Kentucky Derby 2023: Yakteen is no stranger to Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby 2023: Yakteen is no stranger to Churchill Downs
Photo: Ron Flatter

It is a travel day for Practical Move and Reincarnate on Saturday, when they were booked for their flight from California to Kentucky.

For their trainer Tim Yakteen, the buildup to next Saturday’s running of Kentucky Derby 2023 will be the start of old-home week. Or more accurately, home-away-from-home week.

“Every time you go to the Derby, you always learn more,” Yakteen said this week. “My first Derby experience was actually with Charlie Whittingham dating way back to the early ’90s.”

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From Strodes Creek’s runner-up finish in 1994 through three Derby triumphs assisting Bob Baffert with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem to his own turn last year. That was when he looked after Taiba, who finished 12th, and Messier, who was 15th, because the suspended Baffert could not. Yakteen, 57, is a visitor who truly knows his way around Churchill Downs. And the Derby.

“It’s just like life in general,” Yakteen said on Horse Racing Nation’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “You’re constantly absorbing knowledge as you’re going through life. I think as a horse trainer you just pick up little things, and you pick up knowledge and understanding on what works for you and doesn’t work. We don’t all walk the same way.”

That was why Yakteen was comfortable breezing Practical Move and Reincarnate at Santa Anita on Friday morning, the day before having them flown to Louisville.

Practical Move, who won the Santa Anita Derby (G1) three weeks ago, went five furlongs in 59.6 seconds Friday, the second fastest of 32 workouts at that distance. Reincarnate, a third-place finisher four weeks ago in the Arkansas Derby (G1), dashed a half-mile in 46.4 seconds, the fastest of 31 four-furlong works.

“Reincarnate went great,” Yakteen told the Santa Anita media team. “He had some outside company and looked really nice. Practical Move went really nice as well. We’re very happy with what we saw.”

Bettors seem to have been impressed with Practical Move this spring, although he drifted late this week to best odds of 12-1 in Las Vegas, where he is one of the third choices to win next weekend. Reincarnate was still a long shot Saturday morning, but his top price shortened to 55-1.

Practical Move has been with Yakteen his whole career but not his whole life. Rival trainer Chad Brown and horse owner Sol Kumin bred Practical Joke to the Afleet Alex broodmare Ack Naughty. Bought for $230,000 last spring by Leslie Amestoy, Pierre Amestoy and Roger Beasley, he won his last three starts, including the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), the San Felipe (G2) and three weeks ago in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

The common denominator in those three victories with jockey Ramón Vázquez was a rail trip. Practical Move saved ground each time, and that might have made the nose difference three weeks ago.

“I think it’s a great education,” Yakteen said. “Horses aren’t always as comfortable running down on the inside. That makes me feel really confident. I’m confident he’ll be able to run around horses as much as he has run on the inside of horses.”

On the downside, Practical Move tends to have trouble getting out of the gate cleanly, and he barely held off Mandarin Hero in the Santa Anita Derby, where he stretched to 1 1/8 miles for the first time.

“Leaving the gate he’s a big horse,” Yakteen said. “We continue to work at making sure that he’s sharp away from there. Ramón has ridden him, and he’s very well aware of his personality and what he’s like leaving the gate. Those are all valid points.”

At the same time, Yakteen was confident Practical Move, in his eighth start, will be able to extend and get the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby.

“Fingers crossed, you know, until you run that distance,” Yakteen said. “His mother Ack Naughty, she was huge. He gets a lot of his size, obviously, from his mother. She was a big mare, and she didn’t seem to have any problems getting the distance. She was never tried at a mile-and-a-quarter, but I think it would have been possibly in her wheelhouse.”

Reincarnate, who was bought as a yearling for $775,000 by a big SF Racing partnership that includes Kumin, broke his maiden last November and won the Sham Stakes (G3) on Jan. 8. He is a Good Magic colt who had been with Baffert until he was transferred to Yakteen 2 1/2 months ago. That was to make him eligible to qualify for the Derby.

Ridden in his last two races by three-time Kentucky Derby winner John Velázquez, Reincarnate was most impressive closing through traffic, slop and a hot pace to finish third Feb. 25 in the Rebel (G3) at Oaklawn. That and last month’s stalking third in the Arkansas Derby were in sharp contrast to his front-running style winning twice for Baffert.

“I would love to see him forwardly place,” Yakteen said when he was asked about next week. “I would love to see a Sham effort from him. He’s the type of horse who just keeps giving it to you. Every time we run him, we learn more about him. He gives me the impression that he’s the type of individual that will keep giving it to you.”

Even in the Arkansas Derby, his least impressive effort this year, Reincarnate offered Yakteen a building block for the Kentucky Derby.

“Gosh, at the top of the stretch, it looked like he was just going to be nowhere,” Yakteen said, “yet he kept digging and kept giving it to you. I think we’re still figuring him out, and I think he’s come a long way. I think we’re going to see, fingers crossed, an improved effort, and he’s going to enjoy the 10 furlongs.”

Practical Move will stay with Yakteen through and after the Derby, but Reincarnate is ticketed to go back to Baffert, who would be eligible to go with him to the Preakness and/or the Belmont Stakes. If Yakteen were to get his first Derby win as a trainer with either of these horses, then he could find himself turning a stablemate into a rival as soon as two weeks later.

“I guess you could say they’re rivals,” Yakteen said, “but they’re competitors under my umbrella right now. As a trainer you run multiple horses in races all the time. If (Reincarnate) doesn’t race under my flag in his next race, and I am running against him, I still look at it the same, because we’re trying to get our horses to run the best race they have. We treat them all individually and try and have them prepared for their best effort.”

Yes, the word “if” stood out in that response. Yakteen said he was speaking in the moment, not about any unforeseen questions about Reincarnate’s return to Baffert.

“It hasn’t been discussed,” he said, “but I would be surprised if that conversation would be any different than what we’re discussing that he will go back to Bob.”

Yakteen also was scheduled to be flying to Kentucky on Saturday. He has been doing his homework and watching what other horses have been doing during their mornings training at Churchill Downs.

“I do watch the workouts and the horses that are covered,” he said. “You see how the horses that are in the lineup that you’re running against and how they look. But we’ve been watching not just the last 30 days, but we’ve been watching them for quite some time.”


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