05/01/2008 12:00AM

Clocker report 5/1: Big Brown impresses


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Big Brown buzz grew a little louder after the Kentucky Derby favorite worked three furlongs in 35.33 seconds here Thursday morning. Big Brown was one of two Derby starters to blow out for the race Thursday. Smooth Air covered the same distance in 37.99.

With regular exercise rider Michelle Nevin aboard, Big Brown came out on the track amidst quite a bit of traffic shortly after the renovation break and was clearly full of himself as he made his way down the backstretch before breaking off at the three-furlong pole. Hugging the inner rail and with Nevin offering no prompting, Big Brown posted splits of 11.89 seconds and 23.20 before crossing the finish line to the applause of the many fans attending the traditional Dawn at the Downs breakfast program. Nevin immediately grabbed into Big Brown to keep him from doing too much during his gallop -out.

In contrast to Big Brown, Smooth Air was less aggressive getting away from the three-furlong pole, covering his opening eighth in 13.14 seconds before picking up the pace and breezing down the quarter-mile stretch in 24.85 for exercise rider Sue Milne.

The most excitement of the morning came during Tale of Ekati's aggressive gallop when a loose horse crossed paths with the Wood Memorial winner shortly past the finish line, forcing his rider, Kristen Troxell, to take a hold and alter course slightly.

The following is a final assessment of all 20 Derby starters from observations made during training hours at Churchill Downs during the past eight mornings.

Adriano: The ability to adapt to Churchill's dirt surface is key to the Lane's End winner's chances in the Derby. Like several members of the field, he is not the prettiest mover when he gallops, but he did have a very busy and productive week and seemed to become more comfortable with the surface as the week progressed. He was under some urging to keep pace with his workmate when breezing Sunday. Not out of the question if he handles the going.

Anak Nakal: Couldn't find any fault with his training over the past week. The way he zipped through a half-mile work in 46.52 seconds despite a late lead switch indicates he's coming into the race razor sharp, although I'm not sure even his best will be good enough in this spot.

Big Brown: Anyone looking to find a chink in the favorite's armor from a training standpoint will be hard pressed to do so. His first two workouts coming out of the Florida Derby at Palm Meadows were perfect, and he's done nothing wrong since arriving at Churchill Downs. His first gallop over the track Tuesday morning was a thing of beauty. Seems none the worse for wear from the foot problems that plagued him earlier this winter. Only worry would be his relative inexperience and some of the erratic tendencies he displayed in his two 3-year-old wins. His race to lose.

Big Truck: Was full of run in his local workout, but the early pace took its toll as he tired noticeably nearing the wire and during his gallop-out. Has bounced back extremely well off that work, with a couple of very aggressive gallops Wednesday and Thursday.

Bob Black Jack: Struggled late over a course that had been well chewed up by the time he worked, equipped with blinkers, Monday. Another who isn't visually appealing when he gallops but certainly fast enough to have a major impact on the early pace.

Colonel John: Nobody has trained any better here this past week. Took a day or two to get acclimated to the racetrack, but his workout and subsequent gallops have been excellent. Covers a lot of ground in a seemingly effortless manner with his long, impressive-looking stride and was well within himself despite working five furlongs in 57.61 seconds Sunday. Has shown no ill effects from that effort the remainder of the week. From a pure numbers standpoint, may be a bit slower than many of these, but is giving every indication he's primed for a career-best performance Saturday.

Cool Coal Man: Not the prettiest mover when he gallops, but from a physical standpoint he makes a very nice appearance and seems to have gotten increasingly more aggressive as the week progressed. Was on the muscle right from the outset in his final pre-Derby workout, although did tire some during the latter stages of that work and through the gallop-out. Hard to judge whether he just didn't handle the Polytrack in the Blue Grass or if he's feeling the effects of a very game but gut-wrenching performance in the Fountain of Youth.

Court Vision: Worked to rave reviews with blinkers added before my arrival and was efficient, if not spectacular, in his latest trial. His gallops have been relaxed but extremely efficient, and he gives the appearance that he really loves the local surface and is coming into this race in peak form.

Cowboy Cal: Did the majority of his pre-Derby work over the Polytrack at Keeneland, where he worked a very sharp five furlongs and galloped out extremely well Saturday. Seemed comfortable galloping at Churchill Downs for the first time Thursday, and, like many of these, his chances will be directly tied to how he handles the dirt surface.

Denis of Cork: Not the most physically imposing of horses, but he couldn't be doing any better and is another who is obviously extremely fond of his home course. His final Derby workout was as good as it gets as he hugged the inner rail and exploded through the stretch, then was a handful for jockey Calvin Borel to pull up until halfway down the backstretch. Perhaps not quite Street Sense-like but pretty close. With his running style and Borel aboard, would have preferred to have seen him with an inside post, but love his chances if he can reproduce that final workout on race day.

Eight Belles: Rolled through her final work, although showed a propensity to lug in toward the rail, which is perhaps cause for some concern considering the task that lies ahead. One thing in her favor is that she's a physically imposing filly who on looks, at least, fits right with the boys.

Gayego: Has made a very good physical appearance, although was hoping to see a little more pizzazz from his final Derby work in which he went along at a fairly even pace, albeit over a wet racetrack. Did not look quite as smooth during his subsequent gallops, and drawing post 19 certainly will not enhance his chances.

Monba: Like Cowboy Cal, did most of his pre-Derby work over the Polytrack at Keeneland. Was under some urging to stay with his stablemate during the final stages and gallop-out of his most recent workout, although reportedly the handsome-looking gray is not the most aggressive work horse. Owns a win over the surface and should definitely be considered among the live longshots in this field.

Pyro: Following his disappointment in the Blue Grass it was important to see how the Louisiana Derby winner bounced back. And after seemingly disappearing for a few days last week, he returned looking very sharp both during his daily pre-dawn training and in a well-orchestrated half-mile drill in which he was well held early before finishing with good energy. Giving every indication that he'll return with a much-improved performance.

Recapturetheglory: Looks well and moved nicely during the early stages of his only local workout before tiring noticeably and appearing lackluster during the gallop-out. Did return with several aggressive two-mile gallops since the work, but does not figure to see the lead as readily, if at all, as he did in his well-graded Illinois Derby victory.

Smooth Air: Must obviously be concerned by the several days he lost due to a slight infection and temperature that struck at the most inopportune time and forced an alteration to his training regimen. Has gotten progressively sharper upon returning to the track Sunday and did come to town dead fit following a series of long and impressive-looking workouts over a deeper Calder strip. Talented enough to grab a major share if not suffering any lingering effects from having lost valuable training time.

Tale of Ekati: In contrast to stablemate Big Truck, his final workout might have been a tad on the slow side, although he appeared to finish quicker than his final quarter-mile split might indicate before galloping out with good energy. Has been a handful in the morning since the work, a very positive sign.

Visionaire: Finished best of all in the Blue Grass, and I came here considering him among the more viable longshots in the field. He did struggle a bit keeping up with a workmate on Monday while also failing to sustain any real momentum during his gallop-out. Has trained well since, and thus I am keeping him on a short list of live longshots.

Z Fortune: Has been conservatively handled coming off a career-best performance in the Arkansas Derby. An imposing specimen who has made an awesome appearance on a daily basis. Expecting another huge effort with any racing luck Saturday.

Z Humor: Another of the more impressive-looking members of this lineup, and like his stablemate Court Vision, has had a very, very good week. Has really been on the muscle in recent mornings, forcing his rider to reach down and grab for another hold to keep him from running off during his daily gallops.