As Flameaway reached the three-sixteenths pole of his final major workout for the 10-furlong journey he will be asked to travel May 5, trainer Mark Casse knew he could shelve any concern he might have had about the level of energy the son of Scat Daddy would bring to his latest fight.
While Flameaway's works are usually more solid than flashy, the chestnut colt let it be known April 28 he was feeling himself in advance of his expected start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). John Oxley's multiple graded stakes winner was on the verge of doing a little too much as he whipped through a four-furlong breeze in :47 4/5 at Churchill Downs while working outside in company with Ride a Comet.
Flameaway recorded splits of :11 3/5, :22 4/5, and :34 4/5, posted the second fastest of 84 moves at the distance, and galloped out to five furlongs in 1:02.
"He's never been much of a work horse, but since he got here, he's been training well," Casse said. "Thank goodness we had a radio on the rider because we stopped him at the three-sixteenths pole and said to slow him down, because he was going to go in :46 and change, and that's not really what I wanted. But I thought he went really well."
There may be others in the Derby field with more accomplishments and hype, but the honor of being the pound-for-pound toughest is something Flameaway has laid claim to in his nine-race career.
With wins on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces, Flameaway has shown he is sure-footed and nimble enough to handle whatever track conditions he is dealt. After he opened his 2018 campaign with wins in the Jan. 6 Kitten's Joy Stakes and Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), he posted runner-up efforts in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), with the latter effort driving home the level of grit he brings to the table.
In the Blue Grass, Flameaway took the heat up front from longshot Arawak but still made race winner and juvenile champion Good Magic have to get on his belly to get by him in the stretch. While Casse jokingly said his charge was "like the chubby kid" all last year, he stated Saturday that Flameaway's physical transformation this season has been exceptional and "more so than probably any good 2-year-old that I've ever trained.
"Usually, I think you see a little advancement from 2 to 3, but I've seen leaps and bounds with him. There may be more talented horses out there, but so much of it with the Derby is you need some luck. We could have a little luck and some of the main horses have a little bit of bad luck. ... It wouldn't shock me (if he won)."
Much of Flameaway's success in winning five of his nine starts is due to his ability to make his own luck—something that comes in handy in a 20-horse melee.
"Most of the time when horses get in trouble, it's because they don't respond to where the rider wants them," Casse said. "With this horse being so adaptable, a rider can pretty well put him wherever he wants to be. The only thing I'm going to tell (jockey) Jose (Lezcano) is, when they turn for home, I would like to be on the lead or close to it, because I want them to have to run by him."
Since he got the better of Flameaway in the Blue Grass, Good Magic has been the picture of a horse coming into a race in peak form. The Chad Brown-trained son of Curlin continued to move strongly in his Derby preparation with a solo five-furlong breeze in 1:01 1/5. He clocked splits of :12 4/5, :24 4/5, :36 3/5, and :49 2/5.
Bred and co-owned by Stonestreet Stables, along with e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, Good Magic has recaptured much of the buzz he held following his victory in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) due to his physical development and the ease at which he has been going through every routine asked of him.
"He worked great. He galloped out really well (to six furlongs) in 1:13 4/5," Brown said. "He cooled out in about 10 minutes and isn't even blowing. This is as good as he's ever worked. He came into the Breeders' Cup last year off a really good breeze and ran well. I think it's really taken all winter and spring to get him to where we see today—which is at his very best."