Monarchos, Brian Beccia up, worked Friday morning on the Churchill oval.

Monarchos, Brian Beccia up, worked Friday morning on the Churchill oval.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Monarchos Takes the Spotlight

Sorry, but we've got yet another terrific work to confuse you with. But even with all the top works we've seen this week, we'd have to give this morning's drill by Monarchos the highest marks. There was a great deal of confusion as to what time he actually worked, as the clockers somehow only caught the final three-eighths of his five-furlong work.

The day before the work, trainer John Ward, when asked what kind of move he was looking for, said emphatically that Monarchos would work between 1:00 and 1:01, gallop out six furlongs in around 1:14, and seven furlongs in around 1:28. This morning, Ward punched his desired times into the big gray computer waiting patiently in Stall 2, and it all printed out nice and clear. Ward and yours truly both caught Monarchos in 1:00 4/5. Ward had him galloping out in 1:14 3/5, while we had him in 1:14 1/5, the same time as Bob Baffert, who was watching from the backside. Ward then caught him in 1:28 1/5 for the seven furlongs, and pulling up a mile in 1:44.

But times aside, this work was beautiful to watch, because of the way Monarchos went over the ground and the great extension to his stride. He looks as if he handles this track exceptionally well. We also loved the way he cut the corner turning for home before changing leads quickly and smoothly. After Monarchos came home the final eighth in a sharp :11 4/5 over a fairly deep track, exercise ride Brian Beccia extended his arms, and the colt continued on with good energy, not only galloping out his next eighth in :13 2/5, but again hugging the rail. He actually was on the very inner part of the shadow cast by the rail, which you rarely see. Most horses will gallop out just outside the shadow, with some right on it. But Monarchos showed his quickness and agility by cutting both corners, while showing no signs of slowing down.

After appearing to struggle over the Aqueduct surface in the Wood Memorial, and having to be pushed hard and whipped a long way out, it was important that he demonstrate the kind of enthusiasm he did this morning. His gallops also have been strong, especially when he comes around the second time, where he's much smoother.

"He works the same way every time," Ward said. "He knows what he's supposed to do and he just goes out there and does it. We've got our job done, as far as training goes, and all we have to do now is mark off each day on the calendar."

Morning Express still rolling along

We must emphasize once again how Express Tour keeps getting stronger by the day. Assistant trainer Tom Albertrani has been teaching the colt's exercise rider, who is British, how to get the horse to change leads, which is something that is not usually done by riders in England. This morning, the towering chestnut colt again was a thing of beauty, with his head held high, his ears pricked, and those humongous strides just gobbling up the ground effortlessly. And yes, he did change leads, and did it very smoothly.

"This is the best I've ever seen him by far," Albertrani said. "He's changed so much just since he's been here. I'm starting to get pretty excited about him." Albertrani said Express Tour will work six furlongs again tomorrow. He's an imposing presence out there, and you can spot him a mile away, with his massive chestnut frame, flying mane, and Godolphin blue.

Baffert pair picking up the pace

Point Given and Congaree were back in serious action this morning, turning in solid gallops. Each colt has his own style, and while Point Given appears to be loping around there, with his ears pricked, Congaree is more business-like, occasionally pinning his ears and getting more into the bit. He does things more professionally than his stablemate, who was on his best behavior this morning after pulling some wild antics yesterday when he was spooked, presumably by a photographer, walking back to the barn.

While both colts seem to be handling the track well, Congaree goes over it with a bit more authority, and seems more serious about his work than the big, playful chestnut. "Congaree is blooming before my eyes," Baffert said.

Thunder Blitz reprise

Yesterday we mentioned Thunder Blitz's wild gallops each morning that have exercise rider Keith Ricks increasing his push-up count in order to keep his arms strong enough to hold him. Trainer Joe Orseno said this morning that he clocked Thunder Blitz's gallop yesterday. The gray son of Holy Bull galloped around to the half-mile pole, then open-galloped to wire, going in :50 2/5, which is as fast as Dollar Bill worked earlier in the week. He then continued around back to the half-mile pole, completing the mile in 1:46, which is a mere 14 seconds faster than a two-minute lick. This morning, Orseno let him take it easy, spending his time jogging and schooling.

Other news

-- Niall O'Callaghan is still playing it as coy as ever whenever he's asked if he's going to enter Lexington winner Keats in the Derby. The son of Hennessy was in a playful mood this morning, as he jogged around. He is a very attractive colt, with a beautiful, finely chiseled head. Percy Hope, winner of the Lone Star Derby, still is listed as a possible starter, but trainer Tony Reinstedler says it's doubtful he'll run.

-- Jockey Shane Sellers, who is recovering from ligament surgery on his knee, was in attendance this morning. Sellers, whose song about the late Dale Earnhardt climbed the country western charts, said he misses riding and is anxious to return. He also said he'll be rooting for his old partner Point Given, on whom he captured the Kentucky Cup Juvenile last year, and also Balto Star, who is ridden by his close friend Mark Guidry. Sellers said it killed him to have to sit back and watch his former mount Captain Steve win the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

-- A P Valentine looked like he wanted to get it on this morning, tossing his head around a couple of times during his gallop, as if to tell exercise rider Patty Kotenko he wanted to do a lot more. He really gets down into the bit, arching his neck. From a physical standpoint, the Champagne winner couldn't be doing any better.

-- With trainer Jim Cassidy away for a few days, Jamaican Rum had a solid gallop this morning. He should come back with a more lively work, possibly on Monday. Watching him being sponged off this morning, he looked to be in excellent health, and is carrying his flesh very well. He still gets a bit fractious while grazing in the afternoon, and tries to rear at any sudden noise.

-- Speaking of carrying his flesh, we're still amazed at how strong Balto Star looks. He may be the most solidly built horse in the race, with a powerful set of shoulders, bulging gaskins (muscles below the hind end), and a big, wide girth. Each afternoon, he grazes calmly, and seems to enjoy the leisurely atmosphere. Several people are comparing him to 1985 Derby winner Spend a Buck, although this horse is much stronger. The question many people are asking is, will he come back to the field or will he keep going? It's the prospect of the latter that have opposing trainers very wary of this big guy.

-- Balto Star's stablemate Invisible Ink has been one of the forgotten horses in the Derby. The son of Thunder Gulch, like the others, has been doing very well at Churchill Downs, and when he's grazing, his blood bay coat shines like burnished copper when the sun hits it.

View an MPEG video clip of Monarchos' Friday morning work (1 MB). (Requires Windows Media Player or QuickTime 4).