It sounds as if this could be the last nice morning we get in a while, and fortunately, most of the Derby works have been completed. As typical of Derby works, the good ones drew waves of excitement, while others were overblown as bad works. And some were, well, just works.
What separates Derby works from your typical works is that most people have not seen these horses work before and are unfamiliar with their habits and work patterns. Therefore, unless a work is noticeably poor and the horse makes glaring errors, it is best not to make too much of them. Once in a while, you’ll see an exceptional work, such as Smarty Jones or Barbaro or Animal Kingdom that get you excited and telegraph an equally exceptional performance on Derby day. And a really bad work that is out of character for the horse can steer you away from him. But in most cases, a work is just a work and another step toward getting to the starting gate.
For example, Vicar’s in Trouble’s work April 26 was frowned upon by many as being too slow, and also the colt wasn’t striding out well. But he generally is a quick, short-striding horse who has been down this road before. Last month, he turned in a sharp five-furlong drill in 1:00 3/5 at Gulfstream, but a week later worked a slow five panels in 1:03 3/5. Six days later, he easily won the Louisiana Derby. On April 12, he turned in a solid half-mile breeze in :48 1/5 at the Trackside training center. But yesterday he followed it up with a slow five furlongs in 1:03 4/5. Did he not like the track or was he following virtually the same pattern he did leading up to the Louisiana Derby? As I said, it’s best not to make too much of it unless it was out of character for the horse.
The morning of April 27 the highlight was Todd Pletcher’s four Derby horses working in pairs. We also had works from Ride On Curlin, Wildcat Red, and Chitu. Well, actually, one of the highlights that had everyone in awe was the outstanding work turned in by Oaks favorite Untapable, who showed off her amazing stride.
When it was all over, we had people raving about several of the works and frowning upon others.
The most eye-catching sight was Intense Holiday, striding out beautifully, leaving workmate We Miss Artie several lengths behind and quickly opening up by 15 lengths on the gallop-out. Considering it was only a half-mile work, was Intense Holiday’s work really that good or did We Miss Artie make him look that good? Well, considering Intense Holiday “galloped” out another eighth in :12 1/5, it’s pretty obvious he made We Miss Artie look worse than he really was. The latter worked in :49 1/5 and galloped out another eighth in a solid :13 1/5, so by itself this was a decent work. But it didn’t look like it compared with Intense Holiday.
Although it was an excellent work for Intense Holiday, and although it is not going determine whether he’s going to win the Derby, it does give his backers and connections confidence that he’s heading in the right direction and coming up to the race sharp and in the best shape possible. And if indeed his chiropractic work has helped alleviate his crossfiring tendencies, he is going to be extremely dangerous.
As for Danza, he had a much more formidable workmate in the hard-nosed Vinceremos, and by easing clear by 1 1/2 lengths at the wire, it was very impressive in its own right. One trait you have to love in this colt is his ability to save another gear for the end if you need to use it. He really levels off beautifully in that final sixteenth, as he demonstrated in the Arkansas Derby. And he can motor home. He closed in :12 1/5 in the Arkansas Derby and shaded :24 in Sunday’s work. And remember, Vinceremos has shown in his races how tough he is to pass. He likes coming back at his opponents, and you could see him trying to come back at Danza in the gallop-out, which was negotiated by both horses in :13 flat, with Danza pulling up six furlongs in 1:16.
Following Ride On Curlin’s work, most of the talk was about the slow time of 1:29 for seven furlongs, following a half in :51 3/5 and three-quarters in 1:16. This was more than two seconds slower than his two seven-furlong works at Oaklawn. This colt seemingly has finally reverted back to his come-from-behind style. We all saw his speed when he won a six-furlong allowance race this year over a deep, wet track and when he battled on the lead the entire way in the Rebel Stakes. Coming from far off the pace, as he likely will in the Derby, he doesn’t need to be tested for speed, and he did go from the half to the three-quarters in his work in :24 2/5. Another positive from the work was the way he cornered on the gallop out, hugging the rail. Horses who are tired would have a tendency to take that turn wide and not drop in that close to the rail, which usually requires a degree of athleticism.
And remember, when the track is slow as it was Sunday, the farther you go the more laboring the track becomes. There’s a big difference between a half-mile work and a seven-eighths work. Even with Danza, although he was caught pulling up in 1:16, you can see how much he slowed down the farther he went. Even Untapable, as impressive as she looked, only worked in :48 3/5. Of the 59 works at a half-mile, only one horse broke :48.
And many of the top works this morning were in company, while Ride On Curlin worked seven furlongs on his own.
So, the bottom line is, I wouldn’t get down on Ride On Curlin if you liked him before. Looking at the bright side, he did get fit working that far over this track. Wildcat Red, one of the fastest horses in the race, who worked :34s and :47s in Florida, worked five furlongs in 1:04 1/5, out six furlongs in 1:20 3/5 and looked like he was struggling with the track coming down the stretch. Chitu worked six furlongs in company from the gate and went in 1:13 1/5. Let’s see what happens over a wetter and faster track in the Derby.
We have two new horses on the grounds with the arrival of Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh, who both vanned down from New York. Wicked Strong looked in good health as did Uncle Sigh. The latter looked well muscled and was alert and raring to go, as he was blinkered and headed right to the track. Normally, blinkers on for the Derby would be a turn off, but this colt seems to have turned the corner with them at least in his training. I loved the way he moved in his work the other day at Belmont Park. You just have to hope those blinkers don’t jump start him the way blinkers did Palace Malice last year. But just watching this colt, he seems very easy-going and sensible, so who knows?
General a Rod, who could have a new and interesting owner by Derby day if negotiations are finalized before then, had another strong gallop at 5:45 a.m., again wearing blinkers.
On Monday, we get the long-awaited arrival of California Chrome, along with Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate.
All photos are by Steve Haskin, please ask before taking.
Hoppertunity walks the shed Saturday
Wicked Strong and Jimmy Jerkens settle in after Sunday arrival
Newly arrived Uncle Sigh is all ready to train
Hoppertunity is looking good
Pletcher trio (L-R) Intense Holiday, Vinceremos, Danza
Danza gets the better of Vinceremos
Danza looks airborne with all fours off the ground
John Velazquez sitting chilly on Intense Holiday
How far did Intense Holiday gallop out ahead of We Miss Artie?
Wildcat Red finishes his work
Ride On Curlin found another gear after the wire