West Saratoga works 6F at Keeneland for Derby

Today’s Keeneland barn notes by the track’s publicity staff/File photo of West Saratoga training at The Thoroughbred Center

KY HBPA Youtube rewind:

Larry Demeritte before Jeff Ruby

Larry Demeritte after West Saratoga wins Iroquois

Owner Harry Veruchi after the Iroquois

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Friday, April 19, 2024) — Harry Veruchi’s West Saratoga continued his preparation for an expected start in the $5 million Kentucky Derby (G1) Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4 by working 6 furlongs in 1:16.20 over a wet-fast track Friday morning. (Click here for a video of the work.)

With jockey Jesus Castanon aboard, West Saratoga produced eighth-of-a-mile fractions of :13.60, :26.40, :39.80, :51.20, 1:04.20, 1:16.20 and galloped out 7 furlongs in 1:30.20 while working on his own.

Trainer Larry Demeritte said West Saratoga would return to his base at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington today and stay there until vanning to Churchill Downs on Friday, April 26 with a 3-furlong breeze scheduled beneath the Twin Spires the next day.

Today’s work was the second for West Saratoga, a Keeneland sales graduate, since he finished second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park on March 23.

“I am happy with the work, and right now everything is in place going forward,” Demeritte said of West Saratoga, who had breezed 3 furlongs at The Thoroughbred Center in :36.40 on April 6. “That work was for speed and this one for stamina. You can’t do both at the same time. He will have a lot of long gallops (leading up to the Derby).”

Demeritte opted to bring West Saratoga to Keeneland for the longer work this morning.

“The Thoroughbred Center has a 7-furlong track and working 6 furlongs there would be almost like going two turns and the turns are tighter there,” Demeritte said. “With a classic horse going longer distances, they stay on their leads longer going into the turns.”

West Saratoga is scheduled to be the first Kentucky Derby starter for Demeritte, who says the realization of the Run for the Roses has not sunk in yet.

“He still has to get there. We are preparing to win and everybody feels the same,” Demeritte said. “Hey, I might be a first-time starter (in the Derby), but I’m not a rookie. I love being over there on Derby Day. I have been in a lot of Derbies – the Ohio Derby, Indiana Derby – but this is the ultimate Derby.”

Castanon has had one Kentucky Derby mount: Shackleford in 2011. Shackleford finished fourth in the Derby, and Castanon and Shackleford won the Preakness (G1) two weeks later.

“It’s about never giving up and to keep trying,” Castanon said of returning to the Derby scene 13 years after his initial run.

Castanon has ridden West Saratoga in his past two races, beginning with a third-place finish in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10.

“After the first time Jesus got on him, he told me ‘this guy is real’,” Demeritte said. “He flew up from Tampa to work him (at Turfway) and then flew back to ride races that afternoon. That’s how professional he is.”


George Krikorian’s War Like Goddess shoots for a unique spot in Keeneland history next Friday, closing day of the Spring Meet, when she headlines a field of nine fillies and mares entered today in the 62nd running of the $300,000 Bewitch (G3) Presented by Keeneland Sales.

First post next Friday is 12:30 p.m. with the Bewitch, to be run over 1½ miles on turf, going as the eighth race with a 4:07 p.m. post time.

Trained by Bill Mott, War Like Goddess has won the past three runnings of the Bewitch. She joins two other horses with three consecutive wins in Keeneland stakes: Royal Harmony (Fayette in 1969, 1970 and 1971) and Knight Counter (Ben Ali in 1972, 1973 and 1974). Neither Royal Harmony nor Knight Counter attempted a four-peat.

War Like Goddess, a two-time Grade 1 winner against males in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont at the Big A, will be making her 2024 debut and her first start since finishing seventh in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita last November. Junior Alvarado has the mount from post 6.

The field for the Bewitch Presented by Keeneland Sales is:

1Chop ChopBrad CoxAxel Concepcion118 lbs.
2Queens Command (IRE)Brian LynchLuis Saez118
3Tower BridgeCherie DeVauxGerardo Corrales118
4Atomic Blonde (GER)Christophe ClementJoel Rosario118
5Lovely PrincessKenny McPeekBrian Hernandez Jr.118
6War Like GoddessBill MottJunior Alvarado123
7CommandandcontrolJimmy CorriganAbel Lezcano118
8VergaraGraham MotionFlavien Prat120
9Tic Tic Tic BoomTim GirtinTyler Conner118

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.