Haskin's Derby Report: Early Thoughts

Haskin's Derby Report: Early Thoughts
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Anak Nakal takes in his surroundings during training hours Tuesday at Churchill Downs.
Well, Big Brown finally is here and the racing world had its first look at the likely Kentucky Derby favorite and its first encounter with his colorful trainer Rick Dutrow. After watching the colt gallop once around, we can now give an initial assessment of him and the other Derby horses on the grounds.

If anyone wants to know what makes Big Brown so special it was evident Tuesday morning. First off, he exudes class in everything he does. Nothing rattles him in the slightest, and he paid little or no attention to the swarms of people following him to the track or the photographers dashing about all around him. He has a head that is full of character, a great eye, and big ears that flick out like antennae.

On the track, he was pure poetry as he glided around the Churchill oval for the first time with powerful, yet graceful strides that barely seemed to touch the ground. He was full of energy coming back and stood motionless with his ears pricked, posing for photographers, while being bathed.

In short, he’s everything you’d expect from a horse who has accomplished the extraordinary things he has in such a short period of time, just as Curlin did last year. We know this colt is different – a potential freak as they say. To what extent we’ll find out on Saturday. As Dutrow said, “I haven’t seen a horse with my own eyes I think can beat him.”

We’ve seen a number of works so far – some fair, some good, some very good, and one exceptional. That one exceptional belonged to Denis of Cork. We didn’t see his previous work last Monday that had everyone abuzz. But his half-mile drill yesterday, just a short while before his connections were informed he was in the top 20 graded earners, was flawless. He moved with great authority under no urging whatsoever, cut the corner turning for home, displaying the kind athleticism you want to see, and cruised down the stretch under a motionless Calvin Borel with effortless strides. Doing everything on his own, he covered the final quarter in about :23. The best, however, was yet to come. He was so strong galloping out, Borel had a tough time pulling him up, his feet planted firmly in the dashboard and pulling hard on the reins. He didn’t get him pulled up until well past the five-furlong pole. Between this two works and his powerful gallops, he could not be doing any better.

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We can state right now that Denis of Cork will get top ranking among the Derby workers, and will at least share top ranking with Big Brown among gallopers. Big Brown will blow out three furlongs on Thursday.

In the looks department, the majority of the Derby horses, as usual, are doing well physically, but no one is looking any better than Gayego, who is an absolute powerhouse and is doing everything right on the track.

Catching up on Monday’s works, all you Pyro fans should have little concern about his bouncing back off his dismal effort in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) based on how he looked in his work. He was extremely sharp in his :49 3/5 half-mile drill, and what was encouraging was that he had run on his mind every step of the way. The exercise rider’s reins were tight as he pulled back to prevent the son of Pulpit from doing too much. Despite being under restraint, Pyro still came home his final furlong in :11 4/5. He looks terrific physically and appears to be coming up to the Derby in top form.

Stablemate Z Fortune made an excellent appearance as he galloped to pole and broke of smoothly. But he seemed to lose a little focus near the end of the work, as if he were playing around. He switched back to his left lead and basically shut it down after the wire. That may well have been by design, as the colt just had a hard race in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and will be going into the Derby off three weeks.

Another horse who switched leads at the wire in his work was Visionaire, who worked in company in :48 2/5.

Smooth Air seems to be progressing beautifully each day following his low-grade infection and has been galloping with more enthusiasm each time he goes to the track. Also making an impressive appearance in his gallops is Cool Coal Man, who was into the bit and moving nicely.

Looking for a sneaky horse who could hit the board at around 60-1? Z Humor, a grinder who is improving with each race, is quietly going about his business in fine fashion, and is totally under the radar screen.  We didn’t catch Anak Nakal’s last work in :46 1/5, but considering the improvement he showed in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) after two terrible performances and this eye opener over the track on which he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) last fall, he might be another completely forgotten horse who can hit the board. Remember Coax Me Chad, Mane Minister, Wild Gale, and I’mawildandcrazyguy?

A quick note about Colonel John: Although his five-furlong work in :57 4/5 Sunday was an excellent move and showed the colt handles the dirt well, he did take the turn into the stretch a little wide and didn’t show the agility a horse like Street Sense   did last year or Denis of Cork this year. He is such a long-striding horse it takes him a while to find his best stride and you don’t want to get him stopped in any way or stuck in too much traffic. He looks to be the type of horse who would be much more comfortable outside horses. Once he kicks into gear and gets a clear run, then he can explode.

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