Steve Haskin's Derby Report (4/22): Welcome to Louisville

The state of confusion that has been so prevalent over the past several months has now manifested itself in the form of real live horses. No longer are we dealing with mere numbers, such as times, speed figures, and dosage numbers. The source of all the confusion is now right before our very eyes and in the flesh. From this point on, it's about the horse. The majority of the horses we are seeing for the first time, so we were able to form some initial impressions. We'll also be going over Monday's five workers – Private Emblem, Windward Passage, Easy Grades, Lusty Latin, and Flying Dash.

Heavy downpours on Sunday night had turned the track sloppy, but sunny skies and a cold, biting wind Monday morning dried the track out considerably, and it looked bone dry on the surface.

None of Monday's works revealed too much, as they were all easy breezes, although Flying Dash's lumbering work convinced trainer Neil Drysdale that the colt should remain on the grass.

The work that really stood out was Perfect Drift's sharp move at the Churchill Training Center on Friday, which we watched on tape. He was really motoring in the final furlong, accelerating away from his workmate Slew Creek with a final eighth in :11 2/5 and galloping out very strongly. We paid him a visit on Sunday and just like everything about this horse.

Private Emblem was the first out, just after 6:30. With jockey Donnie Meche aboard, the son of Our Emblem just basically loped along at an easy clip, with Meche high in the saddle, and never moving his hands in the slightest. As he hit the wire, he did jump over onto his left lead. While Private Emblem was clocked in :51 1/5, his stablemate, Windward Passage, had an almost identical work under Meche, timed in :50, immediately afterward. The only noticeable difference in the two horses visually is that Windward Passage covers more ground. He was reaching out nicely around the turn, with his head held perfectly straight and level. It's obvious that he is more inclined to relish a distance of ground.

Trainer Steve Asmussen was refreshingly candid after the work when he said Private Emblem has been a bit flat since the Arkansas Derby, and also worked a bit flat. But he says he expects a much sharper work next time, now that he's gotten a feel of the track. Windward Passage, on the other hand, already has a victory at Churchill Downs, and was more at home over the surface.

It's difficult to make any conclusions from Easy Grades' work, other than he'll have to be sharper and more focused next time. Throughout the work, under Jorge Chavez, he kept throwing his ears around, suggesting he might have been more interested in checking out his new surroundings. Equipped with a figure-8 bridle, the son of Honor Grades broke off slowly from the seven-eighths pole, then put in fractions of :25, :38 2/5, :52 4/5, and 1:17 2/5. He did stay fairly close to the rail and closed his final eighth in :12 flat to get the seven furlongs in 1:29 2/5. But after 1:17 2/5, he should have closed that fast. Trainer Ted West said afterward he was just looking for an easy move, and that's basically what he got. But as we said, we'd like to see him extend himself more next time, and hit the ground with more authority, to show he can handle this track.

Lusty Latin, like Easy Grades, went out after the break, and turned in a solid half-mile breeze in :49 1/5 with jockey Glenn Corbett in the saddle. The gray son of El Prado is a long-striding colt who runs with his ears up. He went along pretty easily and didn't seem to have an problems handing the track.

Flying Dash hardly looked like a Derby horse, or a horse who handled the track, as he bobbled coming into the stretch, and had to be woken up with a crack of the whip on the shoulder. He completed the 6 furlongs in 1:15 1/5. Drysdale wisely said afterward that he will recommend to owner Fusao Sekiguchi that the colt remain on the grass.

Of the Derby horses we've seen so far, the one who has made the biggest impression is Essence of Dubai. He is a handsome colt, beautifully proportioned, with an attractive head. The first couple of mornings, he was on toes, and galloped very smoothly. This morning, however, the temperatures plummeted, and after spending the winter in Dubai, it was not surprising that he acted as if he had just gulped down a triple espresso. He continuously bucked and kicked, then after galloping strongly, assistant trainer Tom Albertrani decided to let him leave the track on his own, while Albertrani escorted Tempera, who was about a sixteenth of a mile behind. As Essence of Dubai arrived at the gap, he proceeded to do a series of wheelies, spinning around like a circus horse, before resorting to additional bucks and kicks. He finally exited the track bouncing along on his toes.

This is a happy horse who is really feeling good out on the track. We're really looking forward to seeing him work, either on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

The one horse who has surprised us the most from a physical standpoint is Came Home, who is much more muscled through the shoulders and hindquarters than we had realized. The son of Gone West has galloped as aggressively as anyone, and has exercise rider Sal Gonzalez (trainer Paco Gonzalez' brother) amazed at his strength. Even just sitting on him the first day, getting ready to jog, he said he could feel the power. In his two gallops at Churchill Downs, he had Gonzalez' pulling hard to try to take hold of him. And he does everything with ears up, as if he's enjoying himself. This morning, he was really on the muscle in his gallop, tossing his head around, as if he wanted to do a lot more than he was allowed to. Paco Gonzalez was at the track for the first time this morning, and said he's never seen him this aggressive. Came Home will work six furlongs on Tuesday, with Chris McCarron coming in to ride, and that should be interesting.

If you're looking for a pure powerhouse in the Derby, look no farther than Medaglia d'Oro, a long-bodied, long-striding brick house of a horse who really fills the eye. His gallops have been strong, and if any horse can overcome having only four starts in his career it is this horse. The son of El Prado is scheduled to work on Wednesday.

As for some of the others, Harlan's Holiday sounds like a locomotive galloping, but his gallops have been smooth, and he's been professional in everything he does, as always. He is scheduled to work on Wednesday, War Emblem has a bit of an ornery streak in him, and Bob Baffert had him out Monday morning with a lip cord, similar to the one he used on Point Given. War Emblem is almost black, long and sleek, and has a beautiful way of moving. There's no telling how far this colt can go if left alone on the lead. He also will work on Wednesday.

Saarland, who worked a sharp half in :47 1/5 Monday, and Blue Burner, who breezed 5 furlongs in 1:02 4/5, are scheduled to ship to Kentucky on Thursday, while Buddha is expected to arrive next Monday. Bill Mott said Corey Nakatani will ride Blue Burner in the Derby.

If there is a better-looking 3-year-old around than Proud Citizen, we haven't seen him. We saw the son of Gone West being saddled for the Lexington Stakes, and couldn't take our eyes off him. Another horse we were quite taken with in the looks department is Wild Horses, who has the look of a real racehorse. This is an improving colt, who ran huge in the Arkansas Derby, and if he progresses at Churchill, he could be an interesting longshot possibility.

Nick Zito will ship Lexington runner-up Crimson Hero to Churchill Downs this week. The son of Capote would need several defections to make it into the field. One of those ahead of him, Sunday Break, still needs two horses to come out.

Most Popular Stories