04/17/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown has his work in subdued setting

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BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Send the Kentucky Derby favorite out for an important work just 15 days before the big event, and one would expect to encounter a horde of media types and photographers as well as a large gathering of star-gazing racing fans cramming the rail, hoping to get a good look at the big horse as he went through his paces.

But such was not the case when the undefeated Big Brown walked onto an almost-deserted racetrack to work five furlongs before fewer than a handful of observers shortly after daybreak at the Palm Meadows training center on Friday morning.

Working for the second time since his convincing victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 29, Big Brown turned in almost a carbon copy of his previous drill here just six days earlier. With exercise rider Michelle Nevin aboard, Big Brown galloped through the stretch and around the turn, took a short run to the five-furlong pole, then settled into an even but powerful stride while hugging the inner fence every step of the way.

Posting fractions nearly identical to his previous work on Saturday, Big Brown went in 12:39 seconds, 24.72, 36.79, and 48.58 before completing five furlongs in 1:00.75, according to Daily Racing Form. The final time was .23 of a second slower than Big Brown's previous work, although his gallop-out clocking of 1:14.31 for six furlongs was a bit faster than last weekend's.

"It was beautiful," trainer Rick Dutrow exclaimed after Big Brown had finished cooling out back at the barn. "Why not do the same thing each time? He doesn't have to do any more than that. Everything couldn't be better. He's really good right now."

Dutrow has altered Big Brown's original training itinerary leading up to the May 3 Derby. Originally the colt's final Florida work was to have come at Palm Meadows on April 28, just hours before he is scheduled to board a flight for Louisville. Instead, Dutrow has penciled that breeze in four days earlier, a change that will allow him to give Big Brown a three-furlong blowout over the Churchill Downs strip on Thursday of Derby week.

"We've been lucky with the weather here so far, and it's turned out to be a good decision to stay in Florida and train over a racetrack he's handled so well this winter," said Dutrow. "Although right now he's going so good and his feet have cooled out so nicely, I wouldn't be afraid to train him over any racetrack if we had to."

The usually flamboyant Dutrow, who enjoyed one of the best days of his career when he won a pair of races on the Dubai World Cup card with Benny the Bull and Diamond Stripes to go along with Big Brown's victory in the Florida Derby, is attempting to stay as low-key as possible in the weeks leading up to the Derby.

"I'm really excited going into a race like this with a horse that is this good," said Dutrow, who will be saddling his first Kentucky Derby starter. "But I'm trying not to get too excited. And I'm extremely confident knowing we're going into the Derby with the best horse, although I'm also trying not to sound too confident or too cocky."

Anak Nakal works, War Pass doesn't

Anak Nakal, who was fifth in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in his last start, on Friday had his first work since that race, a half-mile breeze in 49.40 seconds at Churchill Downs under exercise rider Heather Stark.

"It was just an easy half," Zito said. "He'll come back and do more next week."

Anak Nakal is one of three Derby prospects trained by Zito, who also has War Pass, the Wood runner-up and last year's champion

2-year-old male, and Cool Coal Man, who finished ninth in last week's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland after winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream. All three are at Churchill Downs.

Although War Pass and Anak Nakal are exiting the same race, War Pass has had a lighter schedule since the Wood and has yet to work. Zito earlier in the week said the Wood had been "tough" on War Pass.

"He needs to work," Zito said Friday. "We've got to come with something in the next couple of days."

War Pass is atop the graded-stakes earnings list with $1.47 million.

Cool Coal Man will have just one workout between the Blue Grass and the Derby, which Zito said would be on Thursday, nine days before the Derby.

Zito was back in Louisville Friday morning after spending Thursday in western Kentucky at the funeral for his friend Cliff Guilliams, the Equibase chart-caller who died unexpectedly last weekend. Zito said that the saddle towel worn by The Cliff's Edge - who was named for Guilliams - in the 2004 Kentucky Derby was placed in the casket with Guilliams.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman