Monday morning saw bright blue skies and a fast track following a severe electrical storm the night before, which left thousands without electricity and phone service.
It's hard to believe, but there are only seven Derby trainers on the grounds, with Offlee Wild's T.V. Smith the only non-California trainer. Bobby Frankel and Bob Baffert have two each, with D. Wayne Lukas, Ron Ellis, Wally Dollase, and Jeff Mullins completing the list of trainers with Derby starters at Churchill Downs.
Two Derby contenders -- Buddy Gil and Atswhatimtalknbout -- went to the track for workouts following the renovation break. For Buddy Gil, who had to work 5 furlongs in under 1:03 in order to get off the bleeder's list after trickling a little blood after his victory in the Santa Anita Derby, it was a piece of cake. The gelded son of Eastern Echo actually made light work of 5 furlongs in :59 3/5, on way to a 6-furlong work in 1:11 4/5.
He seems to have put on more muscle since the San Felipe, and even since we saw him in the Santa Anita Derby. What was most impressive about the horse was his professionalism and enthusiasm. It was apparent from the outset that he was ready for some serious action, as he threw his tail up and bounced along with a good deal of energy prior to the work.
With trainer Jeff Mullins and jockey Gary Stevens flying in for the work, Buddy Gil broke sharply and motored around the track in machine-like fashion, rattling off a series of quick eighths and doing it all on his own. After three-eighths in :35 2/5, he came home his last three furlongs in :12, :12 1/5, and :12 1/5. Coming off a brilliant half-mile work in :46 4/5 over the sloppy Santa Anita training track last week, there is no doubt that Buddy Gil is firing on all cylinders right now and is coming up to the Derby in great shape, physically and mentally. The only aspect of the work that wasn't perfect was the :14 gallop-out time. But he still managed to gallop out the 7 furlongs in 1:25 4/5.
After watching Buddy Gil's last three races, and getting an overall feel of the horse observing him this morning, we can only deduce that he didn't gallop out strong because he felt he didn't need to. Basically what that may mean is that the horse just seems to know what he is supposed to do, and is showing all the right signs, so we'll just lay it all on him.
This is a fighter who has a fierce will to win, and while he doesn't have the ideal pedigree for 1 1/4 miles, he certainly has enough stamina influences to suggest he'll get the distance.
In short, we came away a lot more impressed with Buddy Gil than we were before seeing him this morning. One interesting aspect of the horse's personality is his penchant for chewing and consuming wood products. He's been known to chew the bark off trees, and this morning while grazing, he grabbed a tree branch off the ground and chewed it as if it were a carrot. When Mullins' wife and assistant, Amy, finally took it away from him, he had managed to finish off a good half of it. Now that's a high-fiber diet.
Atswhatimtalknbout worked a mile this morning, which was moved up a day after the colt's :49 3/5 half-mile breeze five days ago. Ron Ellis said beforehand he was looking for something between 1:40 and 1:42, and exercise rider Raul Vizcarrando pretty much nailed it, going in 1:41 2/5 after fractions of :26 3/5, :39 2/5, :52 2/5, and 1:17. He galloped out 1 1/8 miles in 1:56. It's really hard to gauge this kind of work, but obviously it was what Ellis was looking for. Although he's planning on putting blinkers on the colt for the Derby, he did not have them on this morning, because he felt the horse wasn't focused in his last work with them. When he works next week with David Flores up, he'll wear the blinkers. Ellis said he won't use them in the Derby unless he's sure they're going to help. This horse needs to show how sharp he is right now, so we should know more next time when he'll be asked for more speed.
Bobby Frankel had Empire Maker and Peace Rules out at the same time at around 7 o'clock and both made an excellent appearance. Empire Maker has really filled out and looks terrific. He still maintains that elegant European look, but is packing a lot more muscle than he used to. Peace Rules was his typical enthusiastic self, galloping with his head way down into the bit, and bouncing off the track as if he wanted to go around again. This guy is just a bundle of energy, who has a lot of class about him. While being washed down, he stood with his ears pricked, checking out everything. Some horses look like they enjoy being a racehorse and he's one of them.
Bob Baffert will work Kafwain and Indian Express in company on Wednesday. Baffert was trying to watch his Oaks filly Atlantic Ocean's work this morning, while keeping an eye on Atswhatimtalknbout, who was working at just about the same time. Baffert feels Indian Express is coming up to the race in excellent shape, and could be a longshot to watch.
D. Wayne Lukas, fresh off his victory in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes with Scrimshaw, was out grazing the colt at 5:30 in the darkness. Lukas had him out for some 45 minutes, and said he wasn't going back in until Scrimshaw told him he was ready to go back in. Lukas has been raving about this colt for a long time, and is still amazed he was able to run 6 furlongs in 1:08 1/5 earlier in the year while not being able to get his air. He said the tie-back procedure that was performed on the colt after the Hutcheson Stakes went perfectly, and that this is a totally different horse.
For all you birthday followers, in case you're looking for an extra incentive to bet on a particular horse, here are the actual birthdays of most of the contenders – Atswhatimtalknbout March 27, Brancusi March 15, Buddy Gil, February 21, Empire Maker April 27, Fund of Funds March 13, Funny Cide April 20, Indian Express March 8, Kafwain February 24, Offlee Wild April 5, Outta Here March 30, Peace Rules April 26, Scrimshaw April 2, Sir Cherokee February 16, Supah Blitz February 10, Ten Most Wanted February 24. That means that Frankel's dynamic duo are the babies of the group, and Ten Most Wanted and Kafwain are your only birthday exactas.