Starlight Stable's Harlan's Holiday, the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and Florida Derby (gr. I) winner and likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby, underwent his final workout for Saturday's classic when he breezed a half-mile in :49 3/5. He was clocked in splits of :12 4/5, :24 3/5, and :37 2/5 as he galloped out five furlongs in 1:02 1/5 and was timed in 1:15 2/5 for six furlongs.
"He had a nice long gallop and (jockey) Edgar (Prado) said he had his hands full," trainer Ken McPeek said. "I wanted to tease him a little. I didn't want to let him go all out. He was strong going to the pole."
McPeek said there are six or seven horses, including the Harlan colt he trains, with a chance to win this year's Derby. Although he was not specific on which horses are on his list, McPeek said one of those who would be competitive is Sunday Break, the Neil Drysdale trained colt who may not run because the field is limited to 20 starters. Sunday Break ranks 24th among Derby hopefuls on the basis of money earned in graded stakes, the criteria used to determine the Derby field.
Godolphin Racing's Essence of Dubai was the first Derby contender to work Tuesday, with the son of Pulpit going a steady 5 furlongs in 1:01 4/5 under exercise rider Lee Roebuck.
Tom Albertrani, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, caught him in 1:01 2/5 while galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:14 4/5. His splits were :13, :25 3/5, :38 2/5, and :50 1/5.
"It looked like it was a good move," Albertrani said. "It looked like he was finishing up nicely. He was finishing the way we like. This is pretty much what we were looking for. It seemed like he was handling the track well."
The UAE Derby (UAE-II) winner, who worked with blinkers on, will have light exercise Wednesday and then gallop up to the Derby. Albertrani said Essence of Dubai will be schooled in the paddock Thursday.
Asked if Essence of Dubai represents the best opportunity for Sheikh Mohammed to win the Kentucky Derby, Albertrani said, "We say that every year. He has won four of his six starts and you have to respect that. I know what he faced in the UAE Derby was not as good as what he will face here."
Albertrani said the Bessemer Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which Essence of Dubai finished last in the 12-horse field, was the colt's poorest performance. "If we change his running style and take him back off the pace, he will have a better chance of finishing well," Albertrani said.
The assistant trainer could not confirm whether Sheikh Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, will attend the Derby.
John Ferguson, an advisor to Sheikh Mohammed, said he was pleased with Tuesday's work. "We are happy enough," Ferguson said. "He moved well didn't he?"
Meanwhile, trainer Bob Baffert sent The Thoroughbred Corp.'s War Emblem to the track for his final serious work before the Derby, with the son of Our Emblem working 5 furlongs in 1:00 2/5 under exercise rider Dana Barnes. War Emblem, purchased for a reported $900,000 following his Illinois Derby victory, worked alone, breaking off just a few seconds after Ocean Sound. He galloped out strongly. His fractional splits were :12 1/5, :24 2/5, :36 2/5, and :48 2/5. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 3/5.
Barnes, who was working War Emblem the second time, labeled the outing "perfect. He is getting better all the time. He has gotten more relaxed and does whatever you ask him to do. He skips over the track so easily. Before, I had to really take a hold of him when he would break off."
Barnes credited exercise rider Mick Jenner for War Emblem's progress. Comparing War Emblem favorably with previous Derby starters trained by Baffert, Barnes said "he seems to be coming around at the right time."
"He needs to bloom right now," the two-time Derby-winning trainer said. "He was relaxing out there, just cruising, going easy. He was going in 12s (12-second furlongs). I was just worried about him going too fast. He looked nice. He covered a lot of ground. We got the horse when he was just starting to peak. I got him at the right time."
Also working Tuesday was Ocean Sound, an Irish-bred colt who races for K M Stable, Jim Ford, and Deron Pearson. The Rebel Stakes (gr. III) runner-up who was third in the Blue Grass zipped a half-mile in :47 1/5, according to trainer Jim Cassidy and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 1/5. Jockey Chris McCarron said his watch had the son of Mujadil going in :48, with a gallop out time of 1:03.
"One of us needs a new watch and I know it's Chris," joked Cassidy. "We're all going to chip in and buy him a new one on Saturday."
Cassidy said Ocean Sound "needed a wake-up call and he got it. He is a good work horse. He handled the track good, but not great. Chris said the track was breaking away from him. But that's okay because the track will be totally different on Saturday."
Ocean Sound will walk on Wednesday, gallop and school in the paddock Thursday, and will gallop Friday.
At Churchill Downs' Trackside Training Center about three miles from the main track, Perfect Drift worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 3/5, galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:13 2/5. His fractional splits were :13, :25 2/5, :37 2/5, and :50 3/5.
"He was on the bit, broke off at the five-eighths and finished strong," said trainer Murray Johnson.