LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Trainer Rudy Rodriguez placed his trust in jockey Garrett Gomez after Vyjack landed post No. 20, the far outside spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.
Some trainers would map out elaborate schemes to compensate for the poor draw. Rodriguez, a former jockey and Vyjack’s morning exercise rider, knows the best-laid plans are scrambled the moment the gate springs open on Saturday.
Rodriguez will put the race in the hands of Gomez, the nation’s leading rider from 2006-08. Gomez is winless in nine Derby mounts.
“He’s a big boy, he’s been in the big races. It’s up to him,” Rodriguez said. “The Derby is so hard, everything has to go perfect. When you break from the gate, it’s a different game.”
Rodriguez was aboard Thursday morning for Vyjack’s final pre-Derby workout, three furlongs in a moderate 37 seconds.
“He went the way I expected him to go,” Rodriguez said. “It was easy, comfortable. It was what I was looking for. We just opened his lungs a little bit.”
Vyjack, 15-1 on the Derby morning line, won his first four races, including the Jerome and the Gotham stakes at Aqueduct. His lone defeat came in the Wood Memorial, a one-length loss to undefeated Verrazano.
“We just let him tell me when he’s ready,” Rodriguez said.
“The way he is right now is what got us here. I don’t have to change anything.”
RUN OFF: While everything went smoothly for Vyjack, a headstrong Normandy Invasion ran off during his gallop.
After a visit to the starting gate, Normandy Invasion, a 12-1 shot in the Derby, went comfortably through the lane before accelerating around the clubhouse turn. He unexpectedly hit top gear down the backstretch as the exercise rider struggled for control. He was finally brought to a halt with the help of an outrider.
Normandy Invasion was clearly feeling his oats.
“That’s him,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He’s really sharp right now.”
LONESOME: While the other Derby horses have been acclimating at Churchill Downs, Lines of Battle remained isolated in quarantine following a 14-hour trip from Ireland.
T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O’Brien, said the colt has settled in nicely since arriving Wednesday. He is scheduled to gallop on Friday following his quarantine release. Until then, the colt can only walk around the fenced-off barn.
“We’re used to traveling our horses,” Comerford said. “There’s not a problem. He’s 100 percent.”
Lines of Battle earned his way here with a victory in the UAE Derby on March 30. He is 30-1 on Saturday’s morning line.
This will be O’Brien’s fifth starter in the Derby, a race in which he hasn’t had much success. Last year’s runner, Master of Hounds, was pulled up and did not finish.
“Aidan would like to win it because it’s a major race, one of the biggest races,” Comerford said. “It’s not easy. We’ve come out here more than most, and we’ve tried. God loves a trier.”
O’Brien will not make the trip. He will be at Newmarket in England on Saturday to saddle three horses in the famed 2,000 Guineas.
TIGHT SECURITY: The Derby horses are under 24-hour security supervised by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and Churchill Downs.
In addition to video surveillance, deputies are posted outside the barns to monitor all interactions with the horses and to collect used veterinarian supplies in sealed evidence bags pending post-race testing results.
“It is the ongoing mission of Churchill Downs and the KHRC to ensure the integrity of the Kentucky Derby,” said John Ward, executive director of the KHRC.
LONG ODDS: The pressure is back on retired Hall of Fame rider Laffit Pincay Jr. Not in the saddle this time, but with his handicapping pencil and past performance program.
Crown Royal whiskey will donate $1 million to the Thoroughbred Charities of America if Pincay, a winner of 9,530 races, can predict the first three finishers in exact order in all three legs of the Triple Crown.
Fans can follow Pincay’s picks on Crown Royal’s Facebook page.
INJURED VET: Churchill Downs veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage was taken to a local hospital following a backstretch accident on Thursday when his golf cart overturned and he was briefly knocked unconscious.
Bramlage is the on-call supervisor who provides equine injury updates at the Derby and other major races.