Thunder Blitz, one of four top Derby contenders working at Churchill Downs on Sunday.

Thunder Blitz, one of four top Derby contenders working at Churchill Downs on Sunday.

Anne Eberhardt

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Fleet Four Fly Five Furlongs

Throw 'em in a hat and pick one. Regardless of which one you choose you'll have the work of the day. That's how similar this morning's four Derby works were. In fact, the times of all four horses – Dollar Bill, Balto Star, Thunder Blitz, and Invisible Ink – were within a fifth of a second of each other.

For the seventh morning in a row, since we arrived, the dawn brought bright skies and mild to crisp temperatures. More of the same is predicted through the week, with showers arriving, you guessed it, on Friday.

This morning's blue skies were adorned with dozens of colorful balloons from the Great Balloon Race. Earlier, two Derby horses hit the track for their final works, starting with Dollar Bill, who came out at 6:15. Working in company with stablemate Kazoo, the son of Peaks and Valleys was raring to go as he approached the five-furlong pole, outside of Kazoo. Exercise rider Joanne McNamara tugged back on the reins to keep him restrained, as the colt gave a toss of his head, as if to say, 'Let's get it on.'

Down the backstretch, Dollar Bill settled nicely, about a half-length behind Kazoo. The pair turned for home together, with McNamara letting him do everything on his own. Passing the eighth pole, McNamara flicked her wrists and Dollar Bill quickly opened a clear lead on Kazoo, crossing the wire two lengths in front. He completed the five furlongs in 1:00 flat, running each eighth in about :12. Now, we pick up the real significant part of the work. Trainer Dallas Stewart said the day before he wasn't interested in any fast gallop-out times. He got his wish, as Dollar Bill galloped out an easy six furlongs in about 1:15. But the colt just kept going. Watching him come around the turn and into the backstretch, one could have easily thought he was galloping to the pole and about to begin the work. His head still was down into the bit, and he still was striding out beautifully as if he wanted to go around again. He gets great push from his powerful shoulders, and we love the way he keeps his head perfectly still. Coming off the track, he virtually bounced all the way back to the barn. This colt is doing everything right. He's sharper each day we watch him graze, his coat and muscle tone are second to none, and if he can get the mile and a quarter, he should run a huge race on Derby Day.

Ink in the pink

Immediately after Dollar Bill, Invisible Ink came out for his five-furlong work with exercise rider Cindy Hutter aboard. The son of Thunder Gulch was on the muscle galloping to the pole, throwing his head around. But Hutter quickly got him in stride and let him roll along at his own clip. He was smooth all the way and came home his final quarter in :23 3/5, covering the five furlongs in :59 4/5 under no urging at all from Hutter.

This colt has been looking great in the afternoon, and his coat is rich and shining with good health. He's been the forgotten horse, not only in the Derby, but in his own barn, as the media and visitors focus their attention on his stablemate Balto Star. He's going to be a monster price in the Derby, and if you're looking for a real bomb, don't discount this colt.

Morning Star

Speaking of Balto Star, the son of Glitterman was the first horse on the track following the renovation break, and as usual made a sensational appearance, with his regal manner and powerful frame. What we loved about his work was the way he relaxed for Cindy Hutter after breaking off from the five-furlong pole. Hutter was able to take a nice easy hold of him and get him through an opening quarter in :25. Then, when he hit the far turn, he leveled off beautifully and began to pick it up, getting his next quarter in :23 and change. Hutter, as she did with Invisible Ink, kept him well off the rail and never moved her hands on him. With his head held high and Hutter's hands down on his neck, he came home in :11 and change and galloped out very strongly. Churchill clockers caught him in 1:00 3/5, but three others clocking him in the grandstand, including Todd Pletcher, got him in either 1:00 or 1:00 1/5.

Many are comparing him to Spend a Buck, but this colt is a different type, physically and in the way he runs. While Spend a Buck was not as powerfully built and was more of a runaway type of speed horse, this horse can settle nicely on the lead and prefers to gallop his opponents into the ground methodically, then pour it on in the final quarter. He has a lot more stamina than people think, and unless he's really softened up early, he's going to be a tough horse to catch.

Thunder keeps rolling

We know we're not helping sort out this morass of talent, but, guess what? Yep, Thunder Blitz also had a great work this morning. But don't worry, we still have plenty of time to sort things out, and we'll come up with our strongest horses from a value standpoint next Friday.

Trainer Joe Orseno said before the work he wasn't looking for anything fast; something around 1:02 for the five furlongs. But there was a lot of water added to the track, and for a horse who has been a galloping terror over the past week, there was no way Thunder Blitz wanted any part of a 1:02 work.

Exercise rider Keith Ricks broke him off smoothly at the five-furlong pole, and the son of Holy Bull got right down to business, getting his opening quarter in :12 1/5. Ricks just nudged him along, and Thunder Blitz kept pouring it on. He cut the corner and continued strongly to the wire, with Ricks pushing ever so slightly. After three-eighths in :36 1/5, he came home his final quarter in :23 3/5 to complete the five furlongs in :59 4/5, he galloped out a very quick eighth in :13 1/5, then continued on, galloping out seven furlongs in a very strong 1:26 3/5 and pulling up a mile 1:43 2/5 on a loose rein. At one point galloping out, he tried to take off again, and Ricks had to reach back and grab a tighter hold of the reins. He didn't get him pulled up until the colt reached the track kitchen near the half-mile pole.

So, what to make of all these works. Each horse did it his way and on his own. This is a time for Derby trainers to basically maintain what they have, and just try to get their horse to peak on Derby Day. Even for the Derby, it is unusual to see as many solid, professional works as we've seen our first week here. If we had to pick one standout, it still has to be yesterday's monster work by Express Tour. But they way all the horses are training, we're going to have a lot of sharp, fit horses in this year's Derby.

Other news

-- Trainer Tony Richey said this morning that Arctic Boy, runner-up in the Rebel and Southwes Stakes before running poorly in the Arkansas Derby, is 50-50 for the Derby. The colt will work tomorrow, which should give Richey a better idea which way to go. Arctic Boy is a pretty nice horse, and we were impressed with his runs in the Southwest and Rebel Stakes. He has a quick turn of foot on the turn and a solid closing punch. He just might not have handled to deep mud in the Arkansas Derby.

-- Millennium Wind still is looking good in his gallops and has showed no signs of running down. His feet have been treated here by legendary Kentucky vetrinarian Dr. Alex Harthill and have been giving him no problems at all. Dave Hofmans said the Blue Grass winner will work again on Tuesday.

-- Other workers tomorrow are Point Given, Congaree, and A P Valentine. Nick Zito was ecstatic over A P Valentine's gallop today and keeps saying how glad he is he decided to go on with the son A.P Indy after his poor effort in the Blue Grass. Jamaican Rum had another strong gallop this morning and was really into the bit. Steve Asmussen said Fifty Stars will work on Tuesday.