Barn Notes: Horses prepping for Indiana Derby Night

By Jennie Rees, Eclipse Award Winning Freelance Writer

The 3-year-old Pilot House, part of what is expected to be a full field for the $500,000 Indiana Derby on July 16 at Indiana Grand, was a promising colt when he won his first start last year at Monmouth Park. Now he’s a promising gelding.

Because after that debut performance, Pilot House had three straight double-digit drubbings. Sent to Tom Amoss in the Midwest, the Maggi Moss-owned Pilot House got one more chance at Indiana Grand and wound up a distance fourth in an allowance race. After that debacle, he also wound up a gelding, with such castration in horse racing jokingly known by the old Marcus Antonius’ quote in Shakespeare: “the most unkindest cut of all.”

That aside, gelding did the trick, with Pilot House winning a grass allowance race at Indiana Grand in his next start, followed by a 4 3/4-length second-level allowance victory at Thistledown to earn his shot at the Grade II Indiana Derby.

“I thought he was a better horse than what he was showing in his races,” said Amoss, one of Indiana Grand’s all-time winningest trainers. “He just wasn’t showing what he was showing us in the mornings. He didn’t have a bad attitude. But he was showing talent in the mornings that wasn’t being displayed in the afternoon.”

In Pilot House’s case, it wasn’t a matter of him being too unruly or a physical problem as often leads to gelding a horse.

“Focus is a very gray word in horse racing,” Amoss said. “But focus can have a lot of meanings. And one of those can be what you’re seeing in practice versus what you’re seeing in the afternoon against competition. Gelding has a way of focusing horses.”

Amoss says he knows Pilot House will be a long shot in the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Derby. But the son of 2-year-old champion Midshipman certainly worked like a contender Wednesday at Churchill Downs, cruising five-eighths of a mile in a minute flat in company.

“The idea behind the work was to make sure he’s still progressing,” Amoss said. “He won his last two races, both after being gelded and both going two turns. We wanted to make sure he was still going in the right direction. We got what we thought was a very good work. We’re looking forward to what is next for him. Which is the Indiana Derby, barring a field that is different from what we expect it to be.”

Full field appears likely for Indiana Derby

A total of 12 horses can start in the Indiana Derby. Right now there are 12 horses considered probable, including Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine and Oaklawn Park’s Rebel winner Cupid. Cherry Wine, trained by Dale Romans, finished seventh in the 13-horse Belmont Stakes, while Cupid faded to 10th in the Arkansas Derby and a well-beaten fifth in Belmont Park’s Easy Goer.

Others considered likely to run: Cocked and Loaded, Discreet Lover, Race Me Home, Seeking Blame, Star Hill, Whateverybodywants and Who’s Out. A few others are considered possible. If more than 12 are entered on Wednesday, preference goes to those who won or placed in graded stakes, followed by the most earnings.

Cupid will draw a lot of attention, being trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who is seeking a record fourth win in the Indiana Derby. But for Buff Bradley, trainer of the promising but still green allowance winner The Player, having a speedy horse such as Cupid might prove in his favor by providing a target. The Player comes into the Indiana Derby off a pair of one-turn mile victories against maiden and first-level allowance company at Churchill Downs.

“Fewer horses is good for me,” Bradley said Thursday at Churchill, where The Player is stabled. “But yeah, we’ll have something to shoot for, anyhow. Our horse is doing very well, so we’ll see if he steps up to the next level.

“His last work (five furlongs in 59 1/5 seconds Monday) was just really, really nice. It shows he’s really on it and maturing. He went back to the track today and was full of himself. I’m glad to see his energy level is up, even in the heat and everything. We’ll find out if he relaxes and maybe rates off Cupid a little bit, I think he’ll move forward and go farther. But we’ve got to see that happening. That’s while we targeted the Indiana Derby: 1, for timing, and 2, for the distance. This will be his first two-turn race. Baby steps for him.”

Bradley said The Player likely will have “an easy work” Monday at Churchill Downs. Shaun Bridgmohan has the mount.

Dream Dance in Indiana Oaks

Trainer Neil Howard and owner Stoneway Farm had considered running Keeneland allowance winner Dream Dance in the July 9 Delaware Oaks. But they changed plans and decided to stay closer to home, running in the $200,000, Grade II Indiana Oaks.

“We wanted to give her another week between races,” said Terri Burch, who manages the Stoneway breeding and racing stock. “To ship up to Delaware, with the weather getting really hot, makes me a little hesitant to go that far.”

Dream Dance, a daughter of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex, has finished second or third in four stakes, including a second in the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks. But it took the allowance victory at Keeneland for her to secure a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, in which she encountered traffic and wound up eighth. Dream Dance subsequently was third in a very tough May 28 allowance race at Churchill Downs, but the horses who beat her (Family Tree and Ready to Confess) went on to finish 1-2 in the Grade III Iowa Oaks.

“I’m feeling pretty good off of that,” Burch said, adding of Indiana Grand’s July 16 showcase card, “It’s going to be great. I’m very excited for it. We’ve been up there two or three times for their Oaks and Derby. It’s almost like a super-charged fair crowd. Everybody is so friendly, and they do a good job on it. We’re looking forward to going up there and seeing how we do. It’s time for her to win a graded stakes. She’s placed in enough of them.”

Brian Hernandez Jr. has the mount.

Brooklynsway heading to Mari Hulman George

The hard-knocking Canadian-bred Brooklynsway earned a spot in the $100,000 Mari Hulman George Stakes for fillies and mares by working a half-mile in 47 1/5 seconds Thursday at Churchill under jockey Robby Albarado. That was the fastest of 29 works at the distance.

Brooklynsway has never run in anything but stakes in 18 lifetime starts, winning five. She was bought at auction last November for $180,000 by owner Naveed Chowhan, a southern Indiana oncologist, and trainer Bernie Flint. In five starts this year, Brooklynsway won Keeneland’s Grade III Doubledogdare with Albarado aboard. In her last start, she was second in Churchill’s Grade II Fleur de Lis, beating heavy favorite Untapable and the well-regarded Ahh Chocolate.

Still, Brooklynsway was headed up to Canada to race against Ontario-breds for her first time since being sold until, Flint said, “I found out the Canadian dollar isn’t worth a dollar.”