Special horses can inspire extra special treatment. On Saturday morning, some exceptional logistics came together in order for multiple Grade I winner Carpe Diem to post his first major work since winning the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes on April 4, covering four furlongs in :48 flat at Keeneland in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he originally wanted to work the son of Giant's Causeway Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. With heavy rain in the forecast beginning early Sunday morning, alternate plans were put into place to not only move the breeze up a day but get Pletcher, who had gone back to Florida, on site to watch over his leading Derby contender.
Keeneland itself had a major hand in making it happen as track officials agreed to close its main track for training shortly before 10 a.m. and then harrow the inside path of the track for Carpe Diem to work at 10:15 a.m. That allowed Pletcher to work three other Derby hopefuls — Materiality, Itsaknockout and Stanford — at Palm Beach Downs at first light before hopping on a charter plane to Lexington.
With the Keeneland faithful greeting his solo appearance on the track with cheers, Carpe Diem posted splits of :12,: 24 , :48, and 1:00 2⁄5, with a gallop out in 1:13 4⁄5 under jockey John Velazquez.
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"I thought he worked super," Pletcher said. "His energy level is good, galloped out really well. He was kind of hard to pull up in the end which is always a good sign."
After breaking off for the move, Velazquez said Carpe Diem actually went "a little bit faster than I wanted" in at first, but he was able to get the chestnut colt to back off slightly before finishing up.
Whether the work was convincing enough for Velazquez remains to be seen. In addition to being the regular rider for Carpe Diem, Velazquez also rides Materiality, who remained unbeaten in three career starts with his win in the Grade I Florida Derby on March 28.
Velazquez said after Saturday's move he "didn't know yet" if Carpe Diem was his Derby horse. Pletcher said the decision would be up to the Hall of Fame jockey.
"Ultimately it has to be Johnny's decision," Pletcher said. "He's in a tough spot, he's got two very high quality horses. He's 3 for 3 on one and 4 for 5 on the other. It's a tough position to be in. Everyone has been kind enough to allow as much time as possible, but at the same time we have to firm up a rider on each horse. So I'll probably talk to Johnny on Monday or so to make all the connections happy."
Owned by Stonestreet Stables and WinStar Farm, Carpe Diem has won four of five career starts with his lone loss coming when he finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park last Nov. 1. Pletcher said "most likely" the colt would have his final pre-Derby workout at Keeneland next weekend instead of at Churchill Downs, but he has not decided that for sure.
"I think in his particular case, with a month between races, we're just looking for maintenance works," Pletcher said. "You can tell by the way he galloped out today, I mean he was all the way back at the half mile pole before Johnny could get him pulled up. He's a fit horse."