Kentucky Derby notes: Pitino buys piece of Oaks contender

awincze@herald-leader.comApril 25, 2014 

Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals during the University of Louisville practice in the Georgia Dome Friday April 5, 2013, in Atlanta.

MARK CORNELISON | 2013 STAFF FILE PHOTO — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

With her place in Friday's Kentucky Oaks field solidified, Doug O'Neill-trainee Empress of Midway now has an especially notable local-based member in her camp.

Among the onlookers watching the 3-year-old breeze 4 furlongs in :49.80 at Churchill Downs on Friday was University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino, who purchased an interest in the filly.

Pitino was a presence during Derby week last year as well as he owned a small percentage of fellow O'Neill trainee Goldencents, who finished 17th in the first leg of the Triple Crown but went on to win the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

"Danny Kramer is the majority owner and Dave Kenny bought into her not too long ago and he sold a portion of his interest to Coach, they're real good friends," O'Neill said Friday. "It's a great addition to a great horse."

Where Goldencents came into the Kentucky Derby off a victory in the Santa Anita Derby, Empress of Midway stands to be more of a long shot in an Oaks field that is set to feature multiple graded-stakes winner Untapable and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies heroine Ria Antonia.

Unraced as a juvenile, Empress of Midway has made only three career starts and is coming off a dead-heat for second in the Sunland Oaks.

"She's always been a special filly, always acted like she had a lot of talent," O'Neill said. "I thought her race in Sunland was a real brilliant effort coming back fairly quick from her (maiden win) at Santa Anita and first time going two turns.

"It was speed-favoring but she just kept coming at them and really I thought ran a dynamite race."

Samraat, Wicked Strong work in New York

Grade III Withers and Gotham Stakes winner Samraat breeze a mile in his final pre-Derby workout Friday, covering the distance in 1:45.91 at Aqueduct.

"The target was 1:45 and let him finish a little bit after a bunch of :13s (eighths of a mile)," trainer Rick Violette said. "I was more concerned today about going too fast. He's fit. He's danced at all the dances and he's run well off this type of mile. We wanted to do that without squeezing too much. He actually galloped out another eighth in :12 and change."

Samraat won the first five starts of his career, including the Withers and the Gotham and finished second to Wicked Strong in the Grade I Wood Memorial

■ Wicked Strong was also on the worktab Friday, going 7 furlongs in 1:27.11 Friday morning on the training track at Belmont Park. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens wanted the colt to go around two turns on the 1-mile oval, so exercise rider Kelvin Pahal started the work at the half-mile pole, finished up at the five-eighths pole and galloped another furlong to get a mile.

"I thought he went perfect." Jerkens said. "He went the first eighth in :13 and every one after that was almost exactly the same. He went real good."

■ St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds' Ring Weekend was confirmed for a Kentucky Derby start after working 6 furlongs on dirt in 1:12.80 at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. Trainer Graham Motion said the Tampa Bay Derby winner would ship to Churchill Downs on Monday.

■ Gotham and Withers runner-up Uncle Sigh worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 over the Belmont Park training track for trainer Gary Contessa and is scheduled to van to Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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