Haskin's Derby Report: Monday Madness

Haskin's Derby Report: Monday Madness
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Pioneerof the Nile put in a strong workout April 27 at Churchill Downs.
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There’s lots to catch up on, with several works of interest over the weekend and a star-studded array of works this morning, which unfortunately were played out against a horrific backdrop, in which a riderless horse running at full speed down the stretch slammed into another horse by the outside rail before hundreds of mortified fans and a large gathering of horsemen.

 

It briefly took everyone’s minds off works and times and fractions, which for a brief while seemed insignificant. Working at the time of the accident were Chocolate Candy and Join in the Dance, who both were able to continue with their works. It also occurred right after Pioneerof the Nile, Friesan Fire  , Win Willy, and Flying Private worked. Several of the Derby horses had been standing together in the exact same spot where the accident happened.

 

As for the works, all the times and fractions have been reported, and there are previous works to discuss as well, so I’ll concentrate on some of the highlights.

 

But first off, I did see the “wow” Derby work I always hope to see. Unfortunately it didn’t come from a Derby horse. Let’s just say that Rachel Alexandra is a beast, and the boys should be happy they don’t have to contend with her after seeing her spectacular half-mile work in :46 1/5, out in :58 2/5 and finishing up six panels in 1:10 4/5 as if it were nothing. She was having a ball out there tossing her ears around and reaching out with those enormous strides. Oh, well, at least the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) will be something to see.

 

Getting back to the Derby works, Pioneerof the Nile beat everyone on the track to steer clear of traffic, and he had the whole track to himself before the onslaught. It’s difficult to state definitively that a horse will make a successful transition from synthetic to dirt, especially in the Derby, but if anyone has concerns about Pioneerof the Nile, it is safe to say that there is a good possibility he will actually be better on dirt than synthetic. Like Rachel Alexandra, you had to love the extension in his stride and the way he built up momentum coming through the final furlong. He was just floating over the ground and galloped like very strong, with an additional eighth in :13 1/5. This was not one of your typical Bob Baffert works that’s going to blow your mind time-wise or with dazzling :11 and change eighths. But from a visual standpoint his 1:01 five panels was enough to give you confidence.

 

The most perplexing work of the morning was Friesan Fire, who came down the stretch on a fairly loose rein and, after seeing Pioneerof the Nile’s time, you would have though this horse had worked in 1:01 and change. When it was learned he had worked in :57 4/5 it came as quite a shock. This kept the colt on pretty much the same work pattern as Hard Spun, who worked in :57 3/5 following a mile drill over the Polytrack at Keeneland. His gallop out in 1:16 1/5 was pedestrian to say the least, but trainer Larry Jones said the colt has had a tendency while at Churchill to start gawking at the tents and boxes going into the clubhouse turn. It appears obvious from his muscle tone, especially on his hind quarters, that after a seven-week layoff the son of A.P. Indy is itching to get back into the fray.

 

Sadly, I did not see Chocolate Candy’s five-furlong work because I had to turn away as he came down the stretch and approached the finish line. No work was worth having to look at that carnage. What I can say is that since I arrived on Friday morning this horse’s coat has blossomed, and more dapples are appearing each day, which is what you always want to see. After cooling out from his :59 2/5 drill his coat was resplendent. He is such an easy-going horse and takes everything in stride. Yesterday after returning from his gallop he stopped on the track near the gap, reached under the railing, and began eating grass. He is a long-bodied colt and well proportioned, and like Pioneerof the Nile, he should make the transition to dirt just fine.

 

In other works this morning, Flying Private and Win Willy, my two 40-1 shots who I give a decent chance to hit the board, both had good works. Flying Private worked a half in company in :47 2/5, drawing clear from his workmate in the final sixteenth. He is a powerfully built colt who has been aggressive in his gallops and is coming up to the Derby the right way. Win Willy also has made a good appearance on the track, and in today’s five-furlong work in 1:01 2/5 he was under no urging to come home his final quarter in :23 3/5. His gallop-out was timed in :14 1/5, which is nothing to write home about, but the final quarter of the work trumps the gallop-out by far.

 

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If there is going to be a buzz horse who likely will be bet down, it could very well be Desert Party  , who is doing as well as any Derby horse and seems to be catching everyone’s eye. This colt has been pretty much perfect in everything he does. He looks great, he goes about his business as if he’s done this a hundred times already, and is handling everything like the consummate pro. His work on Saturday was an adventure unto itself. Working by himself, he immediately picked up unscheduled company and the pair headed around the far turn looking like Affirmed and Alydar. Approaching the top of the stretch, Desert Party, who seemed to relish the competition, was through humoring his intruder and went into combat mode, floating the other horse about five-wide before bidding him a rude farewell. Down the stretch, about 12 to 15 lengths ahead of him, was West Side Bernie finishing up his half-mile work in :48. Desert Party seemed to hone in on him and after completing his five panels in a sprightly :59 3/5, he actually caught up to him at the seven-eighths pole as they galloped out. He kept going, pulling about five lengths clear of West Side Bernie. He finally was pulled up past the five-furlong pole after also setting his sights on a galloping Pioneerof the Nile.

 

He is another horse with a great disposition who doesn’t get rattled by anything. At this point, there is a great temptation to pick this horse if he’s a decent price. He looks that good.

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And you sure can’t fault his stablemate Regal Ransom  , who likely will set a decent pace, as he did in his prior three starts this year in Dubai. He looks great on the speed sheets and he will be a strong presence. Whoever makes an early move at this horse, as well as the speedy Join in the Dance, had better make sure they time it right because they’ll be in a for a fight. Regal Ransom worked at 6 o’clock under the cover of darkness Saturday and turned in a bullet in :59 1/5 drill  (the track was at its fastest at this time), while switching back to his left lead inside the final sixteenth.

 

There is no doubt this will be the Godolphin blue’s best chance in the Run for the Roses.

 

Back Draft

 

Another work that should be mentioned was Hold Me Back  ’s five-furlong drill in 1:01 3/5 Sunday. The time isn’t going to leave your jaw dropping, but watching him dispose of his workmate inside the eighth pole and then burst clear at the end under Kent Desormeaux made this a special work. He went from a length of two in front to about seven lengths in front in the blink of an eye approaching the wire. This colt’s stride is something to behold as he gobbles up ground so quickly and effortlessly. He ran his final quarter in :24 2/5, leveling off only at the end and continued strong past the wire, galloping out another eighth in :13 1/5. Again, the dirt should not be an issue if you want to go by this work, as he seemed to handle the track extremely well.

 

I also was impressed with Square Eddie’s gallop-out, as he worked a half-mile past the wire in :50, also on Sunday. He really leveled off around the clubhouse turn and wanted to do much more.

 

We’ll have to try to decipher this mélange of works and see if we can come up with a couple of strong horses and a few huge bombs to play with. Right now, judging on what I’ve seen over the course of four days, Desert Party is one horse who should not be ignored.

 

A few more thoughts

 

-- Most people are talking about Papa Clem  ’s seven-furlong work, in which he pretty much staggered home with a final furlong in :13 4/5. Trainer Gary Stute said the colt got tired. Watching the work, it appears as if the rider misjudged the finish line, rising up off the saddle right at the sixteenth pole and then giving the colt a couple of “attaboy” slaps on the neck. But most feel the horse was so tired, the rider simply ended the work at the sixteenth pole, making it a mercy shutdown. We saw the same thing with Stute’s uncle Warren’s Derby horse Greeley’s Galaxy, who got so tired in his mile work it looked as if the rider was about to fall off him from exhaustion. I would prefer to think of this as a rider’s error, which is a much better excuse for the horse’s slow work and finish. I’m not done delving into this work quite yet, and will try to have Stute clear it up for sure.

 

-- General Quarters   makes a great appearance in his stall, and he has that eye you look for. He seems to be a very intelligent horse. He’s also a powerful, long-striding horse. Anyone who watches him gallop must stick around for his second tour of the track, as is it only then that he loosens up and strides out well. Today he galloped on his left lead down the stretch and looked much better the second time around. I still firmly believe this is a far better horse than most people think.

 

-- I Want Revenge   will work Tuesday, and Dunkirk   arrives from Florida in the early afternoon. That is one arrival I eagerly anticipate.

 

Without a doubt this is the most difficult Derby I have ever tried to figure out.

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