Bandini appears ready for his run for the roses.

Bandini appears ready for his run for the roses.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Bandini in the Dark

There were three Kentucky Derby (gr. I) works Monday morning, but the biggest revelation came a little after 6 o'clock when Bandini strolled onto the track, the day after working five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. Although he was only out for a jog, it was enough to convince me that the colt is sitting on another huge effort on Saturday.

Bandini, who used to spend most of his time on his hind legs, has matured considerably over the past few months, and has become much more professional in everything he does. As I mentioned in yesterday's column, the more I watched his work the more impressed I was, especially the way he cornered so sharply and the way John Velazquez sat chilly on him, just gently nudging him along. His gallop-out was almost non-existent, but there are many good horses who have a tendency to shut it down once they know their job is over.

This morning, Bandini appeared on the track full of life, and had a lively jog. Even cantering with the pony, there was a real bounce to his step. He still was coiled coming back, but always in control. And just before leaving the track, he lashed back with one wicked kick. This is what you want to see during Derby week, especially the morning after a five-furlong work.

This horse has made a huge impression since the day he broke his maiden, then later justified it by running "through the wire" in the Fountain of Youth. The bruised foot and subsequent withdrawal from the Florida Derby (gr. I) was a major concern. But his Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) romp spoke for itself, and whatever problems he's had appear to be behind him. Right now, he looks to be as solid a contender as any horse in the race.

Today's Works

Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) winner Coin Silver breezed five furlongs in company with Monarch Lane in 1:01 1/5 under Angel Cordero and was keen to go on around the far turn. But Cordero took a nice hold on him until he was ready to engage his workmate, who is a classy colt in his own right. Cordero pretty much let him do everything on his own, and he was striding out beautifully while coming home his final eighth in :11 3/5.

Coin Silver, a son of Anees, is a powerful bay, who is just now starting to grow up. Watching him on the track and grazing in the afternoon, he still is kind of skittish, and there is a question of maturity, especially competing in a 20-horse field going 1 ΒΌ miles. But he has the strength and dogged attitude, and is really starting to come into his own. He raced greenly at the head of the stretch over the sloppy track at Keeneland, which could have been caused by the kickback, yet he showed a good deal of professionalism sitting back behind the pace, while stuck down on the inside. It wasn't until the final sixteenth that he finally switched leads and leveled off. Despite already drawing away from the field, he managed to find another gear and was picking up even more momentum in the final strides. There is still no way of knowing if he's mentally ready for such an arduous task; but with the progress he's made, he has to be considered a live longshot play.

Bob Baffert sent Lexington runner-up Sort it Out out for a half-mile work in company with Apalachee Tiger, and the son of Out of Place went in a sharp :47 1/5. Baffert caught him in :46 4/5. You couldn't tell watching this work that Sort it Out is a come-from-behind horse, as he broke off on even terms with this workmate, then quickly outran him, opening up by about three-quarters of a length. He was rolling turning for home and changed leads on cue. Down the stretch, exercise rider Dana Barnes was up in the saddle, with her hands down almost on the colt's withers, and actually appeared to be tugging back a little on the reins. Sort it Out had his ears pinned back and was reaching out nicely as he hit the wire.

Baffert has seen a major change in this colt from the time he had him in California. He's stronger and more on the muscle, and is doing things much more willingly.

The final worker was Closing Argument, who went his five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 in company. There was a lot of head movement down the stretch, as if the colt wasn't as focused as he should have been. He kept his head up, and the rider had to throw several crosses on him, while keeping his hands well up on the colt's neck. I've never seen Closing Argument work before, but I'd like to see him more comfortable out there and doing things smoother.

In Other News

Could it be that the best Derby work was not even in Kentucky? Watching the tape of Wilko's five-furlong drill at Hollywood Park Saturday, this was as close to a perfect work as you're going to see. This little colt just loves to run, and you could see it in the way he moved, getting down low and gliding over the ground, with his ears back, and always reaching forward. It wasn't so much the final time of :59 4/5 as much as it was his final quarter in :22 and change, and that's with the quarter pole positioned well back on the turn. He came home his final eighth in :11 1/5 and galloped out another furlong in :12 flat. He's become so smooth now with his lead changes, you barely could see him change. Also, you won't see a more determined horse in the stretch as he wore down his workmate, PT's Grey Eagle.

Wilko arrived at Churchill Downs on Sunday, with trainer Craig Dollase showing up this morning. The son of Awesome Again  had a nice roll in his shavings, then walked over and stood by his webbing as if he hadn't a care in the world. He has the sweetest disposition, and is simply a horse you can't help falling in love with. If this little tiger doesn't win the Derby it won't be for lack of trying. His quarter cracks have been giving him no problems at all, and for the first time this year, he'll be dead-fit.

On a day-in, day-out basis, there is no horse doing any better than High Limit, who had yet another strong gallop this morning. This colt seems to be blossoming every day. He looks dead-fit, his coat is radiant, and he's always bright and alert. He powers over the ground with long, fluid strides as if he's relishing it out there. With that said, there is still major concern whether he's ready from a seasoning and experience standpoint to win the Derby. If he runs a big race and is still competitive at the eighth pole, watch out in the Preakness. This colt will be dynamite in Baltimore.