Two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. What do trainers worry about?
“Everything. Everything. I’d like to get more sleep, for starters.”
That was Mike Trombetta, whose horse Win Win Win just finished a routine gallop on the dirt at Fair Hill Training Center Wednesday morning. Trombetta watched the exercise session from a bench just outside the clockers’ stand, calling furlong splits to exercise rider Mel Williams. Win Win Win and Williams walked to the track with a lead-pony escort, jogged to the backside and put in their work. Easy, right? Sure, if you don’t let yourself think about it too much.
The trainer talked about the worries, but knows how fortunate he is to have such problems. Early this week, he got a reminder. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. took off Win Win Win in favor of the Bob Baffert-trained Improbable. A jockey’s agent sent a text looking for a ride – but also offering some advice on weathering the uncertainty.
“Everybody in the game would love to be in your position right now.”
Trombetta let it sink in then, and again on Wednesday while standing in his barn office.
“That’s true and I get it and I’m very respectful of that,” he said. “This doesn’t happen to everybody.”
Trombetta has won 1,741 races in a career that started in 1989. He’s run one horse, Sweetnorthernsaint in 2006, in the Kentucky Derby. That horse finished seventh, as the mild favorite, behind Barbaro.
“I’ve been able to do it before so it gives you a heads-up to what’s going to happen and how it’s going to go,” said Trombetta. “It’s been a long time. They don’t come by every year, not for me. There’s not one on every corner.”
This year, there is. Owned by Live Oak Plantation, Win Win Win occupies a prime corner stall in Trombetta’s barn at Fair Hill. His shavings bed might be a bit deeper than normal, but otherwise the horse looks like a horse – not necessarily one aiming for the country’s most famous race. Before training Wednesday, he was tied to the wall, tacked up and waiting his turn. His neighbor Oldies But Goodies was getting ready for ice boots and trying to hide from the attention of “girlfriend” Souper Striking. If Win Win Win is worried about the Derby, it didn’t show.
For now, his trainer will concentrate on getting to the $2 million race.
“If things go to plan he’ll breeze this weekend and then we’ll start thinking about things even harder,” the trainer said. “It’s like anything else, you’ve just go to make sure that we pay attention and everything is the way it’s supposed to be. The horse has to show up in good order. Things happen along the way and hopefully it’s nothing major that we can’t work through. But you want everything to be perfect.”
Win Win Win won his first two starts as a juvenile, a November maiden debut and a December allowance going 5 1/2 furlongs at Laurel Park. He wrapped up 2018 with a second in the 7-furlong Arnold Heft Stakes Dec. 28. The relatively late start put 2019 on fast forward. Trombetta wanted a steppingstone to the longer, two-turn races with Kentucky Derby points and found the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 19. The son of Hat Trick won by 7 1/4 lengths and broke the track record. Off that performance, Win Win Win stayed at Tampa and aimed for the Tampa Bay Derby. With Eclipse Award winner Ortiz replacing the Mid-Atlantic based Pimentel, Win Win Win finished third in his first start around two turns March 9.
If the Derby was in play, he needed more than that to prove it. He shipped north, back to Fair Hill, with eyes on the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the Blue Grass at Keeneland April 6. Trombetta chose the latter and Win Win Win finished a late-running second after a trip that had him 13th of 14 after a quarter-mile. Rallying on the far turn, Ortiz had to steady behind horses and fan five wide into the stretch. Win Win Win leveled off and ran home, catching Signalman at the wire for second as Vekoma won by 3 1/2 lengths.
Trombetta liked the effort, worth enough points to give Win Win Win a spot in the 20-stall Derby.
“I like the way he’s evolving,” Trombetta said. “He’s only had two two-turn races and he’s showed up in both of them. I like the way he’s running on at the end. Whether or not we can keep tacking on distance and he can keep doing it remains to be seen, but that’s the same for everybody. We’ll just have to see.”
Win Win Win will see without Ortiz, who opted for the more proven Improbable and forced Trombetta and Live Oak into a decision. In the end, it wasn’t difficult even if it was a curve ball no one wanted to face. Pimentel won three of four (with a second) on the horse, had handled the change with class and had earned a chance. Owner Charlotte Weber agreed.
“They’re private enterprises, they’re going to do what’s right for them,” Trombetta said of jockeys. “Mrs. Weber was very clear. She didn’t hesitate, didn’t as much as take a stutter step. She said, ‘Call him up.’ I think it’s absolutely the right call to make. She made it real easy.”
The breeze Trombetta mentioned is Saturday, a half-mile galloping out five-eighths most likely. Weather will help decide which of Fair Hill’s two tracks will be in play – dirt or the Tapeta synthetic surface. The latter is much better than dirt when wet and served Win Win Win well in final preps for the Pasco and the Blue Grass.
“He worked on the synthetic and broke the track record at Tampa and he worked on the synthetic and ran second in the Blue Grass so I’m comfortable,” Trombetta said. “I think he’ll get enough out of either one at this point, then I’ll figure out what the next week holds after I see that work and how he does. I’ve got to be careful for the fact that I have a little bit of extra protection here that I don’t have somewhere else where I can be affected by weather.”