Steve Haskin's Derby Report (4/24): Happy Holiday

Steve Haskin's Derby Report (4/24): Happy Holiday
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
In his workout Wednesday, Harlan's Holiday showed that he likes Churchill Downs.
Once again, we had leading Kentucky Derby contenders turning is totally dissimilar works, which just adds to this year's complicated Derby picture. Every horse seems to be coming into the race in a different manner, which means their needs are different as well. Yesterday, Came Home needed a good solid work after his slowly run Santa Anita Derby, and got it, while Medaglia d'Oro needed merely an easy, shorter spin following his gut-wrencher in the Wood Memorial, and he too got what he needed.

That trend continued Wednesday on another beautiful morning in Louisville. While Harlan's Holiday and War Emblem did their thing at Churchill Downs, Perfect Drift went through his moves at Trackside, Churchill Downs' training center, located a few miles up I-264.

Harlan's Holiday, who is the likely favorite for the Derby, worked shortly after the renovation break, with his former jockey Tony D'Amico aboard. The son of Harlan galloped nicely to the five-furlong pole, but didn't break away from the pony until about 50 yards from the pole. Despite being given such a such a short run-up, he quickly built up a head of steam and was rolling as he passed the pole. He rattled off his opening eighths in :11 3/5, :11 2/5, and :11 2/5. He hugged the rail nicely, changed leads on cue and finished up pretty much on his own, in about :24 3/5 for the final quarter, getting the five furlongs in :59 1/5, which was about a second faster than trainer Kenny McPeek was looking for. It made sense, therefore, that D'Amico basically shut him down after the work and didn't let him gallop out strong. His gallop-out time was 1:14, meaning he went out a final eighth in around :14 4/5.

There is no doubt this colt loves Churchill Downs, as he covers the ground with so much authority and skips over the surface without even the slightest bobble, which many horses are prone to do at Churchill. Like Came Home, he is all professional out there, and does nothing wrong. McPeek obviously does not want to see this colt so aggressive at the beginning of a work, as his strength now is his powerful move at the three-eighths pole. And with so many classy speed horses and stalkers in the Derby field, he'll have to sit at least a half-dozen lengths off the pace. This move shouldn't hurt him in that regard, but it will be interesting to see how he works next week. You can be sure he won't be motoring at the start in that one.

Bob Baffert sent out War Emblem for a six-furlong work a few minutes before Harlan's Holiday. Jet-black in appearance, the newly purchased Illinois Derby winner is quite an eyeful. Unlike Harlan's Holiday, he broke off steady and relaxed, and got into a good groove right from the beginning. He built up a good head of steam coming to the quarter pole, which carried him several paths off the rail. With exercise rider Dana Barnes letting him finish up on his own, he came home his final quarter in about :24 flat to complete the six furlongs in 1:12 3/5. Also unlike Harlan Holiday, War Emblem kept going at a strong clip past the wire and all the way around the clubhouse turn, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:25 4/5 and pulling up a mile in 1:39.

For a speed horse, whose ability to carry that speed a mile and a quarter in a 20-horse field is in question, this was an excellent work, and provided him with a solid foundation going into the race. He'll be picking up 12 pounds off his Illinois Derby victory, but if he should get loose on the lead and allowed to get into the rhythmic stride that decimated his field at Sportsman's Park, he could hang around for quite a while. And if no one is bold enough to take him on in the first six furlongs, he could be a tough horse to catch. He is coming off two monster ThoroGraph numbers, and watch out if he runs anywhere near that on Derby Day. We will be discussing the ThoroGraph speed figures on the first slow work day, and some of them are quite revealing.

Last, but certainly not least, we come to Perfect Drift, a horse we have to admit we're liking more and more each day. At first, the six-week layoff was a concern, but after seeing his ThoroGraph figure for the Lane's End Spiral Stakes and watching his last two works (on TV), we believe the six weeks is going to help, not hurt, him. We realize no horse has won the Derby off a six-week layoff since Needles in 1956, but that is part of the myth of many Derby trends. The fact is, no horse has done it because you rarely see a horse who is asked to. Trainer Murray Johnson is a top-class horseman who has Derby experience and has been exposed to racing all over the world.

In Perfect Drift, he has a running machine, who can accelerate on a dime, can be steered like a sports car, can battle in the trenches, and has a closing kick that enabled him to come home his final eighth in just about :12 flat in the Spiral. The son of Dynaformer is one of the few horses in the field who is bred to run all day. And when you watch him run with that big, sweeping stride and his huge ears pointed straight up, you can't help but be impressed.

His work last Friday was sensational, as he flew home in :11 2/5. This time, Johnson just gave him an easy half-mile drill, and he did it absolutely perfectly, going off the first quarter in about :25 4/5, then flying home the last quarter :23 1/5 to complete the four furlongs in :49. He then galloped out around the turn of the six-furlong Churchill training track in a super :13 flat (Remember, a good portion of the gallop-out at Churchill Downs is on a straightaway after hitting the wire, while this is almost all turn). He'll have another work, either a half or five furlongs, next Tuesday, and will school in the Churchill paddock on Saturday. We visited him last Sunday, and this is one active, aggressive colt in his stall, who rarely stops moving. But he is sensible enough to lie down and take naps on occasion. We'll surely be monitoring this horse as much as we can from now on.

One horse who has impressed us physically is Arkansas Derby runner-up Wild Horses, a strong, grand-looking colt, who looks to be making tremendous improvement with each race. This morning, he had a spirited gallop, then put on quite a show coming off the track. As exercise rider and assistant Cindy Hutter led him off through the middle gap, the colt propped, wheeled, and scattered every person and horse within 20 yards of him. Hutter did all she could to hang on and attempt to regain control of him. She finally allowed him to back out the gap and led him down the track to the gap nearest his barn, where he was fine. He was then pretty aggressive being washed down.

Two other horses who looked great this morning were Proud Citizen and Request for Parole, both of whom had their neck arched regally, and were focused and into the bit. Sunday Break also jogged and was feeling good out there.

Yesterday afternoon, Came Home, who pulled trainer Paco Gonzalez around the shed after his morning work, was still on the muscle as he was led out to graze by Gonzalez for the first time. After the colt reared up a few times, trainer Neil Howard, in whose barn Came Home is stabled, had to come out and lend a helping hand, as both trainers held a shank on either side of him. Came Home is so much more powerful when you get close up to him, and seems bigger in general. He gobbled up his feed in no time yesterday morning, and attacked the feed bucket after being brought back in the afternoon. And this was immediately after chowing down grass for 40 minutes. He still has a lot to prove, but he sure is one impressive colt in every way possible.

Medaglia d'Oro, who also worked yesterday, bounced around the shed this morning, and he too was pretty full of himself.

USS Tinosa will now work tomorrow and ship to Louisville via a Federal Express flight on Saturday.

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