LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nothing, including the volcanic ash cloud that paralyzed European air traffic, will keep trainer Jeremy Noseda from saddling Awesome Act in the Kentucky Derby.
"He'd swim here, if had to," said Wayne Tanner, the assistant supervising the colt's preparations at Churchill Downs.
Fortunately for Noseda, flights have resumed. He missed the horse's workout last week because of the travel restrictions. Noseda was scheduled to arrive from England on Tuesday night.
Even without the boss on hand, things have gone smoothly for Awesome Act. The Gotham Stakes winner had his final Derby workout Tuesday over a track muddied by several days of rain. With jockey Julien Leparoux aboard, Awesome Act went four furlongs in 48.20 seconds.
"The work was perfect," Leparoux said. "He went very good, very smooth. He galloped out very good. This track was no problem for him."
Like his trainer, Awesome Act is a seasoned international traveler. He started his career last season in England, racing exclusively on grass and synthetic tracks before flying to Santa Anita to finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Then it was back to Britain for winter training at Newmarket.
Returning for the Gotham at Aqueduct on March 6, Awesome Act delivered one of the more impressive Derby prep efforts in his dirt debut. The colt roared into contention with a four-wide sweep on the final turn, quickly opening up a decisive lead before cruising home a 1 1/4-length winner.
"Our plan was to go back to Europe and come back over," said Tom Ludt, manager of Vinery Stables, which co-owns the colt with Susan Roy. "We felt this colt would like the dirt and handle the dirt. We said we'd come over and run in the Gotham, and if all goes well, run in the Wood. Not too often plans go as planned."
Awesome Act remained in New York for the Wood at Aqueduct on April 3, a race in which nothing went as planned. He stumbled at the start, lost a shoe and never settled into a comfortable rhythm in a race without much pace. He finished third to Eskendereya, the top colt in the Derby lineup until he was withdrawn Sunday with a leg injury.
The absence of Eskendereya makes this Derby a wide-open affair loaded with front runners who could set a demanding early pace highly favorable to Awesome Act's late-running style.
"This horse will rate back," Ludt said. "That's what he does well. Julien rode him great in the Gotham and there was no speed in the Wood. Obviously, Eskendereya is a great racehorse, but with no pace, there wasn't much you can do. We won't have to worry about pace on Saturday."
QUIET TODD: After several days of tumult, quiet prevailed at the Todd Pletcher barn.
Pletcher dominated the early Derby headlines, starting Sunday with the surprising announcement that Eskendereya, the likely favorite, would miss the race with a leg injury.
On Monday, Pletcher said the filly Devil May Care would take on the boys in the Derby while Rule would skip the Derby following some disappointing workouts.
There were no Pletcher blockbusters Tuesday.
Pletcher confirmed again that Devil May Care would run in the Derby, shooting down a Tuesday morning backstretch rumor she would be cross-entered in Friday's Kentucky Oaks against the fillies (she wasn't).
He also postponed until Wednesday morning a Derby decision on Interactif, fourth most recently in the Blue Grass.
Interactif seems to have thrived in the wet going at Churchill Downs this week. Pletcher will take another check of the Saturday forecast before making a final decision.
"He does like it when it's wet," the trainer said. "He's had plenty of experience here with that. That's something we'll consider overnight."
Besides Devil May Care, Pletcher's other confirmed Derby starters are Discreetly Mine, Mission Impazible and Super Saver.
Pletcher said Eskendereya, owned by Ahmed Zayat, continues to make progress with the swelling coming down in the left front leg.
"We walked him in the barn this morning," he said. "He seems better. I talked to Mr. Zayat and he said, `Why don't you focus on the Derby?' On Monday, we'll make a decision if we're going to send him to a clinic and get more tests done there."
TWO FOR BAFFERT: With Eskendereya out of the Derby, Bob Baffert now trains the likely favorite, Lookin At Lucky. He will also send out Conveyance who has been overshadowed by his better-known stablemate.
With considerably less fanfare, Conveyance has gone 4 for 5 – including stakes wins in the San Rafael at Santa Anita and the Southwest at Oaklawn Park. Last time out, Conveyance suffered his first career defeat, finishing second in the Sunland Park Derby.
Speed is his game.
"He has shown from Day 1 a lot of speed, natural speed, brilliant speed," Baffert said. "He wants to be out there. Give him his head. Let him run."
Conveyance had his final Derby drill Tuesday, going five furlongs in 59.80 seconds.
"He finished up really well," Baffert said. "He looked like his old self. We're all done now. We just have to keep them both healthy and happy. I like the way both are going into the race."