This year's Kentucky Derby horses refuse to make things easy. Just when it's time to start narrowing down the list of contenders, they go and work like super horses, while Empire Maker aggravates a minor foot bruise.
As for Empire Maker, Bobby Frankel was in a jovial mood this morning and assured the colt will be fine. Tomorrow morning will be key, when we see how the foot looks and how the horse gallops.
The race did lose the tough and gritty Kafwain to a possible ligament injury, which was discovered following his 5-furlong work in company with Indian Express. It was also announced today that Lone Star Sky and Eye of the Tiger will run in the Derby.
Following two days of sterling works, we had a bunch more on this hot and humid morning. Trying to pick the best one is like trying to pick your favorite M&M. The two horses who made the biggest impression were Sir Cherokee and Indian Express, both of whom worked after the renovation break.
Sir Cherokee arrived by van at 7:40 from his barn at the nearby Trackside training center. A good many people we've spoken to are discounting the Arkansas Derby, feeling the blistering pace set up perfectly for Sir Cherokee. But a good horse is a good horse, and even though he was 50-1 at Oaklawn, Sir Cherokee shows all the signs of being a good horse. He is a handsome colt with a big, alert eye who looks to have a good deal of class about him.
Trainer Mike Tomlinson said before the work he was only looking for a steady move in around 1:01, and to have the colt go slow early, then finish strong. "We'll work very easily down the backside, then finish up" he said. "You're not going to see my horse work in under a minute." As it turned out, that comment was cutting it pretty close.
With jockey Terry Thompson aboard, Sir Cherokee broke off after a short run to the five-furlong pole and was just gliding along with smooth action through fractions of :24 and :37 1/5. Thompson just let out a notch down the stretch, without asking him, and Sir Cherokee flew home his final quarter in :23 1/5, stretching out beautifully with fluid strides. After completing his 5 furlongs in 1:00 1/5, confirmed by several private clockers, he galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:14 and pulled up 7 furlongs in 1:28 4/5. The track clockers caught him two ticks slower, in 1:00 3/5, which was closer to what Tomlinson was looking for.
As Bob Baffert was leaving the grandstand after watching Indian Express and Kafwain work, he said, "Man, that Sir Cherokee looked good." Enough said.
As for Baffert's works, he once again sent out both colts in company. It's hard to believe watching Indian Express that this colt was once a notoriously bad work horse. His last work was excellent and this one was even better. With Kafwain lapped on him, he went in steady :12's, with Dana Barnes keeping him pretty much under wraps, while Kafwain was being pushed along. In the final 100 yards, Indian Express began to ease away from Kafwain by about a half-length, completing the 5 furlongs in :59 3/5
"Perfect," Baffert told Barnes on the walkie-talkie. "OK, kids you can pull them up, that was right on the money."
"Man, they looked good, didn't they?" Baffert said after they galloped out. "That was the best work they've had. That Indian Express, he's really getting good. I might go ahead and bet $2 on him across the board. That's the best he's ever looked in his life. I was watching him bounce off the track."
Back at the barn, Kafwain was a handful being washed down, and Baffert didn't like the way he was moving. He had the colt checked out, and that's when they discovered a spot near the tendon. That now leaves Lone Star Sky, of all horses, as the only remaining horse from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Lone Star Sky was the first horse out this morning, and in fact had his work delayed after he threw a shoe in his stall. With Calvin Borel up, the son of Conquistador Cielo made an excellent appearance and looked good working 5 furlongs in 1:00 3/5. Owner Buddy New called trainer Tom Amoss later in the morning to inform him that the colt was a go for the Derby.
Another horse working after the renovation break was Offlee Wild, and this was a difficult work to assess. He looked great breaking off and going around the far turn, but he started to get out coming out of the turn, as jockey Robby Albarado shifted his weight to the inside to get him back in. The son of Wild Again drifted again approaching the eighth pole, but still was reaching out with great extension and moving powerfully. Albarado pulled on his left rein to keep him from drifting out. Despite finishing well off the rail, as he had done in his previous work when he drifted slightly, he still came home his final eighth in :11 and change to complete the 5 furlongs in :59 1/5. All in all, this was a good aggressive work, which is what the colt needed. Of course, you never like to see a horse drift out, and you certainly don't want to see it in the Derby, but trainer T.V. Smith said he's had a tendency to drift out a bit in his works and races. He says the colt is always controllable, however. The bottom line is that he was reaching out beautifully and was strong enough down the stretch to keep him as an intriguing longshot possibility.
The final worker was Supah Blitz, who went a fast half in :46 4/5 after feeling the presence of another worker charging up behind him. He took off after turning for home, with jockey Rosemary Homeister pushing him through the final furlong. The son of Mecke was really motoring as he crossed the wire, then galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:00 2/5.
Not to be outdone by the horses on the grounds, Funny Cide blazed 5 furlongs in :58 2/5 at Belmont Park, galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:11. Trainer Barclay Tagg said he told exercise rider Robin Smullen to go in :59, and according to his watch that's exactly what he got.
Atswhatimtalknbout schooled at the gate again this morning, then visited the paddock just before 2 o'clock and made his way around the walking ring without problem. Domestic Dispute was out for a good gallop for new trainer Paddy Gallagher, who said he may blow the colt out on Friday.