LOUISVILLE — Trainer Ken McPeek kept repeating on Tuesday morning he needed to see a few more signs before he would officially declare Grade I winner Noble's Promise will seek Kentucky Derby glory.
As long as the signals continue to be as powerful as what McPeek witnessed over the Churchill Downs oval, the lingering concerns about the son of Cuvee should dissipate soon enough.
In his first serious move since arriving in Louisville last week, Noble's Promise showed no ill affects from the lung ailment and superficial cuts out of the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 10, drilling 5 furlongs in a bullet :59.80 while working with stablemate and Kentucky Oaks hopeful Beautician.
Less than two weeks ago, pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for Noble's Promise in the Arkansas Derby went awry that day.
After getting bumped and stepped on at the start of the race — which resulted in a bloody coronet band and another cut on his suspensory — Noble's Promise had to be steadied en route to finishing fifth behind upstart winner Line of David.
The nicks were not serious, but McPeek discovered after the race the bay colt had a slight lung infection, brought on mostly by what he believes are allergies. While he stopped short on Tuesday of declaring Noble's Promise 100 percent recovered, McPeek didn't hold back his admiration for what he saw from his Derby hopeful.
"That was a fantastic work he put in. That's a Grade I filly he was working against, and he whipped her," McPeek said. "He's just so talented, but we're still not fully committed to the race.
"We've still got another hoop or two to jump through. He needs to eat well tonight. He's been pounding the feed tub up till now. The hope is that he doesn't regress off the work he put in, but the way he worked we think he's moving forward."
Owned by the 24-person syndicate that is Chasing Dreams Racing LLC, Noble's Promise will be reunited with the man who has helped him achieve his greatest successes should he move forward to the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Jockey Willie Martinez, who guided Noble's Promise to his victory in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October and his third-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was aboard the colt for his work Tuesday and will regain the mount if Noble's Promise is entered in the Derby, McPeek said.
Martinez has had three prior Derby mounts, the best being a ninth-place run on Mahogany Hall in 1994, but the well-respected rider has never come into the race with an opportunity like his current one.
"We've been a good combination in the past," Martinez said of Noble's Promise. "I'm very exited. This is what we work for all our careers. To get that opportunity, you can't put it in words."
"Willie can get it done," McPeek added. "I could probably use a bigger name rider, but they won't be nearly as passionate as Willie is about this horse."
Noble's Promise was one of a handful of Derby hopefuls that worked Tuesday. Gotham Stakes winner Awesome Act worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.60 and Arkansas Derby winner Line of David covered 5 furlongs in 1:02.00 for trainer John Sadler.
Later Tuesday during a national teleconference, Sadler announced Rafael Bejarano would get the mount aboard Line of David in the Derby.
Veteran rider Jon Court guided Line of David to his front-running victory in the Arkansas Derby and was initially considered likely to maintain the mount. Despite that outing, Sadler chose to go back to Bejarano — who had ridden Line of David to consecutive victories at Santa Anita Park earlier this year — when the latter found himself without a secure Derby mount.
"Rafael rode him in his races at Santa Anita, and he's worked him extensively," Sadler said. "We just felt for this race that we were going to go with our home-team player. He's kind of one of our primary riders out there in California. It was a decision based on us looking at everything."
Had Court kept the ride aboard Line of David, it would have marked the first Derby mount for him in a career that has spanned nearly 30 years.
"I'm disappointed, but that's the nature of the game, and you go on with it," Court said.