The setting was the same as past years: Bob Baffert standing in the Churchill Downs grandstand, his white hair glistening in the morning sun like a fresh mound of snow. A two-way radio is held close to his mouth, as he surveys the post-renovation break scene and offers his first set of instructions to exercise rider Dana Barnes. Several minutes later, after watching his two Derby horses work, Baffert takes a deep, relaxing breath and breaks out into a smile and selection of one-liners. His horses once again have left a long line of smoldering hoof prints in the Churchill Downs surface.
That was the familiar scene once again this morning, as Point Given
sizzled five furlongs in :58 1/5. According to Baffert, Congaree actually worked six furlongs in 1:11 1/5. These were typical Baffert works, where the horses get a chance to pin back their ears and get down to some serious running in order to sharpen them up for the arduous journey they'll be embarking on next Saturday.
Baffert, as nervous as usual, sent Point Given out without his Derby saddlecloth to prevent the "Dawn at the Downs" crowd from applauding as he jogged by. The big chestnut passed the crowd unnoticed, as Baffert had hoped, then turned around and began jogging to the turn, well behind his workmate Saif. "OK, here we go," Baffert said.
Point Given broke off about eight lengths behind Saif and was immediately into the work, rolling through his opening eighth. "Twelve and one, perfect," Baffert told Barnes. By the time they passed the five-sixteenths pole, Point Given had made up the eight lengths, and he roared up alongside his workmate. Barnes kept him wide, and Point Given changed leads smoothly this time and began to draw off with those monster strides. "Poor old Saif," Baffert said.
Point Given charged home his final quarter in :23 flat and final eighth in :11 1/5 to complete the five furlongs in :58 2/5, a fifth slower than the clockers caught him. He then galloped out six furlongs in 1:11 4/5, pulling up seven furlongs in a scintillating 1:25 2/5. A relieved Baffert was feeling much more relaxed now. "Pretty awesome, huh?" he said to Barnes. "OK, one more to go."
This was only the first act. Congaree, coming out several minutes later, had to work over a track that was a bit more chewed up, and possibly a tick slower. But that made little difference to the son of Arazi, who broke off at the five-furlong pole very smoothly. Barnes, trying to slow him down early, had a nice hold of him through an opening eighth in :12 2/5 and quarter in :24. After three-eighths in :36 1/5, he cut the corner beautifully turning for home and really poured it on with a pair of sensational eighths in :11 2/5 and :11 flat to hit the wire in :58 3/5. "Keep going past the wire," Baffert told Barnes. Congaree continued working past the wire to the seven-eighths pole, getting the six furlongs in 1:11 1/5, and out seven panels in 1:25 2/5. That's a :12 3/5 eighth around the turn. "Pretty close," Baffert said. "Hard to separate those two, huh?"
Baffert said he's trying to slow down Congaree early and let him finish up strongly, which was the main difference between the two works. "He needs to relax early," Baffert said. "I don't want him taking on the speed early. Dana loves working Congaree, because he's so handy. The other guy is a big goofball, who likes to look around. But they're both pretty impressive horses, and Point Given was all business today. They know something big is coming."Valentine's Day
With jockey Corey Nakatani in Arkansas attending a funeral, Nick Zito had to use A P Valentine's
regular work rider Jamie Sanders for today's five-furlong work. After the son of A.P. Indy worked five furlongs in :59 3/5 last week, Zito said he would go even faster this time. The colt proved him right, getting the five furlongs in :59 flat, working in company with Lake Agawam.
A P Valentine broke off about three lengths behind his workmate, then collared him passing the five-sixteenths pole. Turning for home, Lake Agawam held on stubbornly, and Sanders shook the right reins a few times before A P Valentine eased clear to finish about a length in front at the wire, getting his last quarter in :24 flat.
These are very untypical works by Zito, but he felt, coming off such a poor effort, he needed to get a pair of good speed works in him to sharpen him back up. "I liked the way he kicked in again while pulling up when he saw another horse in front of him," Zito said. "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging. It's just that I have a lot of compassion for a horse who has a lot of talent. I'm really happy we decided to move forward, and I have a good feeling about Saturday. Corey didn't show today, but I'll be doing a hotel check on him Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I'll be worse than Coach Pitino (part-owner of the horse). I'll make sure he's on the treadmill and does 40 laps."Farewell, Tincin
The 15 minutes of fame for Tincin
and company got cut off at about the five-minute mark when trainer Steve Larue said the horse would miss the Derby after coming down with a cough at Ellis Park. Whatever the reason, we can now wish the poor horse good luck in maiden races.
The two horses who still are on the bubble are Arctic Boy
, who breezed a solid five furlongs this morning in 1:01. Trainer Tim Richey said he's still 50-50. The status of Percy Hope
will be decided in the next day or two.Other news
-- Millennium Wind
had another smooth gallop this morning, and again showed no signs of running down or bloodying his heels. The new ointment they've been using on the colt apparently has worked wonders. The son of Cryptoclearance is scheduled to work after the break tomorrow.
-- After his work last Friday, Monarchos
now will be galloping in the quiet and darkness, around 6 o'clock. He's really been on the muscle, and because he's a little nervous and headstrong, trainer John Ward doesn't want him coming out with the crowds after the break.
-- Express Tour
was back on the track this morning, and again looked great galloping. He may have a blowout of two or three furlongs on Thursday. Each day, Jamaican Rum
has been getting stronger in his gallops. This morning, he was really down into the bit, and it should be interesting to see how he works tomorrow after turning in a sloppy work last week.
Previous Reports:Sunday, April 29: Fleet Four Fly Five FurlongsSaturday, April 28: Express Train Roars Through ChurchillFriday, April 27: Monarchos Takes the SpotlightThursday, April 26: A Wind, A SongandaprayerWednesday, April 25: A Shiny, Crisp Dollar BillTuesday, April 24: Point Given, Congaree Pass First TestMonday, April 23: The Action Heats Up