LOUISVILLE, May 1 (UPI) — Weather forecasters keep throwing curveballs at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The forecast for race day, Saturday, has gone from rain to sun and back to rain. And the various prognosticators can’t even agree.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service predicted “showers likely” with thunderstorms “also possible after 3 p.m.,” citing a 60 percent chance of precipitation. The Weather Channel listed a 100 percent chance of rain and agreed about the chance of late-afternoon thunderstorms. Accuweather called for nearly an inch of rain, with a 24 percent chance of thunderstorms.
Wednesday morning was just about perfect on the Churchill Downs backstretch with lots of activity and no drama for the 20 contenders for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
There was a little theater, though, as Derby favorite Omaha Beach and his trainer, Richard Mandella, greeted local elementary school students who visited the barn area. Omaha Beach, friendlier than many Thoroughbreds, lowered his head among them and nibbled on one student’s hair.
Mandella said he expects another visit Thursday — that from veterans who have banded together to provide housing for their disabled brethren. The “Homes for Our Troops” group takes full note of the favorite’s name and its significance for World War II vets.
Before the visit, Omaha Beach galloped a mile and three-quarters, had a bath and walked the shedrow.
“Good as ever,” said Mandella, a Hall of Fame member seeking his first Kentucky Derby victory.
The Bob Baffert trio of Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster also put in uneventful maintenance works. They are the second, third and fourth favorites on the Churchill Downs morning line but Baffert, seeking a sixth Derby win, said the odds don’t matter once the gates open.
This year, he said, “reminds me a little bit of the Silver Charm Derby. You had a lot of good 3-year-olds in there and whoever gets the trip is going to win it.” Silver Charm won it for Baffert in 1997.
Trainer Todd Pletcher brought his two Derby starters, Cutting Humor and Spinoff, to the track for the first time since their arrival in Louisville. Pletcher is in the unusual position of fielding a pair of long shots for the race but said the colts “are in good shape. They’ve settled in well and they went over the ground smoothly this morning. Knock on wood, our first morning went well.”
Like most of the others, Haikal galloped nicely Wednesday morning and his trainer Kieran McLaughlin likely echoed the feeling of most of his rivals, saying:
“We just want to keep him happy, sound and healthy right now.”
On the Kentucky Oaks front, morning-line favorite Bellafina also had an easy gallop Wednesday morning but without trainer Simon Callaghan. Callaghan fell on a narrow stairway in his rented house and wound up at a local hospital where he was treated for a dislocated shoulder.
“I’m sporting a sling but I’ll be back at the barn tomorrow morning and we’ll move ahead,” Callaghan told Churchill Downs communications staff. “I know my filly’s doing well and that’s the important thing.”