Steve Haskin's Derby Report: An Early Bird Special; Friends Lake Arrives

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: An Early Bird Special; Friends Lake Arrives
Photo: NTRA
Florida Derby winner Friends Lake a Wednesday arrival at Churchill
With scattered showers and predictions of heavy rains in the afternoon, what little activity there was on the track this morning came early. In addition to the arrival of Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Friends Lake at 9:40, there was a mini buzz about the possible addition of the top-class filly Ashado to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) field.

Ashado's owner, Jack Wolfe, made it clear to trainer Todd Pletcher that he was free to run the filly in the Derby if he wanted, but Pletcher said later in the morning that likely will not happen. "He hasn't put any pressure on me at all," Pletcher said. "He just said if I wanted to run her in the Derby he was OK with it. But I don't think we're going to do it."

Ashado, one of the toughest, most consistent fillies in the country, currently is being pointed for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).

Pletcher is happy with the way his two Derby starters, Limehouse and Pollard's Vision are doing, and said both colts are scheduled to work on Sunday after the renovation break. Although Pollard's Vision is by the sprinter, Carson City, Pletcher said he improved dramatically once they tried him two turns, and he's hopeful the colt's female family, with stamina influences like Pleasant Colony and Nijinsky II, will enable him to stretch out to a mile and a quarter.

With the winners of the grade I Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, and Wood Memorial conspicuous by their absence, it was a joy to see Florida Derby winner Friends Lake step off the van this morning after his trip from Payson Park in Florida. The son of A.P. Indy was not carrying much flesh, but not having seen the colt before, all one can say about him at this time is that he has the look of a European stayer and certainly appears fit enough. Many horses tuck up a bit after a long trip, so it won't be until he goes to the track tomorrow that you can get a good overall impression of the horse. He's a long-bodied colt with good height, and he seems to have handled the trip well.

Trainer John Kimmel, who is expected to arrive this evening, has given Friends Lake three five-furlong works at Payson, and plans to work him another five-eighths, out six furlongs, on Saturday.

"People seem to think you have to give horses mile works to get them fit, but don't worry, this horse is plenty fit and ready to run a mile and a quarter," Kimmel said. "The only thing I worry about is the trip. You have to be lucky in a 20-horse field. Dynever could run all day and he's never worked any farther than a half-mile, out five furlongs. No one gives him any chance, and he's in the background, but I'm more interested in the post-race celebrations than pre-race hoopla."

The other Florida-based Derby horse, Read the Footnotes, who worked five furlongs in :59 3/5 this morning at Palm Meadows training center, is expected to arrive at Churchill on Friday.

Today's gallopers were out early in order to beat the rain. Talk about horses in the background, one of the more impressive movers is Birdstone. The son of Grindstone may be small, but he has good muscle and a very smooth way of going, just gliding over the ground. He came bouncing off the track like a horse who is really enjoying what he's doing. It's hard to believe that he once was atop many of the Top 10 Derby lists, and now is taking a backseat to stablemate The Cliff's Edge, who is just the opposite in appearance. A big, thick-muscled powerhouse of a colt, The Cliff's Edge is really peaking right now, and will likely be the morning line favorite.

One horse who has made a very favorable impression so far is Borrego. This tall, stately chestnut seems to be thriving at Churchill Downs, which is one of the main things you look for when searching for a horse who will peak on Derby Day. The son of El Prado is feeling good, and his handlers have to watch him closely when he gets out of his stall, where he is a perfect gentleman. Yesterday afternoon, he was very tough to handle while out grazing, and at one point, he reared and got the strap of his lead shank wrapped around his leg. Rock Hard Ten's trainer, Jason Orman, went rushing over to help before the colt did any serious damage, but Borrego's groom did a good job getting him to settle down, and he was able to reach over and untangle the strap. This morning, Borrego was really feeling good out on the track, and put another scare into his groom back at the barn when he reared and struck him on the back of his shoulder. Luckily, it was only a glancing blow, but Borrego has officially served notice he is ready for some action.

This is not some ornery, ill-mannered colt acting up, but simply a kind horse who is geared up for a big effort. He's bright and alert, and according to trainer Beau Greely, is filling out and getting stronger. It's still pretty early, but this could very well be a horse to keep an eye on, who should be a decent price.

All in all, the California-based horses are an impressive-looking group, with Borrego, Master David, Imperialism, Wimbledon, Preachinatthebar, Action This Day, and Minister Eric, and Santa Anita Derby winner Castledale and Santa Catalina (gr. II) winner St Averil to arrive next week. Action This Day is scheduled to have his all-important work tomorrow to determine if he's made enough progress in his back therapy to continue on to the Derby. If the weather is bad (showers are predicted through Friday), trainer Dick Mandella may wait an extra day to work him. To those who fail to ask, Mandella doesn't hesitate to mention his "secret weapon" in the Derby, Minister Eric. Mandella couldn't be happier with the way the son of Old Trieste is coming up to the race.

Down in Maryland, it was media day at Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm, and Dickinson made sure Tapit put on quite a show, working him five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 on the grass. The plans for Tapit have him arriving at Churchill most likely on Monday.

The way the Derby field stands right now, those on the outside waiting for a defection or defections in order to get in are, in order: Song of the Sword ($132,500), Pro Prado ($105,685), Tricky Taboo ($100,000), Eddington ($95,000), and Rock Hard Ten ($90,000). This is assuming Value Plus will not run, which is his current status, according to Pletcher. If his connections have a change of heart, Preachinatthebar would slip to number 21.

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