Steve Haskin's Derby Report (4/30): Closing Prices

Steve Haskin's Derby Report (4/30): Closing Prices
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Harlan's Holiday, working out at Churchill Downs on Tuesday.
With so many classy speed horses and stalkers in this year's Derby, we were particularly interested in the final works by two of the closers whom we feel have a good chance to come charging late and who have the pedigrees to get the mile and a quarter.

Bobby Frankel said Medaglia d'Oro is doing fine after coughing a little following his work on Monday. "He gave a cough and we had him scoped," Frankel said. "There was a little discharge and they flushed it out. He's fine today and didn't cough once. He's looking better than ever."

After Tuesday's works by Perfect Drift and Essence of Dubai, we feel we have found two live closers who are coming into the race in excellent shape, and who should be a decent price. The more we see of Perfect Drift, the less we're paying attention to the six-week layoff, the fact that he's a gelding, and that he won't step foot on the Churchill Downs strip until he makes the walk to the paddock on Saturday afternoon. On the checklist of attributes you look for in the Derby horse, this horse rates high marks in many of them.

In his work over at the Trackside training center this morning, he displayed several of those attributes, most notably his quickness and dynamite acceleration. Granted, the surface at Trackside can be on the quick side, but when the son of Dynaformer was asked by exercise rider Joe Deegan a furlong out, he shifted into another gear that was electrifying to watch. The clockers at Trackside caught his last eighth in :10 2/5. Even allowing a fifth or two due to the peculiar configuration of the six-furlong track, he still shaded :11, and it showed. His sudden acceleration was the kind of move that wins Kentucky Derbys. His final time for the five-furlong work was a bullet 1:00 4/5, and he galloped out another eighth in a sharp :12 4/5.

As we've been saying, we've been impressed with this horse's athleticism and quickness, and just the classy way he goes about everything he does. We said his big ears, when they're straight up, remind us of the Twin Spires. They do even more after today's work.

The other horse we were very interested in seeing work again was Essence of Dubai, especially since we felt he was not as focused and determined in his first work as we expected, and that his gallop-out as not as strong as one would like to see. This time, things were different. He was focused all the way, and had his mind on running down the stretch. When exercise rider Lee Roebuck let him gallop out this time, the result was noticeably different. After going off slowly from the five-furlong pole, Essence of Dubai began to pick it up on his own in the stretch, his head held straight and his mind on business. With final eighths in :11 3/5 and :11 4/5, while running about four-wide down the stretch, he came home his last quarter in :23 2/5, galloping out another eighth in :13 and change. Unlike his last gallop-out when he went wide into the clubhouse turn, he was much closer to the rail this time, again showing that he was more businesslike and into the work.

We can say right now that these are two horses we will be putting in our exotics, and we feel both have a big chance to be right there, despite the six-week layoffs. If they don't run well, then we'll go back to eliminating horses who try to win the Derby off that long a layoff. For now, we're going to overlook it, and even acknowledge that it may very well benefit them. Times seem to be changing, and if that's the case, then handicapping the Derby will likely be changing as well.

Harlan's Holiday, the likely Derby favorite had a half-mile maintenance breeze in :49 3/5 with jockey Edgar Prado up. The work itself was pretty uneventful, and didn't stand out in any way, but the colt was really rank coming out of the clubhouse turn and passing the six-furlong pole while galloping up to the post. That's a half-mile before the start of the work. He was fighting Prado, who was trying to grab hold of him and settle him. In his last work, with Tony D'Amico up, he broke off from the pony very close to the pole from where he was working, and as result he broke too aggressively. This time, with a half-mile run to the pole, he was pretty well settled by the time he broke from the half-mile pole. The clockers caught him in :49 3/5, with trainer Kenny McPeek getting him a couple of ticks slower. If there is one thing Harlan's Holiday must do if he's to be successful in the Derby, its relax behind that first wave of horses, because he's going to need all he has to get passed them when the real running begins.

Bob Baffert sent out Illinois Derby winner War Emblem for a five-furlong drill in 1:00 2/5, and the nearly black son of Our Emblem put in a strong, even move, doing it mostly on his own, with exercise rider Dana Barnes in the saddle. Baffert feels this colt is getting stronger by the day. He'll no doubt be winging it on the lead, unless Mayakovsky runs, and it'll be interesting to see who will be the first one to take him on. The closers better hope someone does.

Another horse to have a much-improved work the second time around was Ocean Sound, who was really into the bridle today, motoring a half in :47 1/5. Trainer Jim Cassidy caught him galloping out a strong five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. As we said, it often takes horses a work over the track to get a feel for it, as well as for the new surroundings.

With 10 horses working yesterday, there was very little activity this morning, as all 10 merely walked the shed. The big news was the arrival at about 9:40 of Wood Memorial winner Buddha, who seemed to settle in nicely in Tony Reinstedler's barn on the far outskirts of the backstretch. He'll test the track tomorrow morning.

Speaking of Mayakovsky, the colt will work five furlongs on Wednesday, after which a decision will be made whether or not to enter him. If he does enter, it will keep Team Valor's Windward Passage out of the race.

With only Mayakovsky working tomorrow, we'll go over some pedigrees and speed figures, in order to cover as many bases as possible. We'll also head over to Trackside to take another look at Perfect Drift, who was the first Derby to school, going to the paddock before the fourth race on Saturday. He walked in the pouring rain, stood in his stall like a perfect gentleman, and went about his business in his usual professional manner. Essence of Dubai schooled on Sunday and got a bit wet. Back at the barn, he still was wound pretty tight, bouncing around the shed with his nostrils flared, giving an occasional buck. This colt is just feeling super, but he'll have to curtail some of that on Saturday, especially if it's warm.

The Aidan O'Brien pair of Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo were scheduled to arrive in Lexington later today, and will be quarantined at Keeneland. Castle Gandolfo likely will be schooled at the gate at Keeneland on Thursday. They'll van to Louisville on Saturday morning.

After failing to get Straight Gin into the Derby field, trainer Nick Zito will now point the son of Go for Gin to the Preakness, along with Lexington runner-up Crimson Hero.

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