Steve Haskin's Derby Report: All's Quiet at the Downs, as the Invasion Nears

Where are all the Derby horses? Times have changed from the days when trainers shipped their Derby horses to Churchill Downs several weeks before the big race. Here we are less than two weeks out and only one shipper has arrived.

Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Dale Romans, and Bob Holthus are stabled at Churchill, leaving Dan Peitz, trainer of Steppenwolfer, as the only out-of-town trainer on the grounds.

Brother Derek and Cause to Believe are scheduled to arrive tomorrow (Tuesday) from California, while Sweetnorthernsaint will van down from Laurel. The son of Sweetsouthernsaint will depart at 10 a.m. and should arrive at Churchill around 7 p.m.

Bob Baffert, who has had excellent success in the Derby shipping in three and a half weeks before the race, no longer feels it is necessary to arrive early, and he will not send Bob and John and Point Determined until the Tuesday before the Derby, which means neither will have a serious work over the track. Joining those two will be A P. Warrior, whose trainer, John Shirreffs, won last year's Derby with Giacomo shipping in the week of the Derby.

Baffert's other Derby horse, Sinister Minister, was scheduled to van over from Keeneland around noon today, and it will be interesting to see how he's recovered from his monster performance in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Baffert said the son of Old Trieste still was pretty knocked out several days after the race.

The only two Derby workers Monday were the Steve Asmussen-trained pair of Private Vow and Storm Treasure, who drilled five furlongs in 1:00. Both colts were really motoring past the wire in tandem and galloped out an additional furlong in :13 1/5. They continued strongly all the way to the five-eighths pole before pulling up.

Private Vow looks great physically, and it's now a question whether he's gotten enough out of his two races at Oaklawn to be a factor in the Derby. It would seem as if he needs one more race, and definitely is a horse to watch for the Preakness (gr.I).

At Santa Anita, Brother Derek had a seven-furlong work that had rating in the Derby written all over it. Sitting about three lengths behind a workmate, the son of Benchmark went in fractions of :28 2/5, :52 1/5, 1:03 4/5, 1:16 2/5, and completed the seven furlongs in 1:28 2/5, while going easily throughout. He came home his last three-eighths in :36 1/5 and final furlong in :12 flat. That's just the kind of work this colt needs to help him settle behind horses in the Derby.

Across town at Hollywood Park, A. P. Warrior turned in a super seven-furlong work in 1:27 2/5. The son of A.P. Indy was some 10 lengths behind his workmate Twin Turbo, who went slow early. A. P. Warrior had him collared by the quarter pole and finished a length in front after a final quarter in :23 4/5. He then galloped out a strong mile in 1:41.

This work also telegraphed A. P. Warrior's strategy, who, unlike, his suicide mission in the Santa Anita Derby, will come from well back in the Derby and make a late run through the stretch. The son of A.P. Indy has been the "live" horse to watch here since his third in the Santa Anita, and this work only strengthens that opinion.

Baffert concentrated on speed with his two horses, as he usually does, working Point Determined seven furlongs in 1:24 4/5 and Bob and John in 1:25.

Arkansas travelers looking good

Two horses who made a favorable impression this morning were the first two finishers in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), Lawyer Ron and Steppenwolfer. Lawyer Ron is an Afleet Alex type of horse in that he does everything you want him to do and seems to love every minute of it. He is loaded with personality and is extremely professional in everything he does. He stood for some 10 to 15 minutes on the track watching all the activity just prior to the renovation break, and didn't get going until everyone had cleared out and he had pretty much the entire track to himself.

Even jogging before his gallop, he was competitive and kept trying to get the better of the other joggers. He then galloped two miles and was still full of life afterward. He has a beautiful way of moving, just gliding along with his neck arched. It looks like it's going to be a fun two weeks following this horse around.

Steppenwolfer is another laid back, professional horse, who has held his flesh very well. His coat looks great and nothing seems to bother him. He has become good buddies with trainer Dan Peitz' two kittens, who often come visiting his stall. At this point it looks as if both colts will have their final Derby works next Saturday.

Pletcher power still has some juice left

Todd Pletcher is starting to feel better about his chances after Sunriver's and Keyed Entry's works on Sunday.

Sunriver, with five weeks in between the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1), needed a stiff, longer work and this was a perfect move.

"Sunriver worked really well, and he and Harlington went around there head and head the whole way," Pletcher said. "I feel like we're close enough (in graded earnings) to have a reasonable chance of getting in. But also we'll have to wait and see what they decide to do with Seaside Retreat, and Mister Triester runs in the Derby Trial (gr. III), and they ran in the Derby off that race last year."

As for the five-week layoff, Pletcher said, "I really believe five weeks works great for all horses. I read the list of horses that have run five weeks out and it's not exactly a Who's Who of Kentucky Derby favorites. To me, the trend in racing has changed a lot, and more time between races is successful now, and I don't see why that wouldn't apply to the Kentucky Derby. It goes against logic that you'd want to stress yourself really close to a really big event. This horse has had a series of mile and an eighth races and he has a tremendous foundation under him. He's not going to lose that foundation in five weeks, especially training the way he is right now."

Pletcher said Keyed Entry's work was "brilliant," and he's expecting a big effort from the son of Honour and Glory in the Derby. "I loved the way Keyed Entry worked and the way he came out of it," Pletcher said. "He's still one of the fastest horses of this crop. At the time, I thought the rain before the Wood Memorial (gr. I) was a blessing, but the track got slower and stickier, and we would have been better off had it continued to rain throughout the day. Plus we were running him back in three weeks and he went a very fast first half. Now he gets four weeks and I think that's going to help him."

Pletcher is willing to throw out Bluegrass Cat's well-beaten fourth in the Blue Grass. "Every year, the Blue Grass is a hard race to figure out," he said. "You have horses like Millennium Wind, Skip Away, and Holy Bull that run like crazy over there and it's a different story when they come here. I would be more worried if Bluegrass Cat had run the race the winner did, not knowing whether I could get him back."

More on the batty Blue Grass

To demonstrate just how bizarre a race the Blue Grass (gr. I) was, runner-up Storm Treasure exploded on the far turn and blew away everyone in front of him, with the exception, of course, of Sinister Minister. He made up 10 lengths on Strong Contender and drew off to beat him by 4 1/2 lengths. But despite running his third and fourth fractions in a rapid :23 2/5 and :23 4/5, he actually lost almost five lengths to Sinister Minister in the final eighth, coming home in a pedestrian :14 2/5. How does a horse run a :14 2/5 eighth after blazing a half-mile in :47 flat?

How does Sinister Minister come home his final three-eighths in a slow :39 and still extend his lead by nearly six lengths?

How about Sinister Minister switching to his right lead for only one stride nearing the eighth pole and then quickly jumping back to his left lead? That is something you rarely see a horse do. In short, there was very little that was normal about this race, which gives hope to the connections of Storm Treasure and Bluegrass Cat.

Cause to Believe is scheduled to arrive tomorrow (Tuesday). Brother Derek was also scheduled to arrive tomorrow, but trainer Dan Hendricks changed plans and will now ship on Thursday. Sweetnortnernsaint will van down from Laurel tomorrow. The son of Sweetsouthernsaint will depart at 10 a.m. and should arrive at Churchill around 7 p.m.