A beautiful, cloudless sky; Nick Zito and Todd Pletcher working five Kentucky Derby (gr. I) horses; what more could you ask for? Zito and Pletcher dominated the morning's activity, sending out Bellamy Road, High Fly, Noble Causeway, Bandini, and Flower Alley for strong five-furlong works.And how appropriate to have the early Derby favorite, Bellamy Road, come away with the work of the day? But in the end, it was a good day for both trainers, as all five horses turned in solid moves. Combined with some big works last week, it sure isn't getting any easier handicapping this year's Derby.But if you're a big Bellamy Road fan, and truly believe he is something special, today's work is certainly not going to make you change your mind. "The Big B" strutted onto the track at about 6:45, just as the moonlit sky was beginning to brighten. With Maxine Correa aboard, the son of Concerto, alongside the pony, cantered past the stands with his neck arched. It's amazing the amount of ground he covers just in a canter.After breaking off at the five-furlong pole, he quickly settled into a nice rhythmic stride through fractions of :12 4/5, :24 2/5, and :36 3/5. You don't want to try to cut the corner with a big, long-striding horse like this, so Correa kept him about three or four wide turning for home. He changed leads smoothly, and Correa kept her hands perfectly still and let the colt rumble down the stretch all on his own. Reaching out with those enormous strides, he leveled off and came home his final eighth in about :11 1/5, with his ears up most of the way. He did put them back in the closing strides when Correa flicked her wrists on him and he lowered his head and gave another spurt near the wire. The Churchill clockers got him going the five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. I had him off the video in 1:00 flat (two private clockers got him in 1:00 1/5), galloping out a strong six furlongs in 1:13 3/5, then pulling up seven furlongs in 1:27 3/5. He was still on the move passing the five-eighths pole in 1:44 3/5 for the mile. Correa finally was able to pull him up near the half-mile pole.You can see how Bellamy Road is able is pummel his opponents into the ground. He is intimidating, powerful, and takes one stride to other horses' two. With this work out of the way, you pretty much have your Derby favorite.Following Bellamy Road came Noble Causeway, and the son of Giant's Causeway worked in company with last year's promising 2-year-old Capac. "He's not Ghostzapper, but we're trying," Zito said, in reference to High Limit working in company with last year's Horse of the Year last week.Noble Causeway, with Correa aboard, broke off 5 to 6 lengths behind Capac, and it was obvious early that he wanted a piece of his stablemate and wasn't interested in waiting until the stretch to dispose of him. He quickly closed the gap around the turn and began bearing down on Capac. "Easy boy," Zito said, not wanting the colt to run by his workmate too soon and be left on his own for the entire stretch run.Following fractions of :12 2/5, :24, and :35 2/5, Noble Causeway was all over Capac, who was given a crack of the whip by Carlos Correa. But Noble Causeway was gone. He pinned his ears and lowered his shoulder, and was reaching out nicely at the wire, as Correa gave him a few pumps with her hands just before the finish. The clockers caught him in 1:00 flat, as did a private clocker, with three other clockers, including yours truly, getting him closer to :59 3/5. He then galloped out the six furlongs in 1:14.The last of the Zito horses to work was High Fly, and although this one didn't go exactly as planned down the stretch, the opinion here is that he got more out of his work the way it turned out, which is only going to help him coming off a five-week layoff.The son of Atticus, accompanied by the pony, was on the muscle galloping to the pole, with stablemate Last Samurai a couple of lengths in front of him. As usual, he had his head up and was ready for some action, especially coming off a slow work over a deep track. After breaking from the five-eighths pole, he settled down and seemed content to sit three lengths off his workmate through fractions of :12 3/5, :24 2/5, and :36 2/5.Correa let High Fly run right up behind Last Samurai before steering him quickly to the outside. Some six lengths in front of the pair was another horse, who seemed to be working well off the rail, but was going along pretty easily. At the head of the stretch, High Fly and Last Samurai went inside the other horse, who now was beginning to roll. Last Samurai cut the corner and pulled clear of High Fly. As High Fly set sail after his workmate, the other worker began to ease in toward them. Suddenly, it looked as if High Fly might be in danger of becoming the meat in the sandwich and getting squeezed, or worse. But he went about his business and split Last Samurai and the other horse and began drawing clear, again holding his head high.Although he pulled well clear of his workmate, the other horse was intent on going after him. This colt is a fighter who knows where the wire is, and his work had now turned into a race. Watching the final sixteenth of the work was like watching a replay of the Florida Derby (gr. I), with High Fly digging in and holding off his attacker, who now knows how Noble Causeway felt. As in the Florida Derby, he crossed the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front.After completing the five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, his final eighth in about :11 3/5, he galloped out strongly, while still being dogged by the other horse. This was a great work to watch, as it came as close to simulating race conditions as you're going to see. I believe High Fly got much more out of this work than if he had simply drawn clear of his workmate by seven lengths, which is what he did. Going into the Derby off a five-week layoff, he needed something like this, and it certainly got the competitive juices flowing again. In my mind, this work moves High Fly up as a Derby contender, and the feeling here is that if he gets the lead at any point between the quarter pole and eighth pole, he is going to be extremely tough to run down.Pletcher's Pair
I was really looking forward to seeing Bandini work, especially since he's been out in the dark each morning, with the exception of the morning he just walked. The one thing I want to watch over the next week, if possible, is his coat, and how it looks coming up to the Derby.With jockey John Velazquez up, Bandini was throwing his head around a bit while galloping with the pony past the stands. Once he broke loose from the pony, he settled nicely. Heading toward the five-eighths pole, his stablemate, Lion Tamer, was about three lengths in front him and getting very rank. Then, in a very ironic twist, a newcomer burst on the scene. Charging up inside Bandini and blowing right on by him was Spanish Chestnut, who was galloping out like a tiger following his five-furlong work in 1:00 2/5. As most people are aware by now, it is the Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith-owned Spanish Chestnut whom everyone believes is going to be used as a rabbit for Bandini.Bandini broke off at the pole, still three lengths behind Lion Tamer, and quickly returned the favor by rolling past Spanish Chestnut, who was finally being pulled up. When Velazquez nudged him, Bandini showed good acceleration and had Lion Tamer measured by the time they hit the quarter pole. The best part of the work was when Bandini, now lapped on Lion Tamer, cut the corner sharply turning for home, showing off his agility. Both colts matched strides down the stretch, with Bandini maintaining a neck advantage. Lion Tamer was being pushed along a little, while Velazquez just gently nudged Bandini. Inside the eighth pole, Lion Tamer jumped over to his left lead, and Bandini began to inch farther away, finishing a length in front at the wire. Clockers caught him in 1:00 4/5. His gallop-out wasn't much, as he went another eighth in :16.Watching this work live, it didn't do much for me, except for the way he cornered at the head of the stretch. But after watching it several times on the video, it was a better work than I originally thought, mainly the acceleration on the turnRight after Bandini came stablemate Flower Alley, who is a very attractive chestnut with smooth, fluid action. Working in company with 3-year-old filly champ Ashado, Flower Alley galloped to the pole about two lengths behind Ashado when he suddenly decided he wanted no more of that. He roared right on by Ashado and pulled clear of her by two lengths. Ashado finally got to running and was able to catch up to Flower Alley, as they finally began the work as it was intended to be.Turning for home and down the stretch, Flower Alley was under no urging, while Ashado felt three cracks of the whip to get her to keep pace with Flower Alley, who finished a length in front at the wire in 1:00 3/5. But Ashado did gallop out a bit stronger.-- Also on Sunday, Going Wild worked five furlongs in :59 3/5, while carrying his head a bit high.-- At Hollywood Park, Giacomo continued the string of fast California works, as he zipped six furlongs in 1:11 4/5.-- Afleet Alex and High Limit both had strong gallops this morning. High Limit was leaving some feed about a week and a half ago, but after having his wolf teeth removed, he's been cleaning out his tub. In fact, Bobby Frankel had to increase his amount of feed and he's still cleaning it up. -- Closing Argument, who arrived from Keeneland yesterday, galloped after the break and will work tomorrow, possibly joining Coin Silver, who looked good galloping under Angel Cordero early this morning.-- Patrick Biancone announced after Spanish Chestnut's work that the colt will run in the Derby.