LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Though he's rarely mentioned with thoroughbred racing's most glamorous trainers, softspoken Mike Maker could have as big a say as anyone in determining the winner of Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
Maker, whose stable is based at Churchill Downs, will saddle three horses in the Derby, second only to Todd Pletcher's four.
Vicar's in Trouble, General a Rod and Harry's Holiday have mostly flown under the radar this week, just like their trainer. But Maker seems fine with that.
"Each one's coming in at the top of their game," he said Wednesday.
Maker said it's easy to manage three Derby horses because all are on their home turf and going through familiar routines.
"Same guys are working with them," he said, "whether they're running in the Derby or not."
Maker is a second-generation trainer from Michigan who learned the game under his father and went to finishing school as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He has managed his own stable since 2003, and this is the third time he's saddled multiple horses in the Derby.
Of the three, Vicar's in Trouble posted the best prep season, winning the Louisiana Derby and finishing second in the points race for Kentucky. He's ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who hopes to make her own history Saturday by becoming the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.
Some handicappers have questioned Vicar's in Trouble's physical talent, especially his pedigree to run 1-1/4 miles. They praise his determination, but there's a whiff of backhanded compliment to it.
"The results are the results," Maker said. "Regardless of what he looks like, he's gotten the job done."
As for General a Rod, he sat higher on many early lists of Derby contenders but fell back with a third-place finish at the Florida Derby. Maker said he was actually fine with the Florida run, noting that the colt overcame a rough start to finish only 1-1/2 lengths back against a top field. "No shame in that," he said.
He doesn't anticipate any of his trio being overwhelmed by the enormity of the Derby stage
"They're pretty laid-back horses," Maker said.
Turcotte criticizes Churchill Downs
Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte punctured the festive tone at Churchill Downs on Wednesday with a written statement criticizing track officials for their failure to accommodate him in recent years.
Turcotte, best known for riding Secretariat to the Triple Crown in 1973, has been in a wheelchair since a career-ending accident in 1978.
"My most recent experiences at the track have tarnished my fond memories of Churchill Downs through the actions, or should I say inaction, of track management who has not provided me with either accommodation or parking access during Oaks and Derby days," Turcotte wrote. "Being confined to a wheelchair since my racing accident in 1978, it is no easy feat to maneuver through the crowds that attend the Derby festivities. It becomes a nearly impossible task when there is virtually no assistance from the track."
Turcotte said he has enjoyed interacting with fans during Derby week but said track officials denied him onsite parking and access to the race in 2013.
His criticisms quickly drew support from others in the racing world.
"I have held my tongue about the way CDowns treats horsemen in lead up to Ky Derby but letter from Ron Turcotte is believable and deplorable," Maryland trainer Graham Motion wrote on Twitter. Motion won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom.
Track spokesman John Asher apologized Wednesday, saying "we've obviously fallen short."
Asher said he hadn't reached Turcotte and didn't know specifically where communications broke down. But he called the former jockey a "very special person here."
"There will never be an issue again," Asher said. "We regret incredibly that he's unhappy with the situation."
Turcotte's complaints came two days after Rick Porter, owner of Kentucky's Fox Hill Farm, bashed Churchill Downs for making no special ticket accommodations for horsemen.
Asher said horsemen running entries on either Kentucky Oaks Friday or Kentucky Derby Saturday do receive free all-day passes. He said he was working to understand and address Porter's concerns.
'Good morning' for Chrome
Trainer Art Sherman brought his presumptive Derby favorite to the track before 7 a.m. for the second straight morning Wednesday.
California Chrome schooled in the paddock for 15 minutes, getting used to the routine he'll follow on race day. Then he jogged a relaxed two miles under exercise rider Willy Delgado.
The 77-year-old Sherman watched from a two-story tower on the track's backside, casually mumbling affirmation regarding his star colt.
"We had a good morning," Sherman said later. "He seemed to be really going good."
He plans to gallop California Chrome on Thursday and Friday, then give him a short jog on race morning .
Onlookers were taken with the chestnut colt's serenity. Several times, he stood still and gazed at the scene around him, even as dozens of cameras clicked away. He appeared unfazed as a thick ring of people surrounded him during his post-exercise bath.
"He seemed to be looking around a lot," Sherman said. "There was a lot of new action out there. He was pretty relaxed. He's a very inquisitive horse anyway, so he kind of took it easy on himself."