05/01/2011 1:30PM

Add Comma to the Top to list of serious Kentucky Derby contenders

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Benoit & Associates
Comma to the Top will have a new rider, Patrick Valenzuela, for the Kentucky Derby.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Comma to the Top’s function in the Kentucky Derby is hereby expanded beyond his primary role as pacesetter. The  California-based Comma to the Top now commands attention as a legitimate candidate to win the race.

Comma to the Top had his final Derby workout on a warm, sunny Sunday morning at Hollywood Park. He went five furlongs in 1:00.40, after which trainer Peter Miller and Patrick Valenzuela exchanged high-fives.

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“Perfect?” Miller asked Valenzuela.

“Perfect,” Valenzuela replied.

It was 8:05 a.m. when Valenzuela and Comma to the Top broke off at the five-furlong pole, two lengths behind Miller-trained maiden Gut Shot Straight. Comma to the Top, wearing his customary blinkers, cruised outside his workmate into the turn, lengthened his stride in the lane, and drew away while Valenzuela sat chilly.

Miller timed Comma to the Top two-fifths faster than the official clocking. Either way, it was an impressive work and an improvement over his most recent April drill without company. That day, Comma to the Top went five furlongs in 1:02.40, breezing. He was a faster, better horse Sunday while working in company.

“When I worked him last week, by himself, he was a much different horse,” Valenzuela said. “He was very lackadaisical. When he had company next to him [Sunday], he was in the bit all the way.”

Beyond the fact Sunday was the final pre-Derby drill for Comma to the Top, who ships to Kentucky on Tuesday, it carried additional significance because it determined whether or not his equipment would be altered.

Because Comma to the Top has had a tendency to drift out in races, Miller considered closing the outside hole on his blinkers.

“He’s been running without the outside hole covered, and we talked about covering the outside,” Miller said.

When he worked April 25, Miller covered the outside. “We tested him, and he went great,” Miller said. “This time [Sunday], we didn’t cover it. I’ve never run him without the hole, so we thought maybe we’d better leave it the way it’s been.”

Valenzuela said Comma to the Top was “very controllable” in the workout. Comma to the Top will wear standard blinkers in the Derby. Although he worked from slightly off the pace Sunday, there is not likely to be a change in his front-running strategy.

“We’ll probably be on the lead, but just in case, it’s good to have that [option of rating] in your back pocket,” Miller said.

Runner-up April 9 in the Santa Anita Derby in his most recent start, Comma to the Top enters the Kentucky Derby with 6 wins and $778,600 from 13 starts. Corey Nakatani rode Comma to the Top his last six races, but when he opted to ride Arkansas Derby runner-up Nehro, Miller tabbed Valenzuela.

Valenzuela will be riding Comma to the Top for the first time in the Derby.

"My horse is coming the right way," Miller said. "He's coming into this race better than he went into his last race."