04/27/2008 11:00PM

Clocker Report 4/27: Colonel John sizzles


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - What originally figured to be a relatively quiet morning turned into a pivotal one at Churchill Downs on Sunday. Several trainers, concerned about a forecast calling for possible overnight showers, moved their final Kentucky Derby preps up a day, including Eoin Harty, who sent out Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John for a key five-furlong drill shortly after the renovation break.

The weather was the coldest it had been all week, with temperatures barely getting out of the 40s when training began at 6 a.m. The racetrack was also the swiftest it had been in a while, with three of the six Derby workers shading 59 seconds for their five-furlong drills.

Work of the day

Colonel John (five furlongs in 57.61 seconds) - Colonel John did not give the appearance of working as rapidly as his final time indicated, always a sign of a terrific work. Breaking off at the five-furlong pole, Colonel John travelled smoothly while moving along at a fast but even pace, posting fractions of 11.57, 23.16, and 34.57 for his opening three furlongs. Colonel John fanned out a bit wide entering the stretch but changed leads efficiently, and despite bobbling momentarily near the eighth pole recovered rapidly enough to complete his final quarter in 23.10 without receiving any real encouragement from exercise rider Karine Lhuillier until nearing the wire. Colonel John's clocking was the fastest of 62 at the distance at Churchill on Sunday. Lhuillier then shook her hands ever so slightly upon passing the finish line, prompting Colonel John to gallop out six furlongs in a brilliant 1:10.99.

While the work alleviated any doubt about Colonel John's ability to handle dirt, there is always the initial concern that it might have been just a little too fast six days out from the Derby. And although the effortless manner in which Colonel John accomplished the move should dispel any such notion, he will be observed closely when he returns to the track on Tuesday and throughout the remainder of the week for signs of any lingering effects from the effort.

Court Vision (five furlongs in 1:00.89) - Like Harty, trainer Bill Mott called an audible, advancing Court Vision and Z Humor's final Derby trials 24 hours to avoid the potential of catching a wet track on Monday.

After working to rave reviews 10 days earlier while equipped with blinkers for the first time, Court Vision's final prep was much anticipated. And although he did not deliver quite the same type of eye-catching performance, the consistent stretch-runner left the impression that he is extremely fond of this racetrack and coming into the Derby in peak form.

Court Vision settled into a relaxed stride after breaking off three lengths behind an unidentified stablemate, getting his opening three furlongs in modest fractions of 12.91, 25.48, and 36.89. Court Vision eased alongside his partner nearing the eighth pole, and while he didn't exactly explode home to the wire, he did respond readily when shaken up near midstretch, completing his final quarter in 24 before galloping out another strong furlong around the turn to the seven-eighths marker in 13.08.

Z Humor (five furlongs in 1:01.31) - For all intents and purposes, this was a slightly slower version of Court Vision's work. Rating a couple of lengths behind stablemate Radius, Z Humor posted fractions of 25.44 and 37.31 for a quarter and three-eighths, and also came down the stretch in 24 while prompted just a bit more than Court Vision to finish. Did not gallop out quite as sharply, either, but by no means shut down after passing the wire, getting to the seven-furlong pole in 1:14.81. He continues to make a very good physical impression.

Eight Belles (five furlongs in 58.26) - Trainer Larry Jones was definitely looking to let both of his fillies, Eight Belles and Proud Spell, roll along this morning by sling-shotting the two fillies away from his pony approaching the five-furlong pole. Eight Belles responded as expected, coming away running with an opening quarter in 22.76 and three-eighths in 34.01. Although she finished up in a relatively strong 24.25, considering the taxing pace, Eight Belles did try to lug in toward the rail after fanning fairly wide off the turn. A loose martingale - a piece of tack used to prevent a horse from throwing his head too high - may have contributed to the situation. That prompted jockey Gabriel Saez to put his stick in his left hand in an attempt to keep the filly on a straight course and off the fence throughout the final eighth of a mile. Eight Belles galloped out six furlongs in a swift 1:12.23 but was beginning to tire noticeably at the end.

Adriano (five furlongs in 1:00.57) - Working in company with Cherokee Artist, Adriano finished on even terms with his mate, although he had to be urged along a bit through the latter stages and during the gallop-out of the five-furlong drill. He completed his final quarter well enough, in 24.31, although unlike Colonel John, he did not leave the impression that he gets over dirt as efficiently as artificial or turf courses.

Proud Spell (five furlongs in 58.50) - As was the case with Eight Belles, Proud Spell left the five-furlong pole in full flight, zipping through early fractions of 11.28, 22.72, 34.22, and 46.08 before getting leg-weary nearing the wire and during her gallop-out (six furlongs in 1:13.22). Although she never felt the stick, she was given noticeable encouragement by Saez on a couple of occasions from the eighth pole to the wire while also bobbling several strides near midstretch. Among the major players in the Oaks.

* It was good to see Smooth Air finally get back to the track after missing a couple of days of training due to a slight temperature, although he did little more than jog a very easy mile accompanied by a stable pony.

* Both Pyro and Z Fortune made good appearances 24 hours in advance of their final Derby works on Monday morning.