Steve Haskin's Derby Report (4/28): A Wild Derby With Wild Horses

Steve Haskin's Derby Report (4/28): A Wild Derby With Wild Horses
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Mayakovsky, the subject of backstretch talk at Churchill Downs on Sunday.
As the denizens of Derbyland eagerly await Monday's deluge of works, there were a few workers this morning, as well as several strong gallopers who deserve mention.

The big story around the backstretch centers around Mayakovksy, who was scratched from Saturday's Derby Trial Stakes. Eagerly awaiting trainer Patrick Biancone's decision is Windward Passage's owner, Team Valor president Barry Irwin, and trainer Steve Asmussen. Biancone still would not commit one way or the other whether the colt would run back in the Derby, although owner Michael Tabor has already stated his chances of running are "slim to none."

The other focus is on jockey Gary Stevens, who would ride Sunday Break if that colt made it into the field, which is looking less and less likely by the day. Stevens then would likely get the mount on either Castle Gandolfo or Johannesburg. But Wild Horses' trainer Todd Pletcher is still waiting to see what develops with Stevens before naming a rider on his colt. He said if Stevens goes elsewhere, there is a good possibility Rene Douglas would get the mount.

Wild Horses came out for his five-furlong work after the renovation break, by which the time the track remarkably was pretty close to being fast after heavy rains all day Saturday and wicked thunderstorms in the dawn hours of Sunday. Pletcher equipped the son of Saint Ballado with blinkers, as this will be his only work between the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby, and he wanted to make sure he got enough out of it. Wild Horses is a grinder type who needs to be asked to do things. He had been looking around a bit in his last few gallops, and Pletcher wanted to make sure the colt was focused. Pletcher told exercise rider Cindy Hutter to go in about 1:01, and she pretty much nailed it, as he completed the work in 1:01 1/5, galloping out six furlongs in 1:15, and pulling up seven panels in about 1:30.

Wild Horses is a powerfully made colt, with strong quarters, a good-sized girth, yet is well-balanced and has an excellent way of moving. When he levels off, he has good extension to his stride and there is no wasted movement. Hutter kept the colt's attention through the stretch, but let him do most of the work on his own, as he came home his final quarter in :24 1/5.

We feel this is one of the most improved horses in the field. He has made great strides in every one of his races, and overcame a lot to finish second in the Arkansas Derby. But it's just a question whether he's advanced enough for the task ahead. Unlike stablemate Invisible Ink, who had run in two grade I stakes before his second-place finish in last year's Derby, Wild Horses is coming off a listed and a grade II stakes. But he is strong and tough, and regardless of whether he's ready to win the Derby, watch out for this colt over the course of the year.

It'sallinthechase, who had been tearing up the track at Remington Park in the mornings with three straight blazing five-furlong works, continued to show good speed at Churchill Downs, working his five furlongs in a solid 1:00 3/5. He had his ears pinned back in the stretch, and did try to drift a bit, and jockey Eddie Martin Jr. had to give a pull on the left rein to get him back on course. The son of Take Me Out has run some big races in his career, but faces a huge task on Saturday.

Up North at Belmont Park, Wood Memorial winner Buddha turned in another sharp six-furlong work in the mud on the training track. The son of Unbridled's Song worked at 5:30 and went in 1:13 2/5, with an opening half in :47 4/5 and final quarter in :25 3/5.

Trainer Jim Bond said Buddha will not ship to Churchill Downs until Tuesday. "I don't believe you have to have a work over the track," Bond said. "When this horse ran at Belmont, he worked over the Oklahoma training track; when he ran at Gulfstream and Aqueduct, he trained at Payson Park. He's never trained over any track he's run at. I just believe that in major races, they have the track much faster than the one you train on, so why bother training on it? I remember when Allen Jerkens sent Devil His Due to Churchill Downs well before the (1994) Breeders' Cup, and Concern shipped in the night before the race he whipped him and everyone else in the field. Neither the horse nor myself need all the hooplah. I'm comfortable staying here, and I want to make sure he's 100 percent before I ship him down there. If he wins I'm a hero. If he doesn't, then I did it wrong. I went back through my notes, and that's the way I did it with all my Travers horses. I just feel blessed that he's doing great, and hopefully, we'll be blessed next week."

Four gallopers caught our attention this morning. Proud Citizen was full of himself, as he galloped in the morning darkness. He wanted to do much more than he was allowed, and was pulling hard, throwing his head up. But when exercise rider Dimitri Dimitropoulos got him into his rhythm, he was pure poetry. He moves over the track as if he knows he's putting on a show. We can assure you that you will not see a better-looking horse on Derby Day. He obviously has bounced out of the Lexington in super shape, and, like Lexington-Kentucky Derby winner Charismatic, is flourishing in the two weeks leading up to the Derby. Our big concern with him is that he's had only two starts this year, combined with the fact he's never run farther than 1 1/16 miles.

One colt we haven't seen too much of is Private Emblem. We watched him gallop this morning and were impressed with how strong he was both times around. Most of the time, you'll see a horse come around easily the first time and pick it up the second time, but this colt was motoring both times and moved over ground beautifully. He was focused and enthusiastic all the way, and his action was extremely smooth. He works early tomorrow, and we're anxious to see how he goes, considering trainer Steve Asmussen said last week he'd been flat in general and in his last work. If he works tomorrow like he galloped today, it would show he's bounced back strongly. He will be a forgotten horse, especially for an Arkansas Derby winner, but we're going to start paying a bit more attention to him.

Another horse we haven't mentioned much is Lusty Latin, and this big, muscular gray son of El Prado also looked like a powerhouse galloping. He probably has the biggest girth of any Derby horse, and has a pair of shoulders and a hind end to match it. He could be the type of horse who can pick up horses late to get a piece of it. It might be worth noting that a prominent (and very sharp) owner, who already has a horse pointing for the Derby, tried to buy him after the Santa Anita Derby, but was turned down. He is the horse most likely to bring up the rear during the race, so he'll obviously have to be very lucky to get through, or come around, that many horses. And his Santa Anita Derby performance was enhanced due to the first two finishers coming home very slowly.

The final galloper, who keeps getting stronger by the day, is War Emblem, and once again the son of Our Emblem barreled around there at a good clip. This near-black colt looks nothing at all like a sprinter, and in fact looks more like a European stayer, except he is as powerful a galloper as you'll see in this race. Perhaps it is the lip cord he's wearing (for better control), but he's focused and more easily manageable, and if he gets loose on the lead and gets into a rhythmic stride, well, you never know. But there will be a number of classy stalkers clocking him the whole way. It'll be interesting to see who makes the first move at him, and when. If they wait too long, he could be gone.

Scheduled to work Monday are Came Home, Saarland, Medaglia d'Oro, Proud Citizen, Private Emblem, Windward Passage, Blue Burner, Easy Grades, and Lusty Latin.

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