LOUISVILLE — It was a morning unfit for man or beast. And Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred Tapiture could not have been less fazed.
Amidst a brutal rain storm that forced Churchill Downs to temporarily halt training due to lightning strikes, multiple graded stakes winner Tapiture put in his final major work before the Kentucky Derby in routine fashion, working 4 furlongs in 50 flat under exercise rider Abel Flores.
As the Steve Asmussen-trainee reached the track at 6:15 a.m., the rain picked up and lightning flashes were coming in bunches. A thunderclap rang out just as Tapiture broke off for the move but Flores stayed composed as he guided the colt through a first quarter in 24.60, galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:04.80.
"It felt like the priest's round of golf in Caddyshack," laughed Asmussen afterward. "Only, thank goodness, we didn't get struck by lightning at the end of it. I'm very happy to get it in, I loved how he moved over it. I can't say enough about Abel, under those conditions, to do what we wanted. He hit 50 right on and that's what we were aiming for with the horse.
"This racetrack handles water amazingly."
Tapiture won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill last November and opened his sophomore campaign with a victory in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 17. After finishing second in the Grade II Rebel Stakes, the son of Tapit was most recently fourth in the Grade I Arkansas Derby.
When the weather settled down enough for Churchill to reopen the track, trainer Bob Baffert sent Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity out for his last major turn up, breezing him 4 furlongs in :48 in company with 5-year-old graded stakes winner Drill.
Hoppertunity broke off 2 lengths behind Drill and finished up on even terms but did edge in front as he galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:13.40 and 7 furlongs in 1:27.40.
"I like the way he was today," said Baffert, who also sent Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and Kentucky Oaks hopeful Ria Antonia out to breeze a half-mile in :47.40. "Drill actually really liked the wet so he was a good partner. That's the way he works, Hoppertunity, where Drill is always the aggressor. He just went along there steady, and (jockey) Martin (Garcia) said he was really having a hard time puling him up there at the end. I'm happy we got the work in and now we can sit back, keep him happy and love on him."
Baffert added that Sunland Derby winner Chitu came out of his 6-furlong work from the gate on Sunday in good order. Chitu is being treated for seedy toe, a fungus condition, but Baffert said the colt would wear regular shoes for the Kentucky Derby.
"The thing about the foot is it is more of a cosmetic looking thing on him, it was blown out of proportion," Baffert said. "He's good. We put a regular shoe on."
California Chrome arrives
Likely Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome received a hero's welcome to Churchill Downs as he arrived on the grounds at 12:45 p.m.
The Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner traveled on the same flight as Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes victor Dance With Fate, with each settling in without issue.
Trainer Art Sherman had indicated California Chrome would get his first feel for the Churchill strip Tuesday morning with a likely jog. Despite his rock-star status, one surprise upon arrival was the discovery that California Chrome's Kentucky Derby saddle towel had his named spelled wrong with California spelled C-A-L-I-F-O-R-I-N-A. Those seeking omens may recall that the saddle towel for eventual champion Bernardini was misspelled when he won the 2006 Preakness Stakes.
Wicked Strong on track
Grade I Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong made his first trip to the track at Churchill Downs on Monday and galloped approximately 11/4 miles over the sloppy surface under exercise rider Kelvin Pahal.
"He galloped pretty much like he always does, starts out real slow looking around and once he gets warmed up he starts stretching out," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "He didn't pull like he does back home, only because of the combination of the mud and he's never seen the place before. I thought he looked good and comfortable and switched his leads nice."