Liaison made his case for a start in the 138th Kentucky Derby with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 4/5 Monday morning at Churchill Downs.
Working in company under jockey Martin Garcia, the Indian Charlie colt was timed in splits of :24 4/5, :37 1/5 and :48 4/5. His gallop-out times were 1:13 1/5 for six furlongs and 1:26 3/5 for seven.
"That's the best I've seen him work since back before he won the (Grade 1) CashCall Futurity," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's really taken to the track. Today he worked with Mile High Magic, who is a really nice horse, a fast horse. He was just gliding over it. I was really happy with him. I was hoping for a work like that to make the final decision to run the horse. He really went out well and Martin was really elated with the way he worked. He thought he worked really well.
"Today, he looked more like a Derby horse than he has in the last couple of months. I was pretty excited with the way he went. He still has a ways to go, but the way he went today I think definitely he deserves a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby. All systems are go."
Liaison was third in his first career start on September 3 then broke his maiden on October 14 at Santa Anita, won the $100,000 Real Quiet and completed his two-year-old year with a victory by a neck in the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park.
So far, his 2012 season hasn't been nearly that productive. He clipped heels and lost his rider in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis, finished fourth in the Grade 2 San Felipe and was sixth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Nevertheless, Baffert decided to bring the colt to Kentucky after he recorded a sharp six-furling work at Hollywood Park on April 18.
"He was struggling with Santa Anita and never worked well there," Baffert said. "The track at Santa Anita was a little bit funny for some horses. He had trouble with it. I think it was a little bit too hard for him. Since he's been here, it's like he's a different horse. He's really moved way up. I'm glad I brought him to give him that opportunity. From what I saw today, I'm not thinking that he can't lose, but at least he's going to be competitive.
"I think the mile and a quarter is not going to be a problem for him. He wants that. He wants to sit and come running. I'm just hoping for a Mine That Bird effort from him."
Mine That Bird rallied from the back of the field to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
Bodemeister walked the shedrow Monday morning, a day after breezing five furlongs in :59 3/5.
"He looks good," Baffert said. "He handled the work pretty easily. He's a very fit horse. We just need to draw well and have some racing luck."
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner in the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Mike Harrington was super-talkative Monday morning after his Santa Anita Derby runner-up Creative Cause worked a half-mile in a smart :47 4/5 with regular exercise rider John Cisneros aboard.
Harrington wrapped up his thoughts on the work with, "It was perfect in my book. I wanted him to show he was on his game and he did it fairly easy."
Cisneros was equally satisfied with the work, saying, "He was gliding like he always does. When I asked him for a little more in the stretch, he came flying. I'm very happy. What made me even happier was Mike's 'Good job, John,' when I came off the track."
Cisneros said the work included a trip to the gate, where the roan son of Giant's Causeway stood for a bit and then walked out, all to the satisfaction of the rider.
Harrington, ever cautious in spite of the tone of the day, said the Derby field is very deep and has at least 10 horses that could be favored. He added that he was hopeful of landing a post position in the 8-12 range.
"My horse has to have a good trip," the trainer said. "He's a stalker and it's important for the speed to show up. That stretches the field out so you aren't six or seven wide when you make your move.
"This colt usually moves at the three-eighths pole, but I'd like to see him wait until the quarter pole."
Trainer Steve Asmussen's hopefuls for the Derby put in half-mile workouts Monday, with Sabercat going first in :48 2/5, followed about 25 minutes later by Daddy Nose Best, timed in :49 2/5. Exercise rider Carlos Rosas was aboard for both early morning breezes over the fast main track.
Sabercat, the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot winner, accomplished his move through fractions of :12 3/5, :24 2/5, and :36. The five-furlong gallop-out was caught in 1:01 1/5 and the three-quarters in 1:15 3/5
"Little sharper (than last week's five-furlong work in 1:02 4/5)," Asmussen said. "We're wanting him to be a little quicker. He needs to be a little faster. I like his experience but I think he's a horse that's going to have to run faster than he has to this point."
Sabercat had been given an easy work last week for what was his first serious exercise since the Arkansas Derby.
Daddy Nose Best, the Grade 3 Sunland Derby winner who has been training at Churchill Downs since early April, was caught in splits of :13 1/5, :25 3/5 and :37 2/5. His gallop-out was recorded by Churchill Downs clockers in 1:02 2/5 for five furlongs and 1:16 3/5 for three-quarters. While both colts were well within themselves, Daddy Nose Best appeared even more in hand for Rosas while finishing the final eighth in :12.
"Daddy Nose Best has been in a very good rhythm," Asmussen said. "He's put in some very good works over the racetrack and just want to keep that rhythm with him and keep him happy."
Asmussen emphasized once again his belief that both colts are prepared to put forth races displaying the entirety of their ability, whatever that may be.
"I'm extremely happy with the condition that both of these horses are making the Derby gate in," he said. "We're trying to stay in a rhythm with them, monitoring where we think they are. Obviously very pleased with training them here at Churchill, they're familiar with it. Love the position we're in with both horses as far as their health and the way they're getting over the racetrack."
Sabercat and Daddy Nose Best each started their careers with two races at Churchill and now have the added benefit of multiple works over the Kentucky Derby surface.
"It gives me a tremendous amount of confidence in the fact that they'll be able to run their race," Asmussen said. "Horses that don't train over here, it doesn't mean they're not going to run their race, but it doesn't assure you that they will. The fact that both horses do have the races in the spring of their two-year-old years here and have trained here a lot, I think you can notice the difference on the horses that have stabled here, as far as when they go on the racetrack, when they go off. There's so much to see here, especially Derby Week, I think you feel good about it. It doesn't guarantee you anything, but it's one more thing to eliminate (having to worry about)."
Asked to compare the maturity level of his charges, Asmussen pointed to the extensive experience both horses received as juveniles.
"It's amazing how similar these two horses are at every stage," he said. "Both of them probably showed up on the same van ride and they worked together six to 10 times last spring and fall and both of them had two starts here at Churchill in the spring and we started both of them at Saratoga trying to get them a chance to go two turns. Daddy Nose Best ran well on the turf and Sabercat didn't, so that's kind of where things changed for them, but they're very similar horses and you look where they're at here.
"I like the confidence level of Daddy Nose Best, the spacing of his races. He obviously thinks he's got a chance; he doesn't know who has been in the paddock his last couple of races. And I like the experience Sabercat has gotten with the travel, all the dirt that he's taken.
"I think they both have a lot of positives going for them. Now we'll be very nervous about the post position draw and what kind of trip they can work out from it."
Mark Valeski, runner-up in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 -- co-fastest of 28 works this morning at that distance -- under retired jockey Larry Melancon. Trainer Larry Jones will now wait to see how the colt comes out of the work and how he gallops Wednesday morning before making a final decision on whether to enter the Kentucky Derby.
"I'm not going to guarantee that we're in or out," Larry Jones said. "Tomorrow will tell more and we'll know, really, on Wednesday morning when I get on him. Especially if he tries to buck me off coming off that track, then he's in the gate."
The Proud Citizen colt started today's breeze faster than he finished, working through fractions of :11 3/5, :23 2/5, :35 1/5 and :47 3/5. The six-furlong gallop-out was caught in 1:14 3/5.
"We wanted to make sure we got off to the pole good but we didn't want to beat him up either," Jones said. "We sent him away from there to see if he'd keep the pace but, you know, maybe at some point he'll became a good work horse and maybe not. He's never worked well by himself.
"I think he beat a minute one time in his life without having somebody to prompt him to do it. That's just kind of him. Larry said he got to looking around coming down the lane. It was either call on him and ask him hard or let him finish up the way he did and we know we're fit.
"The big thing was he didn't drink any water and it sure doesn't seem like it took anything out of him."
Mark Valeski's work was not as stiff as last week, when he went five furlongs in :59 3/5 while in company with unraced three-year-old stablemate Hamiltonian (who also worked today, in 1:01 2/5).
"I do know that his workmate that he outworked by two lengths last time, he just worked six lengths faster than that workmate did, so he still had a good work.
"The horse is training the way I would want. I was a little disappointed last time when he made up the ground on the workmate without any problem but didn't want to run away from him. He just kind of hung, so that's why we sent him out by himself today."
One person who wasn't at all concerned about Mark Valeski's lack of oomph in the final quarter-mile was the one who knows the colt's tendencies better than anybody -- regular rider Rosie Napravnik.
"Rosie called me wanting to know how he did and she said, 'That's him,' Jones relayed. "She was ecstatic to learn he worked that fast without any company. She said if that's the biggest problem -- him not being interested -- he's a different horse come race day."