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Paddy O'Prado preps for Derby
Newly-installed permanent lights rise in front of the famed twin spires at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. - photo by Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Paddy O'Prado has quietly shined as he prepares for the Kentucky Derby.

The colt trained by Dale Romans hasn't generated much buzz beyond Churchill Downs. It's a different story among rival trainers who point to him as a horse thriving in the days leading up to Saturday's race. Hall of Famer Nick Zito mentioned Paddy O'Prado as catching his eye.

"Don't put any more pressure on us than we already have, please," Romans said.

Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia certainly didn't, listing Paddy O'Prado at 20-1 on the morning line from post No. 10. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, a three-time Derby winner, will be aboard.

Paddy O'Prado turned in a snappy workout in the slop last week, zipping five furlongs in 58.40 seconds. He has followed that with a series of strong gallops.

The fact he has taken to the dirt is a promising development, considering his limited experience. He debuted at Churchill Downs last July, finishing seventh in the slop.

His next four races were on the turf, including a win in the Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Most recently, Paddy O'Prado ran second to Stately Victor in the Blue Grass Stakes over the synthetic track at Keeneland.

"He proved that he belongs that day," Romans said.

Can Paddy O'Prado handle the dirt in the Derby?

"You can tell if a horse won't run on a particular surface a lot of times before you put them on it," Romans said. "It's much harder to tell if they will run well on one, until you see it on race day."


TUNING UP: Make Music for Me, the last horse to gain a slot in the 20-horse Derby field, paid a visit to the starting gate for schooling Thursday morning before a 1½-mile gallop.

Making the Derby for the first time fulfills a lifelong dream for trainer Alexis Barba.

"I think you just go through the motions of working every day and when one pops up, you go, 'Oh, wow, this is pretty neat,'" she said.

The late defections of Endorsement and Interactif on Wednesday opened the door for Make Music for Me to join the field only minutes before the entry deadline.

Barba had hedged her bets in case a Derby spot never materialized. Make Music for Me was also entered in the American Turf on Friday at Churchill Downs, but will scratch that race to tackle the Derby as a 50-1 outsider.

Even at those odds, the Derby is a priceless experience.

"It's a hard feeling to express," Barba said. "Of course, you want to win it, but do you get to do it? You've got to be the lucky one to get there, because it's all about luck after this."

Make Music for Me will need a lot of luck as he sports one of the thinnest resumes in the field. He is only 1 for 8, the lone win coming in a minor grass stakes at Santa Anita in March.

Barba, who trains a modest nine-horse stable in Southern California, would become the first woman to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner. Although she has never had a horse in the race, Barba has a cherished Derby connection. She was an exercise rider and assistant trainer for the late Eddie Gregson when Gato Del Sol won in 1982.

"I wasn't here with Gato but I had occasions to ride him," Barba said. "It was very exciting when he won. It was a dream come true. I would have been satisfied with that one in a lifetime. To be in this position is a journey, an unexpected journey."


LOOKING BACK: It's been 16 years since Hall of Famer Nick Zito won the Derby for a second time with Go for Gin. He will try to end the drought this year with the duo of Florida Derby winner Ice Box at 10-1 odds and Jackson Bend listed at 15-1.

Over the years, Zito has come to appreciate how many obstacles there are in the race.

"It's very, very tough because everything has to go just perfect, every single thing," he said. "You've got to have great weeks, you can't have nothing wrong. The workout has got to be perfect, the horse has got to be perfect and the trip has got to be perfect."

Most importantly, you have to have something under the saddle.

"You've got to have the horse," Zito said. "And he has to have done something."

Of the two, Ice Box holds a decisive edge on that score. He rallied from 19½ lengths off the pace in the Florida Derby, his third win in seven starts.

Jackson Bend, by contrast, is winless this year, finishing second in three races.