Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Day of Reckoning Draws Near

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Day of Reckoning Draws Near
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Haskin says Castledale's "coat is rich with a burnished copper shine to it."
The works have all but wound down, there's one more day of anxiety left for Bob Baffert before he and Jerry Bailey are officially united, and only Tapit remains of those missing in action. Starting tomorrow, the focus will be on gallops, as well as a pair of blowouts, to see just who's looking super out there.

Although there were two workers – Master David and Minister Eric – this morning, there were several other observations that could go a long way in trying to decipher this year's Rubic's Cube of Kentucky Derbys, at least from a visual aspect.

These observations will be incorporated with the ones over the next three mornings, and hopefully by Friday's report, several live contenders will emerge, based on how well these horses are doing. Then, you can add speed figures and pedigrees, or any other handicapping tool, and come up with something resembling a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) pick. But, I can tell you now, it isn't going to be easy. Any one of the 20 horses in the starting field can win without it being a major surprise.

First off, the more I see of Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Castledale, the more I like. His coat is rich with a burnished copper shine to it; he's alert; he's feeling good, and just looks like a horse ready to peak. He was out for an easy jog under the cover of darkness (the less horses this feisty little guy sees the better off he is), and cantered around there like a show horse. Afterward, part-owner Frank Lyons showed off the colt's feed tub, which looked as if it had been literally licked clean...and there had been six cans of feed in there the night before. Castledale later was looking for other things to munch on, including Lyons.

One horse who has been getting a lot out of his gallops lately is Imperialism, who was really into the bit this morning. Nearing the end of his gallop, TVG caught him throwing his head up and re-breaking when a worker pulling up came through on his inside. This has always been a competitive horse who can be relentless in his pursuit of other horses down the stretch, and a little incident like this showed that off.

Another horse who looked great galloping was Pro Prado, who was mentioned yesterday as a potential megabomb. The pocket-sized gray son of El Prado has a lot of class about him, and is always willing in everything he does. Whether or not he's good enough to be there at the end on Saturday, you have to admire his consistency. He never runs a bad race, and this morning he once again galloped with enthusiasm, and was smooth throughout, including changing leads. On Friday, he'll be discussed in greter depth, including his sneaky-good race in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II0.

As for today's works, Master David worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 in company with stablemate Coded Warning. Watching the son of Grand Slam, it's apparent why many of his finishes are tight, as he does just what he has to. The tricky part for his rider, Alex Solis, will be to time his move just right, so he doesn't hit the front too soon. As he showed in today's work, as well as the Wood Memorial (gr. I), he will come and get you, but he won't put you away. He seems to use that little body of his to slip through on the rail in a race, and he's a tiger when someone looks him in the eye.

He is acting aggressive, and his coat is spotted with dapples, which indicates he's blossoming and in excellent health. He is, as we said, one horse who really needs a good ride to take advantage of his strengths and eliminate his weaknesses, one of which is going into low gear from the five-sixteenths pole to the quarter pole. Solis will have to make sure that if he pulls that in the Derby, he's in good enough position to get back into the fight once he gets back in high gear.

Minister Eric, with Pat Day up, had an easy half-mile breeze in :49. The son of Old Trieste is one of the best-looking horses in the field. He's a handsome, well-balanced colt who is improving at the right time, but coming off a pair of allowance races, he's stepping up in class and he needs to pick up his game a few notches and keep improving if he has any hope of competing with so many top-class stakes winners.

Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Friends Lake, who has made excellent physical progress since arriving here last Wednesday, looked terrific as he made his way on the track for a strong gallop and schooling session in the gate. Bob Duncan, longtime starter for the New York Racing Association, has worked with Friends Lake down in Palm Meadows this winter, and accompanied him to the gate this morning. He said the son of A.P. Indy balked a few times, but after backing him up and moving him forward a couple of times, he went in with no trouble. Trainer John Kimmel said Friends Lake will return to the gate Wednesday, and will school in the paddock Thursday.

Buzz Chace, bloodstock agent and advisor to Aaron Jones, said this morning that Value Plus definitely will not be entered in the Derby tomorrow.

There are two short works scheduled for Wednesday, with Imperialism and Action This Day blowing out three furlongs. The latter, as he did last week, will go in company with Halfbridled.

The one ritual you can set your clocks by each morning is Borrego bucking at playing out on the track. This is one of the most versatile horses in the field, and it will be reassuring to those who bet him that it won't matter where he is in the race. He can come home strong tracking three or four lengths off the lead or coming from far back and circling eight-wide as he did in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II).

Santa Catalina (gr. II) winner, St Averil, made his first appearance on the track, accompanied by local trainer David Carroll on the pony. Carroll substituted for the colt's trainer Rafael Becerra after Becerra's flight from Los Angeles was delayed. The son of Saint Ballado just jogged once around with the pony.

Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Tapit will hop on a van tomorrow morning for the one-hour drive to Baltimore Airport, where he'll meet up with a Tex Sutton flight leaving from New York. The plane will pick up Tapit and head to Louisville. Trainer Michael Dickinson said the son of Pulpit came out of his five-furlong, uphill, work in 1:06 4/5 at Tapeta Farm in good shape.

As for Baffert's agonizing wait on Bailey's status, he said if he loses Bailey, "Maybe I'll try to find a jockey from Los Alamitos."

Although I mentioned it in a column last month, here is the first of several reminders that May 1 will be the 50th anniversary to the day of the first gray to win the Kentucky Derby, and you can do a lot worse than boxing Tapit, Wimbledon, Imperialism, and Pro Prado.

As if this year's Derby isn't hard enough to figure out, the weather for Saturday looks pretty ominous, with a 60% chance of rain and thunderstorms and temperatures in the 60s. That could change the status of the race from a free-for-all to a crap shoot.

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