Updated on 09/17/2011 10:21AM

Baffert: A team approach to Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Three times in the last six years, Bob Baffert has trained the winner of the Kentucky Derby. The horses have varied widely, ranging from the powerful Silver Charm to the wiry Real Quiet to the mercurial War Emblem, but the way in which Baffert has prepared them for the race has been decidedly similar.

Baffert prefers to give his horses a strong, lengthy workout about 10 days before the race, then come back with a sharper, shorter drill about five days out. Many times Baffert has had two horses in the Derby. Before this year, though, he had never worked his Derby contenders together.

That changed Wednesday, on a chilly, clear morning at Churchill Downs. Baffert decided to work his two runners, Indian Express and Kafwain, in tandem for their penultimate drills because of the needs of each colt. Indian Express usually needs a workmate to do his best, and Kafwain, who had not worked since taking ill following the Santa Anita Derby, needed a testing drill in an attempt to bring him back to peak fitness.

The results were mixed. Indian Express glided along with exercise rider Dana Barnes, breezing comfortably throughout the seven furlongs. Kafwain, however, was under urging from jockey Sal Gonzalez Jr., and never could get past Indian Express.

Both colts broke off at the seven-furlong pole, and apparently only the last six furlongs were timed by clockers at Churchill Downs. Kafwain broke off behind Indian Express and closed some ground, so he was clocked for six furlongs by Churchill Downs with a faster time, 1:13.20 to 1:13.40 for Indian Express. Daily Racing Form clocked Kafwain in 1:26 and Indian Express in 1:26.27, both for seven furlongs.

The only other Derby probable who worked Wednesday at Churchill was Ten Most Wanted, the Illinois Derby winner, who was timed in 1:25.60 for a seven-furlong workout under jockey Pat Day. Ten Most Wanted started his work just as the Baffert pair was finishing. All three colts worked after the mid-morning renovation break.

At Calder, Supah Blitz worked six furlongs in 1:13.

Indian Express has made just four starts but comes off the best effort of his career, a second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.

"He never wins a work. He usually doesn't put out, that horse," Baffert said. "He kept on going and didn't get tired."

Baffert said Kafwain, third in the Santa Anita Derby in his last start, should be in better condition following Wednesday's work. He said Kafwain missed nine days of training time following the Santa Anita Derby.

"I think he got caught up today. I'm glad I worked them together," Baffert said. "He got a lot out of it. Kafwain's a tough, tough dude. Right when you think he's done, he re-rallies."

Baffert said both Indian Express and Kafwain would work once more, either Monday or Tuesday. "It depends on the weather," Baffert said.

Baffert added that another colt, Senor Swinger - who worked on turf Tuesday - was more likely to run in the May 2 Crown Royal American Turf than the next day's Derby. But he said he was "keeping our options open."

"He's done well here. He's bi-surface," Baffert said.

Asked who would ride Senor Swinger if he opts for the Derby, Baffert chuckled and said, "I guess whoever's left."

Ten Most Wanted, who is gathering increasing support and could very well be the Derby's second choice behind Empire Maker, broke off at the six-furlong pole and continued out a furlong past the wire under Day. He was eager to begin and was tossing his head before the work began.

"He was enthusiastic. He was saying, 'C'mon, let's do it, let's do it,' " Day said. "He settled into the work quickly and nicely. His ears were up the whole work."

"That was a nice work. The main thing is, Pat's happy," said Wally Dollase, who trains Ten Most Wanted. "He's a lot of horse. After the work, he walked me. I didn't walk him. That's the kind of energy level he has."

Dollase said Ten Most Wanted would work a half-mile next week, "three or four days before the race."

The potential Derby field stands at 19 with the addition of Evolving Tactics, an Irish colt trained by Dermot Weld, who won for the first time in three starts Monday at Cork. Weld said on Wednesday he had not committed to the race and would not make a decision until Thursday.

Confirmed for the Derby are Atswhatimtalknbout (David Flores the rider), Brancusi (Tony Farina), Buddy Gil (Gary Stevens), Empire Maker (Jerry Bailey), Funny Cide (Jose Santos), Indian Express (Tyler Baze), Kafwain (Patrick Valenzuela), Offlee Wild (Robby Albarado), Outta Here (Kent Desormeaux), Peace Rules (Edgar Prado), Scrimshaw (undecided), Sir Cherokee (Terry Thompson), Supah Blitz (Rosemary Homeister Jr.), and Ten Most Wanted (Day).

D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Scrimshaw, said he would select a rider by Friday. "I've got eight to 10 guys that called me. There's a large pool of riders out there," Lukas said. He said Mike Smith was not being considered.

Considered possible for the Derby are Evolving Tactics (undecided), Eye of the Tiger (undecided), Lone Star Sky (Calvin Borel), Senor Swinger (undecided), and Ten Cents a Shine (undecided).

Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer of Eye of the Tiger, said that the May 17 Preakness Stakes was a more likely next start for Eye of the Tiger but that a final decision would not be reached until after Eye of the Tiger works at Churchill Monday. "The tentative plan is to run in the Preakness, but he's still possible for the Derby," Hollendorfer said. "It depends on what happens Derby Week. We could change our mind."

Entries for the Derby are due, and post positions will be drawn, Wednesday. The field is limited to 20 entries. If more than 20 horses are entered, the field is determined by earnings in graded stakes races. It does not appear as though the earnings rule will need to be invoked.

Twelve of the 19 Derby runners are at Churchill Downs. Brancusi is training at Keeneland. He will be sent to Churchill for a workout Saturday, then return to Keeneland. Evolving Tactics is still in Ireland; if he travels, it would not be until this weekend. Eye of the Tiger has been at Keeneland since last weekend's Coolmore Lexington Stakes but will be sent by van to Churchill on Saturday. Funny Cide is in New York and will not arrive until Wednesday. Outta Here was scheduled to work at Hollywood Park Thursday and then fly here Sunday. Sir Cherokee is based at the nearby Trackside training facility but was scheduled to gallop at Churchill Thursday. Supah Blitz was expected to arrive Friday after an overnight van ride from Florida.

- additional reporting by Alan Shuback and Mike Welsch.