• Cox, McPeek’s Indiana Derby, Oaks contenders work at Churchill for Saturday’s signature races at Ho

    By Jennie Rees, Eclipse Award Winning Turf Writer


    SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (Saturday, June 29, 2024) – Indiana Derby contenders Dragoon Guard and Real Men Violin worked Saturday at Churchill Downs in preparation for next Saturday’s $300,000, Grade 3 stakes for 3-year-olds at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Dragoon Guard’s Brad Cox-trained stablemate Impel and Band of Gold, who like Real Men Violin is trained by Kenny McPeek, also worked for the $200,000, Grade 3 Indiana Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.


    Dragoon Guard, Impel work together in 1:00.60


    Dragoon Guard and Impel worked together five-eighths of a mile shortly after the Churchill Downs track opened for training at 5:30 a.m., with both clocked in 1:00.60. Those were the fifth-fastest times of the 18 works at five furlongs. Florent Geroux, who was on Impel, will ride both horses this coming Saturday for Cox and owner Juddmonte.


    “They breezed together a smooth five-eighths and breezed very well,” Cox said. “This is the first time we’ve matched them up, but I was pleased with the move. Impel was on the inside; Dragoon set off her just a little bit. I didn’t want them to be head-and-head early and be too tough. But they settled in well and finished up strong with a nice gallop-out. I feel confident running them both off that work.”


    Dragoon Guard, a son of Juddmonte’s late stallion and Hall of Fame racehorse Arrogate, is making both his stakes and two-turn debut. The silvery gray was second by a neck in his first race last September at Churchill, then returned almost seven months later to impressively win at Keeneland, followed by a front-running 3 1/4-length victory in the slop at Churchill Downs’ one-turn mile on June 2.


    “He ran really well here behind a decent colt of Steve’s (the Steve Asmussen-trained Otto the Conqueror),” Cox said of Dragoon Guard’s first race. “He had a setback after that, so we had to give him a bunch of time. We liked him. He came back this year, and I liked him more going into the Keeneland race. He really was doing well. We ran him the Beard course distance (seven furlongs, 184 feet) and the mile here was the natural thing to do next. He responded well. He does need to take a step forward, and I think he will.”


    After two easy wins, including by 8 1/2 lengths in an Oaklawn Park allowance race, Impel was third in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland at 1 1/16 miles and then second the seven-furlong Eight Belles (G2) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. 


    “Impel hasn’t run since we cut her back to seven-eighths,” Cox said. “Off the run in the Ashland, we ran her back a little quick in the Eight Belles. Overall, I thought that was a really good effort. I think there’s a little bit of question how far she wants to go. Based off her physical (build), I do think she’ll handle two turns. She won her first-level allowance race at Oaklawn at two turns.


    “I didn’t know if she’d be fastest enough to win going three-quarters, but she was. It looked like a good maiden race on paper. We’re still trying to figure out what she’s best at. But she’s lightly raced, and just getting her career going. Hopefully she can be a grade horse either at middle distances or around two turns.”


    Cox has won the Indiana Derby twice, including last year with Verifying, a popular victory with local favorite Marcelino Pedroza Jr. in the saddle, and Florent Geroux teamed with Cox to win the 2020 Indiana Derby. Geroux also is looking for a third Indiana Derby, winning his first in 2018 on the Michael McCarthy-trained Axelrod.






    McPeek, Hernandez team again with Real Men Violin, Band of Gold


    Kenny McPeek and Brian Hernandez, who most famously became the rare trainer and jockey to sweep the Kentucky Derby (Mystik Dan) and Kentucky Oaks (Thorpedo Anna), will shoot for another double in the Indiana Derby and Indiana Oaks Saturday. 


    Real Men Violin worked a half-mile in 47.60 seconds, third-fastest of 118 timed works at the distance Saturday morning at Churchill Downs. Band of Gold went the same distance in 47.80 (sixth-fastest).


    Magdalena Racing’s Real Men Violin is coming off a third in the Texas Derby. He’s seeking his first stakes victory, having finished second in the Illinois Derby and last November’s Kentucky Jockey Club, with disappointing finishes in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) in between.


    “Real Men worked a nice half,” McPeek said. “This horse has been knocking on the door; he’s stakes-placed. He still has a ‘one other than’ allowance condition, but we’re going to give him one more shot in stakes company against straight 3-year-olds. It should be an exciting weekend. That’s also the ownership of Under the Palms, who is going to run in one of the Indiana-bred stakes (Ellen’s Lucky Star) as well.”


    Band of Gold, winner of Oaklawn’s Martha Washington at 24-1 odds in the slop in her third start, most recently was third in Churchill Downs’ Monomoy Girl at the Indiana Oaks’ 1 1/16-mile distance.


    “Band of Gold actually ran away from the pole in front of another filly, Shimmering Allure, but she worked well,” McPeek said. “She won a stakes earlier in the winter, and she was third in her last start. She needs to find another level, but she’s doing really well.”


    Hernandez was aboard both Real Men Violin and Band of Gold in their works. “They went their usual half,” the jockey said. “They’re six days out from the Indiana Derby and Oaks. They went around there in smooth halves.”


    Hernandez is looking for his third victory in the Indiana Derby and his first since Neck ’n Neck in 2012. He also won on Cielo Gold in 2006. Hernandez and McPeek won last year’s Indiana Oaks with Defining Purpose. McPeek also won the Indiana Oaks in 2013 with Pure Fun, while Hernandez also won in 2012 with Grace Hall and 2014 on Tiz Windy.


    Indiana Derby, Oaks draw Monday at 2 p.m. streamed on X @HSIndyRacing, @HorseHappyHour 


    Racing fans and horsemen will be able to watch Monday as the fields are set for Horseshoe Indianapolis’ signature Thoroughbred races: the $300,000, Grade 3 Indiana Derby and $200,000, Grade 3 Indiana Oaks on Saturday July 6.


    Louie Rabaut and Mike Gandolfo, co-hosts of the Horse Racing Happy Hour podcast, will provide instant analysis as post positions are drawn for the Indiana Derby and Oaks. The draw will air at 2 p.m. ET Monday and will stream live on Horseshoe Indianapolis’ X feed @HSIndyRacing and on the Horse Racing Happy Hour’s X feed @horsehappyhour.


    Rabaut and Gandolfo have been fixtures in recent years at Horseshoe Indy for the state’s biggest day of racing. They will air a live hour-long pre-race show at 11 a.m. on the Horse Racing Happy Hour Youtube Channel (www.youtube.com/@horseracinghappyhour) as well as their X feed. Setting up on the racetrack apron, Rabaut and Gandolfo will encourage questions and comments from on-site race-goers.


    Other Indiana Derby contenders include the Doug O’Neill-trained California invader E J Won the Cup, winner of the Texas Derby and Turf Paradise Derby and third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby; Oaklawn’s Bath House Row winner Informed Patriot from the Steve Asmussen barn, and locally-based Woodcourt, most recently third in the Illinois Derby for trainer Cipriano Contreras. Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Stronghold is probable, trainer Phil D’Amato said.


    In addition to the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Derby and Indiana Oaks, the July 6 card features four $100,000 races for older horses and a pair of $100,000 handicaps for Indiana-breds.


    Rabaut is host of Rabaut & Co. weekdays from 10 a.m.-noon ET on ESPN 680/105.7 in Louisville and www.espnlouisville.com, as well as the seasonal Kentucky Racing Spotlight 6-7 p.m. during the summer and winter on ESPN 680. Gandolfo, a former basketball coach, co-hosts ESPN 680’s call-in shows after University of Kentucky football and basketball games and is a frequent fill-in for the radio station’s sports-talk hosts.


    Horse Racing Happy Hour airs every Thursday at 8 p.m. It airs on X and Youtube and is released later on Spotify and most podcast platforms.


    The 22nd season of live Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing extends through Thursday, Nov. 14. Racing is held Monday through Thursday at 2:10 p.m. Indiana’s featured event, the Grade 3 $300,000 Indiana Derby is Saturday, July 6 with a first post time of 12 p.m. For more information on live racing at Horseshoe Indianapolis, visit www.caesars.com/horseshoe-indianapolis/racing or find the track on Social Media @HSIndyRacing.