Kentucky Derby Kernels (April 20): Sierra Leone Dazzles

Trainer Brad Cox was a busy man on a chilly Saturday morning at Churchill Downs, sending out a pair of Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders as well as his duo for the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

With the Derby two weeks away (the Oaks is a day earlier on May 3), Cox watched carefully as his 3-year-old colts Catching Freedom and Just a Touch started the morning at about 5:15 a.m. ET.

Seven Kentucky Derby and 5 Kentucky Oaks Contenders work at Churchill Downs

Catching Freedom

Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Catching Freedom, in company with Castlewarden, covered 5 furlongs in 1:00.80, 20th fastest of 71 at the distance; Blue Grass Stakes (G1) runner-up Just a Touch, with Florent Geroux up, worked 4 furlongs in 48.20, 16th fastest of 123 at the distance.

“He’s doing great and feeling great,” Geroux told the Churchill Downs press office. “He’s a very nice colt with a very bright future.”

Cox also sent out his 3-year-old Oaks fillies, Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) winner Tarifa and Busanda Stakes winner Gin Gin. The pair worked together, covering 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 (the same time as Catching Freedom), according to Equibase.

Keeneland: Sierra Leone struts his stuff

Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner Sierra Leone showed trainer Chad Brown he’s fit and ready to go with a 4-furlong work in 48.80 seconds over a fast track at Keeneland on Saturday morning. The work was the 14th fastest of 121 at the distance.

Working in company with White Palomino, the $2.3 million colt logged slits of 12.40, :24.20 and :36.80 before galloping out in 1:01.20 and 1:15.60 under exercise rider Kriss Bon.

“Worked super,” trainer Chad Brown said. “The horse is really fit and ready. It was just what I wanted.”

Brown said Sierra Leone would ship to Churchill Downs on Sunday and have his final timed workout on April 27, depending on weather.

Brown’s other Derby hopeful, Tampa Bay Derby (G3) winner Domestic Product, worked at Payson Park training center in Florida on Saturday — 4 furlongs in :48.40. Brown said the colt is expected to arrive at Churchill on April 22, along with Oaks contender Ways and Means.

More Churchill works: Gargan breezes a pair for Derby

Dornoch and Society Man, both trained by Danny Gargan, were also on the work tab. Saturday morning.

Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Dornoch and Wood Memorial (G2) runner-up Society Man each worked 4 furlongs in 48.20, according to Equibase.

Lukas’ Just Steel goes a mile at Churchill

Just Steel, who would be Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ 50th Derby starter, worked 1 mile in 1:40.00, according to Equibase.

The Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up began his work alone, was joined by stablemate Daily Ground outside the 5-furlong pole, and then they were briefly joined by a pair of Norm Casse-trainees at the half-mile pole.

Lukas also worked his Oaks contender Honeybee (G3) winner Lemon Muffin 5 furlongs in 1:02.20.

Mystik Dan shows speed in workout

Mystic Dan posted the fastest 5-furlong workout of the morning at Churchill with a time of 59.40 with regular rider Brain Hernandez, Jr. aboard.

Trained by Ken McPeek, Mystik Dan won the Southwest Stakes (G3) and ran third in the Arkansas Derby (G1). He worked outside of Northern Flame.

“When Mystik Dan won the Southwest, it was ultra impressive,” McPeek said. “After that race we decided not to come back until the Arkansas Derby where he got turned sideways in the first turn. All that said he ran a good race. He’s a fresh horse and hasn’t been over-taxed in the preps. I think it sets him up well for the Kentucky Derby.”

Also working for McPeek was his Oaks contender, Fantasy Stakes (G3) winner Thorpedo Anna, who went 5 furlongs in 1:00.60.

“They better bring a bear (in the Oaks) because I’m bringing a grizzly. I wouldn’t be afraid to run her against the colts,’’ McPeek said.

Stronghold works at Santa Anita; Louisville bound Tuesday

Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Stronghold put in a sizzling 4-furlong work in 46.60 seconds at Santa Anita on Saturday and is headed to Churchill Downs on Tuesday.

The work was the co-fastest of 68 at the distance; regular rider Antonio Fresu was aboard.

“I think the track was a little fast today, but he did it the right way,” trainer Phil D’Amato said, adding that Stronghold would have his final work before the Derby next weekend. “He was in hand and we gave him a little target to help stretch him out on the gallop out. Antonio was very happy with him.”


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