Toby’s Corner: Two miles it is

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Gallops get longer as workday nears for Derby horse

ST is following Fair Hill-based 3-year-old Toby’s Corner to the Kentucky Derby, chronicling his life and his training, bringing readers details about the horse and serving up a small taste of what it’s like for his connections as he gets ready for the Grade I Derby at Churchill Downs May 7.

Friday, April 29

“This is where I stop, James.”

“Not today it isn’t, Buddy.”

You could almost hear the equine-human conversation on the track at Fair Hill this morning as Toby’s Corner tried to finish his gallop in the usual spot and James Slater tried to convince the horse otherwise. After nine days of galloping 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 miles on the Tapeta surface and pulling up past the gap on the turn, Toby’s Corner went 2 miles today as the Kentucky Derby prep work took another step forward. After a few steps sideways and some balky strides, Toby’s Corner got back to business and finished the gallop – looking as strong as ever.

Assistant trainer Adrian Rolls smiled and said: “It wasn’t like he dug his toes in and stopped, he’s been readily pulling up there for a while so he tried to do it again. He galloped fine, great really.”

Slater probably could have anticipated the antics, but it might not have mattered. The rider did his job: stayed on, righted his horse, kept going, completed the exercise. Even if it was a Kentucky Derby candidate. An old gambler once reminded me that “they are carbon-based lifeforms, you know.” The phrase means horses are horses and sometimes do what they want to do, no matter what we humans might want from them.

“He thinks he’s smarter than I am,” said Slater, a little sheepishly, afterward. “He knew where to stop.”

Or thought he did.

Human athletes often talk about peaking for a race or a major competition. Trainers try to do the same thing with horses so that’s why Toby’s Corner’s schedule since the Wood Memorial stepped from walking to quiet hacks to shedrow jogging to galloping a mile, to galloping 1 1/4 miles to galloping 1 1/2 miles to today’s 2-mile jaunt. He’s doing more training, more work, to peak on Derby Day, the way marathoners set up their training programs before Boston. The difference? A horse can’t read a calendar. He doesn’t understand, “Today’s the day we go 2 miles.”

Toby’s Corner looked strong, testing Slater’s arms through the stretch the first time as the rider let out a long, “Eeeeasy” to his horse. From there, he settled into his rhythm and logged his miles. The Derby hopeful walked back to the barn at his usual speedy clip, this time with Victor Gonzalez alongside (Rolls was resting his shins), and later spent some time in the colt saltwater spa at Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center.

NOTES: The stable’s training board lists the weekend worktab and Sunday includes  Aruna, Shared Account, Icabad Crane, Smart Bid, Daveron, Apple Charlotte and Toby’s Corner. Now that’s a set list . . . In a Marketing 101 lesson, Toby’s Corner’s hotwalker Horacio Flores wore a T-shirt representing the Lakers of Lake Superior State University (the northern Michigan school, near the Canadian border, has won three Division I national championships in ice hockey).


Worth Repeating

"I guess I’m not very patriotic."

Transplanted Englishman Rolls, who did not get caught up in Friday’s Royal Wedding (though it was playing on the office telly)


**PHOTO: Toby’s Corner and James Slater gallop at Fair Hill (Maggie Kimmitt).


Click for previous Toby’s Corner Journal Entries.