LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Paddy O'Prado has quietly shined as he prepares for the Kentucky Derby.
The colt trained by Dale Romans hasn't generated much talk beyond Churchill Downs. It's a different story among rival trainers, who point to him as a horse thriving in the days leading up to Saturday's race. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito mentioned Paddy O'Prado as catching his eye.
"Don't put any more pressure on us than we already have, please," said Romans, who will have Hall of Famer and three-time Derby winner Kent Desormeaux aboard his horse.
Paddy O'Prado turned in a fast workout in the slop last week, finishing 5 furlongs in 58.40 seconds. He has followed that with a series of strong gallops.
The fact he has taken to the dirt is promising considering his limited experience. He debuted at Churchill Downs in July, finishing seventh in the slop.
His next four races were on turf, including a win in the Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Most recently, Paddy O'Prado ran second to Stately Victor in the Blue Grass Stakes over the synthetic track at Keeneland.
"He proved that he belongs that day," Romans said.
Can Paddy O'Prado handle the dirt in the Derby?
"You can tell if a horse won't run on a particular surface a lot of times before you put them on it," Romans said. "It's much harder to tell if they will run well on one until you see it on race day."
Quotable: "I'm thinking about having a pin made up that I can wear saying, 'Yes, I know Big Brown won out of the 20 hole.' About 20 people have come up to me and told me that one." — John Sadler, trainer of Sidney's Candy on drawing Post 20, from where Big Brown won in 2008.
No longer overlooked: Jerry Hollendorfer didn't need to see Rachel Alexandra overpower the field in last year's Kentucky Oaks to know just how big the filly version of the Kentucky Derby has become.
The proof was in the packed 14-horse starting gate.
"I've ran in the Oaks twice before, and we had eight, nine horses in the race," said Hollendorfer, who will saddle 6-5 favorite Blind Luck in today's Oaks at Churchill Downs. "The race has really been gaining in stature, and more people are paying attention."
Rachel Alexandra's performance last spring was difficult to ignore. She won by a record 20¼ lengths to cap a race that doubled as a coronation. Two weeks later, she beat the boys in the Preakness on her way to winning horse of the year honors.
"I think (the Oaks) really set the tone," Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "I think the Oaks almost upstaged the Derby. It was something for the whole racing community can hang their hat on."
Speaking of the filly: Trainer Steve Asmussen believes the best way for Rachel Alexandra to get her groove back is by returning to where she found it.
In last month's season debut, at the New Orleans Ladies, she was beaten by Zardana. Their rematch comes today in the La Troienne Stakes on the Oaks undercard.
Asmussen said choosing the race had nothing to do with avenging the filly's lone blemish since 2008. Rather, it was about bringing her back to a familiar track.
"We're trying to get back to where we were," he said. "This is where it started for her last year. So it's a great opportunity with a lot ahead of us."