Excitable Lani settles down to run 9th in Kentucky Derby
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Preparing Lani for Saturday's Kentucky Derby was the easy part. Getting him to follow directions on race day was a much tougher test for his handlers.
Known for digging in his hooves - and kicking - when he doesn't want to do something, the Japan-based gray colt frequently showed his mule side while being led from his barn to the paddock and starting gate at Churchill Downs. Lani stubbornly fought his handlers and kicked the paddock stall, and for a minute seemed headed toward being scratched.
Given special permission to stand apart from his counterparts as they paraded through the paddock, jockey Yutaka Take was soon in the saddle and on the track with arguably the Derby's most temperamental horse.
But concerns that he'd disrupt the race didn't materialize as the 30-1 long shot finished ninth of 20 horses from the No. 8 post position, better than most had predicted.
''It was a very tough race,'' Take said. ''He needed more speed.''
For his connections, the victory was that Lani raced at all.
Lani trotted to his own beat since arriving at Churchill Downs with eventful workouts all week. He spent 45 minutes on the track during one session and balked at starting another before breaking off a furlong later and finishing his work.
One joke circulating around the backside was whether odds should be set on Lani acting up in the gate and being scratched, scenarios that seemed possible as he headed toward his American debut.
The son of Tapit qualified for the Run For the Roses by winning the UAE Derby in Dubai on March 26. He entered with two wins, a second and a fourth in five starts in Japan.
Odds were against him becoming the first UAE Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby, especially with all the excitement and a crowd of more than 167,000.
He shook his head violently as two handlers brought him out of Barn 17 and spent 15 minutes on his own walking around in circles in the chute on the backside to calm down. Lani made it around the track to his paddock stall but didn't stay long as he kicked the walls and was led away to the tunnel.
But just as the horse seemed headed back to the barn, he settled down and ran a drama-filled race.
Partial credit for that goes to the 47-year-old Take, back at the Derby 21 years after finishing 14th aboard Ski Captain. Though Lani was no match for many of the favorites such as Nyquist - who rolled to victory by 1 1/4 lengths in racing's marquee event - the horse recovered nicely after trailing the field at the start.
Considering his wild time here, that was rewarding enough.
''He chased from behind and the ground is too fast so it's not a suitable ground for him, but he did a good run,'' trainer Mikio Matsunaga said. ''For Lani and for myself, it's a big experience for us.''