Trainer hopes Pants On Fire gets hot in Derby
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Lori Hall likes to put her own twist on naming the horses she and husband George Hall race. So go ahead and chuckle when Pants On Fire is introduced during the post parade for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
She came up with the colt's less than regal name as a nod to his sire Jump Start and some firefighters in Louisiana that the couple has known.
"She has her reasoning behind all the names, whether it's certain things in the breeding, certain things with friends,'' said Kelly Breen, who trains all of the Halls' horses.
The Halls and Breen are back for their third try at winning the Kentucky Derby. They had two starters in 2009, with West Side Bernie finishing ninth and Atomic Rain 16th.
The couple has been involved in racing since 2004, while Breen went out on his own as a trainer in 2000. Along for the ride this time is Rosie Napravnik, who became a jockey in 2005 and has been among the top riders in Maryland and Delaware.
Napravnik recently became the first female to win a riding title at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and the Louisiana Derby. Her run to the Fair Grounds title included 110 victories, 31 more than runner-up Shaun Bridgmohan.
The 23-year-old from New Jersey will try to notch an even bigger first: becoming the first woman to ride a Kentucky Derby winner.
Joe Bravo rode Pants On Fire in five of the colt's eight career starts, including his sixth-place finish in the Risen Star.
"Joe always liked him, said he was a big, tall, lanky horse and he needs to get into his stride and he's fast,'' Breen said.
But Napravnik retained the mount after winning the Louisiana Derby by a neck, beating Nehro and Mucho Macho Man, two horses that Pants On Fire will take on again Saturday in the 1 1/4-mile Derby.
Still, Breen and George Hall debated whether Napravnik should stay on the horse, and decided to stick with her.
"She's riding dynamite, she's doing great, good karma, all of that sort of thing that everybody would want, and they seem to click,'' Breen said, ticking off the pros of keeping her aboard.
Breen compared the situation to last year's Derby, when Calvin Borel rode Super Saver, one of Todd Pletcher's horses, because his No. 1 rider John Velazquez was committed to another of the trainer's horses. Borel won, helping Pletcher end his 0 for 24 losing streak in the Derby.
"It's matter of being at the right place at the right time, the right chemistry and the right combination,'' Breen said.
After his mid-pack finish in the Risen Star, Pants On Fire avenged his loss to Mucho Macho Man with the close win in the Louisiana Derby. His winnings of $600,000 ensured him a spot among the top 20 graded stakes earnings leaders for the Kentucky Derby.
"Our horse is just starting to put everything together and put weight on,'' Breen said. "He's looking, to me, comparable to what some of these other horses are. In the paddock, people are going to be impressed with what they see. Not just in one horse, but in the field. There's a lot of good-looking horses coming into the Kentucky Derby.''
Pants On Fire comes into the Derby off a six-week break, and no horse since Needles in 1956 has won after being away that long. The colt's pedigree includes 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and A.P. Indy, who won the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic.
He has been most effective running on the lead, although in the Derby, Pants On Fire will be vying with 19 other horses to get to the front.
"He's very comfortable with whatever you ask him to do,'' Napravnik said.
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