Updated on 04/27/2012 1:54PM

2012 Kentucky Derby field coming into focus

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Barbara D. Livingston
Isn’t He Clever works a half-mile in 51.60 seconds on Monday at Churchill Downs.

With the likely field for the 138th Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs starting to come into sharper focus, five horses with Derby aspirations worked Monday morning at Churchill Downs, and a surprise Derby starter worked at Calder in advance of his van trip to Kentucky later this week.

Daddy Nose Best, Mark Valeski, and Sabercat – who are certain starters in the Derby – and Isn’t He Clever and Optimizer, who are currently on the bubble in terms of graded earnings, all worked Monday at Churchill Downs, while in Florida, Trinniberg also worked.

Trinniberg – who was timed in 1:02.40 for five furlongs – was added to the Derby field over the weekend, and his addition changes both the complexion of the race, because of his keen early speed, and the potential lineup. He is among the top 20 horses in terms of graded earnings, so his presence knocks those below him down a peg.

A maximum of 20 horses can run in the Derby. If more than 20 horses enter the race on May 2, the 20 who get in are those with the most earnings in graded stakes who also were nominated to the Triple Crown in either January or March. Hero of Order, though 10th on the earnings list, was not nominated, so he essentially goes to the back of the line. He also must be supplemented for $200,000. Also, for the first time this year, there will be as many as four also-eligibles named at entry time, and preference for those horses also is given to those who are nominated to the Triple Crown.

So, as of Monday, Isn’t He Clever essentially was No. 21, with Optimizer right behind him. Both worked, but only one is certain to try and get into the Derby.

Steve Asmussen, who over the weekend took over as the trainer of Isn’t He Clever, on Monday said that even if Isn’t He Clever works his way into the top 20, he’s not certain to be entered or run. Isn’t He Clever worked a half-mile in 51.60 seconds on Monday.

“For now, I’d say the Preakness or the Woody Stephens would be far more likely,” said Asmussen, who said he needed to speak to owner J. Kirk Robison before making a definitive plan.

“The decision to come to us had to do more with opportunities down the road, not necessarily to run in the Derby,” Asmussen said. “At the time that decision was made, however, he was 23rd or 24th on the graded earnings list, so the complexion has changed.”

Asmussen also worked Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat. Daddy Nose Best was timed by Daily Racing Form in 1:13.70 for six furlongs, while DRF gave Sabercat a clocking of 1:02.62 for five furlongs. Both will work again next Monday, Asmussen said.

Optimizer worked a half-mile in 48.82 seconds, while Mark Valeski went five furlongs in 59.63 seconds.

“As of today, I couldn’t be happier,” said Larry Jones, who trains Mark Valeski. “Bringing him back for his last work next Monday would be ideal.”

Ramon Dominguez on Monday committed to Hansen for the Kentucky Derby, choosing him over Alpha. Also, trainer Todd Pletcher said that Rafael Bejarano would ride El Padrino.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch