When we first arrived in Louisville last weekend, we said the key to Atswhatimtalknbout was how he progressed physically and mentally, and how sharp he acted. He desperately needed to show signs that he was rebounding big-time after suffering from a skin rash and running a dull race in the Santa Anita Derby. After watching him closely every day this week, we can state that there is no Derby horse on the grounds who is improving more dramatically in every category than the son of A.P. Indy.
On Wednesday and Thursday, when he was out grazing, he was tearing at the grass with great enthusiasm. Beneath the remnants of the ugly skin rash on his withers and neck, there were dapples and a faint luster that were crying to bust out. Each day his coat grew brighter. Today, while grazing following his work, his withers was clear of all discoloration, revealing a radiant coat bursting with dapples that extended to his hindquarters.
When he schooled at the gate on Friday, he was perfect, and came out of there on the muscle and ready for a good aggressive gallop. As he rolled around the track, he looked as sharp as he's been all week.
The last piece of the puzzle was Sunday's work. Jockey David Flores flew in on the red-eye to work the colt five furlongs. Trainer Ron Ellis thought about changing and working 6 furlongs instead, the same as Frankel. Ellis' brother-in-law, trainer Paul McGee, asked him, "What were you originally going to work him?" When Ellis told him 5 furlongs, McGee advised him to stick to his original plan and not go by what anyone else was doing.
It was Flores who told Ellis that he felt the colt needed blinkers. Ellis put on a scaled-back French cup, similar to the kind worn by Empire Maker. They don't curtail too much of the horse's vision, just enough to keep him focused. Ellis sent out Atswhaimtalknbout in company with stablemate Carthage, a fast 3-year-old who had broken his maiden by 9 lengths and who had finished a 1 ½ lengths behind Ocean Terrace in an allowance race. Ellis actually was afraid Carthage would outwork Atswhatimtalknbout.
Atswhaimtalknbout broke off about 1 ½ lengths behind Carthage, hitting the first two eighths in :12 3/5 and :12 2/5. Around the turn, Carthage began to increase his lead to almost three lengths. But once he did, Flores just leaned forward in the saddle and Atswhatimtalknbout kicked into gear. After an :11 3/5 eighth, he was right alongside his workmate, reaching the quarter pole in :36 3/5. Although Flores never moved his hands down the stretch, Atswhatimtalknbout still began to draw clear. With a blistering final eighth in about :11 flat, and a final quarter in :23 flat, he completed the five furlongs in :59 3/5, while finishing two lengths clear of Carthage. He looked strong galloping out, while continuing to increase his advantage.
Flores said he felt the colt's mind has improved a great deal, and that he was much more calm and professional. "I never pushed him," he said. "I just turned him loose and he did everything on his own."
Ellis said he wished the Derby were today. "Normally he'll look over at a horse as he'd passing him, but he went right on by that little gray horse and never took a look," he said. "Carthage is very fast. At five-eighths, I was worried he'd beat this horse, but when (Atswhaimtalknbout) ranged up alongside him, he didn't want any part of this big horse."
Between this work, and all the other observations over the past week, there is no way this horse is not going to be among our top picks if he just stays where he is. From what he's shown, it's awfully hard to leave him out of your bets. As we said the other day, there is always the possibility that he's over the top and needs time off. But he's sure not showing any signs of that. In fact, the opposite is true. He's looking better every day, and everything seems to be coming together for him. Horses can fool you sometimes, but, if you're willing to take the chance that all these signs are real, then your gamble could be rewarded handsomely.
Everyone at Churchill Downs knew Ten Cents a Shine was going to work big this morning. D. Wayne Lukas had him cranked up to put on a show for owner Ken Ramsey, even though there wasn't too much to see at 5:15. After balking at his first attempt at working, with jockey Calvin Borel up, Ten Cents a Shine broke off behind workmate Involvement. He got up alongside Involvement in the stretch, but never passed him, and in fact finished a couple of lengths behind him at the wire. But Ten Cents a Shine still managed to work the 5 furlongs in :59 1/5. After the work, Ramsey announced that the colt will be entered in the Kentucky Derby.
Also working this morning was Senor Swinger, who went 5 furlongs in 1:00 3/5 for Bob Baffert. No decision has been made yet whether the son of El Prado runs in the Derby or the Crown Royal on the turf.