LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It was 9:55 a.m. Wednesday and Einstein was whinnying like a horse in search of something. Grooms and hotwalkers were scurrying around trainer Helen Pitts' Churchill Downs barn but no one was attending to Einstein's need for feed.
Finally, Pitts brought a carrot out to calm Einstein down. If he devours his opponents like he did that carrot, Einstein will win a second straight Woodford Reserve on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Einstein's presence in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford highlights a strong Kentucky Derby undercard. The Woodford, which drew a field of 10, is one of five graded stakes to be run before the Derby. The Woodford is the race run immediately preceding the Derby. In this case, immediately means 92 minutes before.
The Woodford will be Einstein's first start since he won the Santa Anita Handicap on March 7. Pitts had initially intended to turn Einstein out on the farm for a brief freshening, but ended up keeping him with her, first at Gulfstream then in Kentucky.
"I played around with him after the Big Cap, let him be a horse," she said. "He's been on a pretty serious training schedule the last couple of weeks. Everything's a go. As you can hear from him, if we don't run him I'll be in trouble."
Einstein will break from post 6 under Julien Leparoux. His competition will include Court Vision, the Hollywood Derby winner; Proudinsky, the Mervin Muniz winner; and Artiste Royal, third to Einstein in this race last year.
Humana Distaff: Three look tough
The defection of Indian Blessing from the Grade 1 Humana Distaff created a more wide-open affair, with Game Face, Informed Decision, and Secret Gypsy heading the nine-horse field.
Game Face, trained by Todd Pletcher, won two of three graded stakes at Gulfstream Park during the winter and seeks her first Grade 1 in this spot. Informed Decision has won three consecutive races, including the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland last out. Secret Gypsy comes off her first graded victory in the Grade 2 Distaff at Aqueduct on March 21.
Royale Michele, the Barbara Fritchie winner, is another contender.
Churchill: Kodiak Kowboy solid
Kodiak Kowboy, winner of the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct in his last start, heads a nine-horse field entered in the Grade 2, $250,000 Churchill Downs at seven furlongs.
Kodiak Kowboy, trained by Larry Jones, will square off against former stablemate Sok Sok, who defeated Kodiak Kowboy in the Duncan Kenner Stakes at Fair Grounds on March 14. Both horses, at one time, were trained by Steve Asmussen.
Other notables in the field include The Roundhouse and My Pal Charlie.
Distaff Turf Mile: Visit faces 10
Visit, a multiple group stakes winner in Europe, will be favored to capture her first graded event in North America when she starts against 10 others in the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile for fillies and mares.
Visit has run four times in North America, finishing a close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last fall and third, beaten by a neck, at 3-5 in the Santa Ana last out. She will break from post 2 under Garrett Gomez.
There is plenty of depth to this field with Ballymore Lady, winner of the Endeavour at Tampa Bay Downs; Elusive Lady, second in both the Endeavour and Hillsborough at Tampa; and Tizaqueena, a winner of 4 of 5 starts, including both her tries on turf.
Eight Belles: Jones has two
Larry Jones, the trainer of the ill-fated Eight Belles, will send out two fillies in the race that honors the 2008 Derby runner-up's memory. Jones will send out Just Jenda and Warrior Made in the Grade 3, $100,000 Eight Belles, formerly the La Troienne. Eight Belles was euthanized after breaking down following her second-place finish in last year's Kentucky Derby.
Just Jenda won the Grade 3 Honeybee before finishing third to Kentucky Oaks favorite Rachel Alexandra in the Fantasy Stakes last out. Just Jenda cuts back to a one-turn race for the first time since she won the Brandywine Stakes at Philadelphia Park last Oct. 28.
Warrior Maid has won 3 of 5 starts including a $125,000 stakes restricted to Louisiana-breds two starts back. She tired to third in the Crescent City Oaks in her first start around two turns.