and jockey.

“There’s very little I would change about the work,” Pletcher said. “Sometimes in the dark they’ll be a little more settled. The last time we were out there a little later, there was a bit of a crowd out there and I think he just got a little more excited. He was very settled this morning, it was a very good progressive work and he picked it up with each eighth (of a mile) and galloped out well.”

Velazquez, who will ride Carpe Diem in next week’s Kentucky Derby, agreed.

“It was very good,” he said. “He allowed me to do it little by little in the first part of the work and then finished up really well. He’s always done what we’ve asked. He’s a great work horse.”

Pletcher and Velazquez both agreed that the Giant’s Causeway colt’s experience in the Grade 1 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a 2-year-old should pay dividends in a cramped Kentucky Derby field.

“He’ll fit into this derby field very well obviously, he’s been running really good races,” Velazquez said. “But the Derby is the Derby; it’s about where you land and what kind of position you can get without using too much horse too early. It’s a race that’s very crowded and hopefully your horse can handle all the bumping around in there.

“My horse has been in that type of position already. He had a crowd in the Breeders’ Cup and in the Tampa Bay Derby, so he’s been pushed around and he’s handled everything so far so good. Hopefully he can handle it in the Derby. He hasn’t done anything wrong yet.”

The experience of the Juvenile, where Carpe Diem finished second and 6 1/2 lengths behind Texas Red in his only career defeat, was also very much on the mind of his trainer.

“It was very helpful that he had that experience in the Breeders’ Cup,” Pletcher said. “He got a lot of dirt in his face and got a lot of good experience that some of the main contenders maybe haven’t gotten. So hopefully that helps, but you have a very deep field and a lot of the main contenders have similar running styles, so the first half mile is going to be very interesting.”

Pletcher said Monday would most likely be the day Carpe Diem makes the short trek West from Keeneland to Churchill Downs.

Derby Notes: Undefeated Santa Anita Derby Dortmund worked 6 furlongs in company in 1:13.60 Saturday at Santa Anita Park as his final workout before shipping to Churchill. The Big Brown colt worked in company with stablemate Lady Bull with jockey Martin Garcia in the saddle for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. … Also making his final Derby breeze at Santa Anita was Sunland Derby winner Firing Line, who went 5 furlongs in 1:02.20 under guidance from three-time Kentucky Derby winner and Hall of Famer Gary Stevens. The Simon Callaghan trainee galloped out six furlongs in 1:15. …

At the Churchill Downs Training Center Saturday, Louisiana Derby winner International Star put in his final Derby breeze, traveling a half-mile in :50.80 with stablemate Nominative. The Mike Maker trainee galloped out five furlongs in 1:06.20. … Wood Memorial Stakes runner-up Tencendur beat the rain at Churchill Saturday, covering 5 furlongs in 1:00 for trainer George Weaver. Working in company with stablemate Wake Up In Malibu, Tencendur galloped out six furlongs in 1:14. … The most recent contender to be added to the Derby field, Keen Ice, worked a half-mile in 1:01.60 at Churchill. …

Upstart and Frosted worked Saturday at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida. Upstart went 5 furlongs in a bullets :59.95 for trainer Rick Violette while Frosted went the same distance in 1:01.10 for Kiaran McLaughlin.

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