At the top of the stretch the morning of April 29 at Santa Anita Park, two colts with white blazes and John Shirreffs saddlecloths were side by side.
Jockey Victor Espinoza was aboard one, but it wasn't the colt he's scheduled to ride May 6 in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). Instead of working Jerry and Ann Moss' Gormley —his Derby mount—the soon-to-be Hall of Fame jockey was aboard the Mosses' Ziconic, who served as the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner's target.
"It's different, but I wanted to make sure I set up the pace for (Gormley)," Espinoza said. "Nothing crazy, but not that slow, either. Steady until he ran by me."
Other than the distance—Gormley stretched out to seven furlongs in 1:26 1/5 Saturday—the work was the same as his drill a week prior. The Malibu Moon colt started well behind his workmate, moved up in the turn, and dropped to the rail to pass on the inside in the stretch under exercise rider Francisco Alvarado.
"I thought the work was very good. I thought he worked very well," Shirreffs said. "(Alvarado) has been working him since before his last race, so we didn't want to change anything. He's been doing a great job, so there's no need to change anything. Having Victor on the pace horse was also important, because Victor has a good sense of pace and it also gave him a good chance to look at Gormley when he was alongside him."
Shirreffs said the decision to put Espinoza on Gormley's workmate was not a new idea. The trainer said he employed the same tactics during some works for 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, when he would have regular jockey Mike Smith ride her workmate. Zenyatta also is Ziconic's dam.
"I did it quite a bit with Mike Smith and Zenyatta," Shirreffs said. "The pace is important, so you need someone who will set up a nice pace."
Shirreffs also said Royal Mo—who is currently ranked 21st in the Road the Kentucky Derby standings—will join Gormley on a flight to Louisville May 1. Royal Mo worked six furlongs in 1:13 flat Saturday at Santa Anita.
"They leave early Monday. They'll get there Monday afternoon, (and) on Tuesday they'll jog or stretch their legs some way," Shirreffs said.
Fellow Southern California resident Sonneteer, a Calumet Farm homebred who is winless in 10 starts but ran second in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) to get 30 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, is now in the field of 20. Trainer Keith Desormeaux said the Midnight Lute colt departed for Churchill Downs Saturday morning.