Verrazano working towards the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs April 27.
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Verrazano working towards the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs April 27.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Pletcher Breezes Five Derby Contenders

He works Verrazano, Overanalyze, Revolutionary, Palace Malice, and Charming Kitten.

After watching five of the six 3-year-olds he's considering for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) complete their final serious drills April 27 at Churchill Downs, trainer Todd Pletcher said he thought Verrazano  and Revolutionary  continued steady progress, while Overanalyze  registered his best workout ever.

Palace Malice  took well to new blinkers that will be added for the race, while the finish by Charming Kitten in his half-mile breeze raised some concerns. All in all though, Pletcher is moving forward with a powerful hand for the 1 1/4-mile classic May 4 at Churchill.

Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) winner Verrazano, who could be this year's Derby favorite, showed athleticism when quickly shifting to full speed in a five-furlong breeze in :59 2/5 on the Churchill main track, sixth-fastest of 52 moves at the distance. The undefeated Verrazano breezed in company with stakes-placed Authenticity, starting one length behind the 6-year-old Quiet American mare and finishing one length in front.

Let's Go Stable, Michael Tabor, and Susan Magnier's Verrazano, by More Than Ready , quickly reached top speed for exercise rider Humberto Zamora and registered splits of :11 4/5, :23 1/5, and :35, :47. He galloped out in 1:13.

"I thought Verrazano was very good this morning," Pletcher said. "He was relaxed breaking off. He finished up strongly and galloped out well. I thought he handled the track really well. I guess :59 and change is what we're looking at, but I thought he was well in hand throughout. It indicated to me that he's doing very well and liked the surface."

Derby contenders Overanalyze, with Gary Stevens up, and Palace Malice, with Mike Smith up, worked four furlongs in company. Overanalyze started one length back and finished on even turns with Palace Malice. Repole Stable's smooth-running Overanalyze turned heads in earning the bullet of 70 works at the distance. The Dixie Union colt completed four furlongs in :47, with splits of :12, :23 2/5, and :35 1/5. He galloped out five furlongs in :59 3/5 and 1:13 2/5.

Pletcher believes Overanalyze is peaking at the perfect time since registering a 4 1/4-length victory in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 13 at Oaklawn Park.

"Clearly (the Arkansas Derby) was a huge performance for him and a big improvement," Pletcher said. "Subsequently, he's had a really good few weeks since then.

"I thought the breeze he had this morning was the best I've seen him breeze, ever."

After watching Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice complete a half-mile in :47 1/5, second-fastest move at the distance, Pletcher said the Curlin  colt will race with blinkers in the Derby. The Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) runner-up registered splits of :12, :23 3/5, and :35 2/5. He galloped out five furlongs in :59.8.

The workout was a test run for blinkers after Pletcher said Palace Malice changed leads in the Blue Grass when he saw tracks on the ground, and in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) when a horse raced on his outside.

"We're going to put the blinkers on for the race. I thought he handled them well," Pletcher said. "It focused him in just a little bit without making him too keen. Mike Smith was aboard him for the first time today and he seemed to think they were good. He liked the way he handled them. He didn't feel like he was too head-strong or anything, which would have been one possible concern. He just has a tendency to get a little distracted in his races.

Pletcher added, "Hopefully some French cup blinkers will focus him in a little bit."

Also working together were Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Revolutionary and Blue Grass third-place finisher Charming Kitten. WinStar Farm's Revolutionary completed four furlongs in :48 1/5, which ranked sixth of 70 moves. The War Pass colt galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:14 4/5.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Charming Kitten breezed four furlongs in :48 2/5, eighth-fastest at the distance, with splits of :24 4/5, and :36 2/5.

"I thought Revolutionary finished up really well; loved the way he galloped out," Pletcher said. "I thought Charming Kitten spun his wheels a little bit in the last 50 or 60 yards of the work. But I thought both accomplished from a fitness standpoint what we were looking for."

Three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel, still beaming after yesterday's news that he will be enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame this year, said Revolutionary was not completely focused during the breeze.

"He's just messing around now, but he's hitting the ground good," Borel said. "He'll be completely focused in the race. He's a great horse to ride."

Pletcher started monitoring the weather at about 12:30 a.m. and talked with Churchill officials about their plans for the track if rain arrived in Louisville.

 "I made a mistake last night and looked at the (weather) radar before I went to bed," Pletcher said. "I didn't sleep much. But we're OK now; we're going forward."

When it became clear in the early morning hours that the rain would hold off, Pletcher moved forward on plans to send out five of his six Derby contenders. Alto Racing's Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III) winner Winning Cause also is being considered for the classic and is scheduled to breeze Monday, April 29.

"We were just trying to get the logistics all straightened out," Pletcher said.

Pletcher said working horses together with top jockeys such as Smith and Stevens can be a concern but both Hall of Fame riders handled their assignments wellsaving the racing for May 4.

"We're just trying to match horses up," Pletcher said. "Obviously they're pointing to the same race and we were looking for the same effort. I thought they'd make good mates and not overdo it."

WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden said Pletcher has had success with working top horses together and he thought most of Pletcher's Derby contenders worked well Saturday. Walden said he liked Revolutionary's work.

"He'll match grade I winners together," Walden said. "When I was training, I liked a sacrificial lamb to serve as a target; start your horse five lengths behind and have them beat them by five. But Todd likes to have his top horses look each other in the eye. You can't mess with success."

Pletcher said finding horses with complementary running styles helps when working horses together.

"When you're looking for similar results from similar horses with a common goal, it just makes sense to put those horses together," Pletcher said. "You try to match up personalities. You don't want to put two head-strong horses together and have them go too fast... Overanalyze, as a rule, is not an overzealous work horse and I thought they executed it very well.

"We just found over the years that sort of works for us and our horses. Putting them together, they tend to stay more focused, more engaged. And, they get used to running next to horses, which generally they have to do."