After months of work and pressure, trainer Tom J. Kelly today had the relaxed attitude of a man who knows that his destiny has been placed in the hands of fate.
Kelly completed the serious preparation of his colt Plugged Nickle for Saturday's Kentucky Derby. He sent him out for a mile workout and Plugged Nickle clocked 1:41 3/5 at Churchill Downs.
"He's done everything I've asked him," the veteran horseman said. "Now all I've got to do is sweat it out for a few more days."
Plugged Nickle had won his final prep race, the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, to insure his status as the cofavorite with Rockhill Native for the 106th Derby. But he had raised some questions when he drifted out badly during the stretch run; that is usually a sign that something is hurting a horse.
So when Plugged Nickle came onto the track for his workout after the first race today, observers were more interested in whether he ran straight than whether he ran fast.
Ridden by jockey Buck Thornburg and prompted by a stablemate, Plugged Nickle went in fractions of 25 1/5, 50 1/5 and 1:15 2/5, then kept a perfectly straight course as he ran down the stretch.
"I thought he worked real good," Thornburg said. "I figured he'd go faster than 1:41 3/5 -- maybe in 1:40 -- but the track was pretty muddy, especially where it wasn't harrowed. He had no problem with the track. I thought he handled it."
Thornburg was correct about the track condition: it was extremely slow. In the race after the workout, a field of $3,500 claimers ran six furlongs in a dawdling 1:15 3/5 and $5,000 fillies covered that distance in 1:16 3/5.
Kelly had originally scheduled the workout for Sunday, but his colt's trip from New York to Louisville was delayed for a day by equipment failure on his airplane. It was one of the few setbacks he has experienced all season.
Since he started training Plugged Nickle for the Derby in Florida this winter, Kelly has not had to improvise or alter his schedule. The colt has stayed in perfect health while running second in an allowance race and then winning the Hutcheson Stakes, the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial. He is now five for five in races over a mile.
"I've been absolutely, terribly lucky from the very beginning," Kelly said.
"He's right on the game plan." Now all the trainer has to do is keep Plugged Nickle healthy until 5:30 p.m. Saturday.