Oldtimers' day at Churchill Downs
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Funny Cide and Mine That Bird, a pair of Kentucky Derby winners, will make a rare joint appearance at Churchill Downs on Thursday.
It will be a stroll down memory lane for the two geldings as they meet and greet fans, and pose for photos at the site of their greatest triumphs.
Funny Cide is the popular New York bred who captured the Derby and the Preakness in 2003. He will be joined by Jack Knowlton, managing partner of the Sackatoga Stable, and Jose Santos, his rider.
Funny Cide now resides in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
Mine That Bird pulled a stunning 50-1 upset in the 2009 Derby and is currently in limited residence through July 4 at the Derby Museum. Chip Woolley, his trainer, will be on hand.
The two Derby champions will visit the paddock starting at 2:20 p.m. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. both will be available in the Museum's back garden on the grounds at Churchill Downs.
"Mine That Bird is the first Derby winner housed on our property at the museum and we are thrilled to showcase two winners at the same time during this peak day of Derby week,'' said Lynn Ashton, executive director of the Derby Museum. "It's a rare opportunity in life to get close to one Kentucky Derby winner much less two and offering this lifetime experience for fans is a treat for the museum.''
OVERLOOKED: In the Derby conversation dominated by Orb, Verrazano and Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday has become a forgotten horse.
That could be a mistake on Saturday in the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses.
Barely a month ago, Itsmyluckyday was the 8-5 favorite for the Florida Derby. He ran a big race there, finishing second to Orb. But the loss dropped Itsmyluckyday's profile, and that's just fine with trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.
"It's a good thing,'' he said. "I don't mind at all.''
Because the Florida Derby was not the ultimate goal.
"As much as we would have liked to have won it, as much as we were disappointed we didn't win it, the true objective is the race coming up Saturday,'' Plesa said Wednesday.
Itsmyluckyday has run only twice since the end of January. After winning the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26, Itsmyluckyday didn't run again until the Florida Derby on March 30.
"We did it by design to have a bigger, stronger horse coming into this Saturday,'' Plesa said. "It's worked with him physically. Whether he wins or doesn't win the race, he's coming into the race exactly like I would have wanted.''
Plesa estimates Itsmyluckyday was only about 95 percent ready for the Florida Derby.
"When you're running against a horse like Orb, you have to be 100 percent fit,'' Plesa said. "He beat us. There is no question he was the best horse that day. Saturday is another day, and I'm anxious for it.''
Itsmyluckyday, who has a 5-2-1 record in 10 starts, first got Plesa thinking about Kentucky after winning the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day.
"At that point, it enters you mind,'' the trainer said. "I always knew he was a nice horse. I always knew he was stakes caliber. Did I think he was this good? I didn't go that far with the thought. You always hope.''
Sometimes it takes more than hope. Sound advice helps. Plesa, 64, still relies on his 85-year-old dad, former trainer and jockey Eddie Plesa Sr., who will be watching from his home in Florida.
"He's pretty healthy for his age,'' Plesa said. "He's of the generation where you didn't get a lot of `I love yous' and hugs and kisses. He says he wants to hang on and follow this and live with this ride. He enjoys it. I talk to him three or four times a day. Even at this age, he still has a tremendous sense of what's happening in a horse race.''
REMEMBERING THE HEROES: Normandy Invasion, runner-up in the Wood Memorial, is named for the pivotal Allied assault in World War II.
Rick Porter, the colt's owner, decided he could do more to honor that effort than simply naming a horse. He has arranged for four veterans of that campaign to join him at the Derby.
"Three of them were on the beaches for the D-Day invasion,'' Porter said. "We reached out, and we were bombarded with names. We found four that were the most mobile that were as close as possible.''
They will have their picture taken with the horse on Friday.
Porter's interest in the battle increased after attending the 50th anniversary of the invasion.
"I was really inspired by everything I saw there,'' he said. "It's amazing. If you're ever near there, you have to go to Normandy. Put that on your bucket list. We were looking to name a horse. So we checked on Normandy Invasion and it was available.''
Porter hopes the Derby experience and the presence of the veterans help build awareness of a key moment in history.
"Hopefully, it will mean a lot to people to meet them and hear their stories,'' he said. "I just want to shake their hands, give them a Normandy Invasion hat and make them welcome. So many people watch the Derby. A lot of young people don't know what D-Day was about.''
RIDERS UP: As the lineup changed for the Derby in the last few days, so did the jockey assignments.
Jose Espinoza retains the mount on Giant Finish, the third-place finisher in the Spiral Stakes who joined the field late Tuesday.
Edgar Prado will ride Charming Kitten, while Robby Albarado will be aboard Golden Soul.
LOOKS WET: The forecast for Derby day continues to call for rain. It looks like a 50 percent chance of showers in the Louisville area with a high of 64 degrees. The time it rained on race day was 2010, when 1.32 inches fell.
AP freelance writer Josh Abner contributed to this report.
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