It was one of those intoxicating spring mornings that only Churchill Downs in late April can bring: blue skies, crisp temperatures that put an extra jump in your step, and the sight of Kentucky Derby horses, decked out in their striking gold saddlecloths, strutting over the track with adolescent enthusiasm.
Although there were no works on tap this morning, we were able to take advantage of the leisurely atmosphere to get excellent close-up studies of many of the contenders as they galloped against the picture-book backdrop of the Twin Spires.
Yesterday, we discussed the excellent works by Bob Baffert's two big guns, Point Given
, and we await the upcoming works by Millennium Wind
, and Balto Star
. But what about some of the horses who have been thriving at Churchill Downs, who likely will be generous odds on the first Saturday in May?
Although all the horses look to be in great physical shape, we haven't seen one doing any better than Dollar Bill
. We spent about 20 minutes with the colt Tuesday afternoon as he was out grazing, and were impressed with the shine to his coat and the dapples that seem to be multiplying by the day. He wolfed down mouthfuls of grass, unfazed by the automobiles or sudden sounds and movements from the other side of the Longfield Avenue fence. He is carrying a good deal of flesh, there isn't a rib showing, and his muscles look ready to explode. He was introduced to the Churchill starting gate crew and the paddock this morning, and tomorrow goes back to his 5:45 a.m. work schedule, so we won't be seeing much of him in the mornings from now on.
He really hasn't been able to do much running in his last two starts, and therefore is still pretty fresh and looking to get it on. Dallas Stewart had originally planned on working him only once between the Blue Grass and the Derby, but decided to let him stretch his legs a little on Monday with an easy half-mile breeze that looked more like an open-gallop. In short, Dollar Bill looks like a happy horse, and if he continues to do this well from now on, all signs point to him running a huge race on Derby Day.Thunder over Louisville?
If you like aggressive gallopers who are looking for some serious action in the mornings, then Thunder Blitz
is the horse you'll want to consider as your longshot special. This feisty son of Holy Bull is giving his exercise rider Keith Ricks quite a workout every day. Ricks has been giving him long gallops to build up his stamina, and by the time he gets back, it's time to reach for the Ben Gay. This morning, he took Ricks for quite a ride, getting his head down and motoring along at a very strong clip. When it was time to slow him down, Ricks was standing straight up in the saddle. The last time we saw a horse gallop this aggressively and enthusiastically for a classic it was Red Bullet before last year's Preakness, and Ricks was the passenger on that colt as well.
Everything Thunder Blitz does, he does aggressively, whether it's grazing or ripping his hay off the rack . No one really knows much about this colt, other than he is improving very quickly. He didn't beat much in the Flamingo, but he was impressive, drawing off with ease. He'll no doubt be a big price, and could surprise a lot of people if he runs the way he trains.Morning express
The final longshot who has been looking very impressive in the morning is Express Tour
, who was back on the track this morning for a spirited gallop after Monday's six-furlong work. Although he never changed leads in his work, and looked like he was cruising with those big long strides, he still drilled six furlongs in a sharp 1:12 1/5. Let's just say that's not your typical Godolphin workout. If you think Point Given is a giant, you have to take a look at this mountain of a horse, who stands 17.2 hands and is quite a presence out there. He did have a slight foot problem after arriving from Dubai, which caused him to miss a few days of training, but he's sure made up for lost time. This morning, he turned in a very strong gallop, and there is no doubt he has taken to the track.
It's hard to know what to make of him in the Derby. He's had only one start this year, getting a sensational Thoro-Graph figure, and his pedigree is pretty obscure from the standpoint of major influences. But when you talk to anyone who was around him last year at Calder, they all say he's a freak. He'll have to be to win off one start, but the more you watch this colt, the more you start thinking: maybe, just maybe, they're right.Other news
-- Dave Hofmans arrived in Louisville Tuesday night, and was at the barn early Wednesday to decide whether or not to work Millennium Wind today. He decided to watch him gallop today and work tomorrow. The Blue Grass winner's feet still are pretty raw looking, but it does not seem to affect him in any way on the racetrack. Once again, he had a very solid gallop and was striding out beautifully.
-- A P Valentine
was back on the track this morning after Monday's sharp :59 3/5 work and was feeling good in his gallop, giving a few playful jumps after coming out of the turn, something trainer Nick Zito recalls Go for Gin doing at Churchill before his victory in 1994. The son of A.P. Indy had his head down into the bit and his neck arched, indicating he was really into his gallop. Zito said the colt will have another fast work, possibly faster than the last one, early next week. He did no running in the Blue Grass and Zito wants to make sure he's plenty sharp for the Derby.
-- Point Given and Congaree both walked the shed this morning, and Baffert said tomorrow will be the day they'll have to watch Point Given, who has thrown his share of riders when he's feeling a little too good. And Baffert assures he will be feeling good after his day off.
-- After Jamaican Rum's
1:03 3/5 work yesterday, in which he lost his action turning for home, trainer Jim Cassidy decided to gallop him today, being he'll be away on Thursday. He was happy with his decision, as Jamaican Rum was much more professional and seemed to handle the track much better this time.
-- Jerry Bailey turned down an offer to ride Songandaprayer
in order to ride Maryland-based Talk is Money
, with the stipulation that should a major contender become available, he will jump ship to ride that horse.
, who is scheduled to work Friday, was not on the track this morning, walking the shed instead.
-- In addition to Millennium Wind, Songandaprayer, who still is without a rider, also will be on the work tab tomorrow.