By Ryan Martin
• Winchell Homebreds Look to Make Presence Known on Derby Trail
• Night Ops Looks To Become Desormeaux’s Next Rising Star
• Catalano Calls Audible With Liora, Enters in Silverbulletday
WINCHELL HOMEBREDS LOOK TO MAKE PRESNECE KNOWN ON DERBY TRAIL
As the Racing and Bloodstock Manager for prominent horse owner Ron Winchell, one of David Fiske’s most important roles is to find a path to the Kentucky Derby for the stable’s top 3-year-olds. On Saturday, promising sophomores Wicked Indeed and Tight Ten hope to cement their status in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes.
Both runners are homebred sons of prolific stallion Tapit and are trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen. They will be making their 2019 debuts in Saturday’s mile-and-70-yard event, which is the first local qualifying race on Churchill Downs’ Road To The Kentucky Derby.
Third behind fellow Lecomte entrant Tackett last out, Wicked Indeed broke his maiden at first asking over the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots main track in November where he was a nose in front of Chase the Ghost, who also is entered in Saturday’s race.
“We’re getting everyone sorted out,” Fiske said. “This race a little ambitious for Wicked Indeed and I thought he ran a little dull last time. He didn’t run the way we wanted him to and I think he’s better than that. He and Tight Ten have worked together in the morning on occasions. It’s hard to separate them sometimes. I don’t know what his deal was last time he ran but we thought we would give him another chance and if he runs the way we except him too, hooray and if not we’ll find another course him.”
Wicked Indeed possesses strong bloodlines on the dam side and is a full brother to Grade II winners Just Wicked and My Miss Lilly.
While Wicked Indeed is diving into some deeper waters, Tight Ten is taking a drop in class from the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he was a troubled ninth behind Game Winner. Also a victor in his career debut, Tight Ten was second in both the Grade II Saratoga Special Stakes and the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs last season.
“His experience in the Breeders’ Cup wasn’t the best,” Fiske said. “He bounced off the rail going into the first turn. I’m not sure how much it affected his performance but if you’re riding a motorcycle at 30 miles per hour and a bee stings you and hits your hand it hurts. He hasn’t run since November, but he’s back to training pretty well.”
Tight Ten is the fourth foal out of the Distorted Humor broodmare Devils Humor whose dam is two-time Grade I winner Fleet Renee. He will be guided by regular rider Ricardo Santana, Jr. while Brian Hernandez, Jr. has the call on Wicked Indeed.
NIGHT OPS LOOKS TO BECOME DESORMEAUX’S NEXT RISING STAR
When it comes to shopping for young Thoroughbred prospects, trainer Keith Desormeaux and his team have a saying – “don’t buy pedigree, make pedigree”. Like so many of his recent stars, Night Ops’ bloodlines might not jump off the page, but the connections believe he has what it takes to be competitive in Saturday’s Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes.
Owned by Desormeaux, Big Chief Racing, Rocker O Ranch and Madaket Stables, the son of Warrior’s Reward was a bargain acquisition from the Fasig-Tipton October Sale in 2017 and was bought for only $5,000. Throughout the past few years, Desormeaux has developed a reputation for annexing reasonably priced stock and developing them into competitive runners that can win at a high level. Horses like Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red (a $17,000 purchase) and two-time graded stakes winner My Boy Jack (a $20,000 purchase) come to mind.
“I don’t want to be influenced by a horse’s page,” Desormeaux said. “It’s the horse first, and if it looks like pedigree that we can afford, then I’m all in. I’ve applied myself over the years in trying to figure out the ingredients and the necessary qualifications for a horse to reach a high level while at the same time, not have to spend so much money. I’m not the first one to do all this. Families on the bottom side that might be stagnant but we focus on the athlete, not on the page. We don’t buy pedigree, we make pedigree. I don’t mean to sound overconfident or cocky, but it’s just what we try to do.”
As far as Night Ops is concerned, he is still in search of his first career victory, but running maidens in big races like this is not foreign territory for Desormeaux. In 2017, he sent then maiden Sonneteer to the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park where he finished second at odds of 112-1.
“Sonneteer got us to the Derby and now he’s at a half-million in earnings so it wasn’t like we did something crazy,” Desormeaux said. “We’re all engrossed with Derby fever, it’s what my owners and I play this game for. This is a time of the year to find out what you have. He’s shown some talent. Sometimes you got push them a little bit and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re going to see what he’s got.”
In five career starts, Night Ops has been up against some nice horses including fellow Lecomte competitors Plus Que Parfait and Admire. He was a recent second to the latter over a sloppy main track at Churchill Downs in November.
“Obviously you can see that he has talent on form, but if you handicap his opponents he’s been up against some nice ones,” Desormeaux said. “We ran a very strong closing second to Admire so that makes us legit. On the physical aspect, he should get stronger and better as the distances increase. He seems confident in his abilities and very sound so we’re taking a chance with him.”
Desormeaux gave a brief update on graded stakes winner My Boy Jack, who ran third in last year’s Grade II Louisiana Derby Presented by Twinspires.com and last raced in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational in July.
“He had some small bone chips removed from his ankle,” Desormeaux said. “He had plenty of time to recoup. We’re pretty excited about him this year.”
Night Ops will be guided by jockey Edgar Morales, who piloted the colt in his most recent effort. He is the second foal out of the Kitalpha broodmare Bear All. Night Ops was bred in Kentucky by Aschinger Bloodstock Holdings and was consigned by War Horse Place when being purchased.
CATALANO CALLS AUDIBLE WITH LIORA, ENTERS IN SILVERBULLETDAY
When it comes to conditioning Thoroughbreds, a handful of trainers all follow a similar philosophy – run them when they’re doing well and rest them when they’re not. This is one reason why Wayne Catalano made the last minute decision to enter graded stakes winner Liora in Saturday’s $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes.
The original plan with the Coffeepot Stables-owned daughter of Candy Ride (Arg.) was to train up to the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes on February 16, but when Catalano saw how well she was training and noticed a light list of probable entrants for the mile-and-70-yard event, he altered her hopeful route to the Kentucky Oaks.
“We looked at the race and there ended up being seven in there,” Catalano said. “She’s training great. When they’re doing great like that you got to run them, it’s what you got to do. We don’t have to ship her or anything so we’re running.”
In her most recent work, Liora breezed five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Sunday morning under jockey Florent Geroux.
“She looked great, Florent was happy with her,” Catalano said. “She’s not a real big work horse and will probably be better with company, but she got out of the work what we wanted her to.”
Liora gave Catalano his third victory in the last five editions of Churchill Downs’ Grade II Golden Rod, where she was 29-1. His other two wins in the event came with West Coast Belle (2014) and Farrell (2016), the latter of whom was also owned by Coffeepot Stables and swept the series of local preps on the Road To The Kentucky Oaks in 2017. Could Liora follow in Farrell’s footsteps?
“She’s not as hyper as Farrell but we’re hoping she’s as good as her,” Catalano said.
Regular rider Channing Hill has the mount for the Silverbulletday Stakes, where she is the 5-2 favorite.
Liora is a half-sister to another notable Catalano trainee in two-time graded stakes winner Family Tree. Both are out of the Giant’s Causeway broodmare Giant Mover whose dam is six-time graded stakes winning millionaire Gold Mover. Liora was bred in Kentucky by Dell Ridge Farm and was purchased for $175,000 from the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2017 where she was consigned by Lanes’ End.
After the Silverbulletday, Catalano will saddle Manny Wah in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes. Owned by Susan Moutlon, the 3-year-old son of Will Take Charge is the most experienced horse in the full field with seven starts under his belt. He was a recent second to Gray Attempt in last month’s Sugar Bowl Stakes.
“He ran a big race that day,” Catalano said. “We probably could have let him run a little more since he broke so sharp and if we were a little closer we might have run (Gray Attempt) down. He ran well though.”
Manny Wah breezed five furlongs early Sunday morning in a time of 1:00.60, the third fastest of 77 recorded works at the distance.
“He worked extremely well,” Catalano said. “He tries every time you lead him over there for a race. We’re excited going two turns for him again. We’ll try to have him sit in the pocket with some speed. If we do that we’re in good shape.”
A $175,000 purchase from Warrendale Sales’ consignment operation at the 2017 Fasig Tipton July Sale, Manny Wah is the first offspring out of the Grade I-placed broodmare Battlefield Angel who is a half-sister to 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee. Both are out of black type-winning broodmare Langara Lass.