LOUISVILLE — Barn 33 at Churchill Downs might as well as have a velvet rope around it given that it houses trainer Bob Baffert's powerhouse duo of champion American Pharoah and unbeaten Grade I winner Dortmund.
Early Monday morning, another graded stakes-winning Kentucky Derby contender quietly took up residence at the far end of that shedrow. While El Kabeir may not be able to steal focus from his current barnmates, the ultra consistent son of Scat Daddy may just come away with a good piece of the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The brutal winter that hit the East Coast caused Aqueduct to cancel either full or partial cards of racing 17 times since January 1. New York-based El Kabeir showed his toughness by thriving in the harsh weather conditions during his training, rattling off wins in the Grade III Jerome and Grade III Gotham Stakes earlier this year and most recently finishing third in the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 4.
Owned by Zayat Stables, the same connections that own expected Kentucky Derby favorite American Pharoah, El Kabeir has been the blue-collar counterpart to his former yearling paddock mate. Though he doesn't possess the sheer brilliance of the reigning juvenile champion, he has yet to deliver a clunker in his nine-race career.
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The only time El Kabeir has been worse than third was during his fourth place run in the Grade I Champagne Stakes last October. And he does like Churchill Downs, having won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes beneath the Twin Spires last November 29.
"He's very tough, he's very smart and I don't see many like him who can do that (handle the winter)," trainer John Terranova said. "He kept coming back for more each time. I don't think any of this will bother him. He's got a great mind. I don't think he's going to worry about any of the stuff going on this week."
Dortmund takes to track
He wasn't on the track long Monday morning, but the sight of the massive Dortmund's oval was awe-inspiring nonetheless.
Standing over 17 hands, the unbeaten Santa Anita Derby winner is undoubtably the biggest horse in this year's expected Kentucky Derby field. After taking a jog around the track in his first appearance in Louisville since winning an allowance race there on November 29, he dutifully posed for the crowd that gathered to watch his bath and marvel at one of the most impressive physiques in racing.
"I remember one of my owners wanted to run against him in a stake," Baffert said. "He said, 'How would you compare my horse to Dortmund?' I said, If you were here outside my office and I brought Dortmund out, you would say, 'why are we running against him?' He's just a big, tall horse with a stride."
Bold Conquest works
Bold Conquest, who would need two defections from horses under consideration for the Derby to gain a spot in the starting gate, worked five furlongs Monday in 1:01.80 under exercise rider Abel Flores.
Trainer Steve Asmussen said the move was better than last week's work where he felt the colt "was a little flat." He added that if they do not get the defections needed to get into the Derby, they would likely not be entered as an also-eligible on Wednesday and instead would look for another spot.