'Todd Squad' ready for the Kentucky Derby

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Associated Press

Posted on May 4, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Updated Saturday, May 4 at 9:00 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Todd Pletcher sent his five Kentucky Derby contenders to the track early on Friday morning.

The "Todd Squad" went out at 5:45 a.m. for their final trips to the track before the Derby on Saturday afternoon.

"We're 100 percent done," Pletcher said. "We'll leave well enough alone from here."

Pletcher certainly has strength in numbers with a record-tying five runners in the 1¼-mile race at Churchill Downs.

With the training done, all that remains for Pletcher is to lead the undefeated Verrazano, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, Revolutionary and Charming Kitten to the saddling paddock.

"We laid out a plan to get here with them and it's all come down pretty much like we hoped," Pletcher said.

Pletcher will go for the rare Kentucky Oaks-Derby double. Princess of Sylmar won the $1 million Oaks on Friday afternoon.

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STEVENS DOUBLES: Gary Stevens will be pulling double-duty at the Kentucky Derby by riding in the race and reporting on it.

The Hall of Fame jockey will be aboard Oxbow, a 30-1 long shot in Saturday's race. Stevens has ridden in 18 Derbies and won three times. The 50-year-old jockey is four months into a comeback after being retired for seven years.

During his years out of the saddle, Stevens joined NBC as a racing analyst. Since he can't be in two places at once, Stevens will contribute a taped interview to the broadcast and will be miked for sound during the Derby.

"Gary is still on our announce team, but he is a jockey trying to win a Kentucky Derby and we respect that," producer Rob Hyland said.

NBC host Tom Hammond jokingly chided Stevens "because he has abandoned me at the desk."

Stevens would love to have it both ways: a garland of roses at the finish and a bang-up broadcast.

"I am going to be a little bit greedy here and hope to become a main story line of the race," he said. "I hope everybody has a great show and everybody gets around there safe."

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DUAL ACTION: Pletcher has a record-tying five Derby starters. Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Derby winner, will saddle Oxbow and Will Take Charge.

Ken McPeek, the third trainer in the race with multiple entrants, barely rated a ripple during Derby week with his long shots: 15-1 Java's War and 50-1 Frac Daddy.

Of the two, Java's War is the more accomplished. He won the Blue Grass Stakes most recently, his third career win. The problem is that all his victories have come on synthetic tracks or turf. The Derby is run on dirt.

Frac Daddy has one win in six races, none of them in rich stakes races. McPeek will add earplugs in an effort to keep the colt calm during the post parade.

"Every now and then he'll hear a noise and he gets a little spooky," he said. "It helps him to keep quiet."

Once Frac Daddy arrives at the starting gate, the rider aboard his escort pony will remove the plugs.

Frac Daddy is owned by Carter Stewart and Ken Schlenker. The oil men from Montana named the colt for the process of hydraulic fracturing. Also called fracking, the technique is used to extract oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals.

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BLACK ONYX OUT: Long shot Black Onyx was a late scratch for the Kentucky Derby because of a chip in his left ankle, leaving 19 horses to vie for the roses.

The scratch occurred Friday after early wagering for the race had opened, so Black Onyx's No. 1 post position will be left empty on Saturday. The remaining horses will stay in their original starting gates.

Trainer Kelly Breen said the colt looked good training on Friday, but he had some swelling in the ankle, so an X-ray was taken that revealed the chip.

"He's back in the barn. He's not feeling that bad because he just tried to bite me," Breen said. "It couldn't have been worse timing."

He said it's too early to know if Black Onyx will need surgery.

Jockey Joe Bravo was left without a Derby mount. He hasn't won the race in two previous attempts.

"I'm just very thankful that the horse is going to be OK," he said. "I'm just really sorry for the whole team."

The scratch came too late for Fear the Kitten to get into the Derby. The colt was on the list of also eligibles as the 21st qualifier in the point standings that determine the field.

Black Onyx qualified for the Derby by winning the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. He was 50-1 on the morning line.

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PINCH HITTING: Dr. Mary Scollay will fill in for Dr. Larry Bramlage as the on-call veterinarian for the Derby.

Bramlage remains hospitalized following a Churchill Downs backstretch accident on Thursday. He suffered a head injury when his golf cart overturned and he was briefly knocked unconscious.

The on-call supervisor provides equine injury updates at the Derby and other major races.

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AP Racing Writer Beth Harris contributed to this report.

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