Forced to bypass the Kentucky Derby because of a minor but untimely foot bruise, Un Ojo’s team believes the gelding will be ready to put his best hoof forward in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
Un Ojo jogged twice around Churchill Downs’ mile track Monday morning under Clay Courville, assistant to his dad, Louisiana-based trainer Ricky Courville, while also serving as exercise rider, groom and hotwalker when their stable star is on the road.
“He’s doing good. He’s been training good, been back to the track three times now,” Clay Courville said. “He’s on the right track, moving forward. He wanted to gallop. I decided to give him another day of jogging and I’ll gallop him (Tuesday) morning. The foot seems good. He’s hitting the ground well, traveling well. We’ll gallop tomorrow and see how he is.”
The one-eyed Un Ojo was withdrawn from the Derby the morning that entries were taken, five days before the Churchill Downs classic.
“It was tough,” Clay Courville said. “It was hard to do, but it was the right thing for the horse. If everything goes well, we’ll be on to the Preakness. He’s scheduled to work on Saturday morning. We’ll see how he is after that and decide what to do.”
Courville said his dad has never raced a horse at Pimlico but that he came to Old Hilltop when trainer Eric Guillot asked him to help out with Laoban, who finished sixth in the 2016 Preakness.
“I was working for my dad when Mr. Eric called me and gave me the opportunity to travel and come up with him and get on the horse for the Preakness,” he said. “I took advantage of it and went. It was just cool to be up there and experience new things as a young kid.”
Clay Courville, now 25, can appreciate Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby victory at 80-1 odds after drawing into the field at literally the last minute to carry the banner for the “little guy.” Rich Strike is only the second graded-stakes winner for trainer Eric Reed, in a career that began in 1985 and includes 1,445 victories through Sunday. Un Ojo won Oaklawn Park’s $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 75-1 to give Ricky Courville his first graded-stakes score.
“I was extremely happy for their connections,” Clay Courville said of the Rich Strike team. “I feel people like that deserve it, people who work hard and don’t have a lot of horses like that, like most people don’t. They take pride in their work, and I like seeing people like that win.”
Still, Clay Courville acknowledged of the Derby: “It kind of sucked watching it, because I was like, ‘Man, it set up perfect for our type of horse: the hot pace and all the closers came running.’ You never know.”