04/28/2004 11:00PM

Clocker report - Tapit is final horse to arrive

The Cliff's Edge wins the award for the most-impressive-looking Derby

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Thursday was the final chance to watch the Kentucky Derby entrants train and the first opportunity to get a look at Tapit, who shipped in from Maryland on Wednesday afternoon. It was a busy morning, with many trainers bringing their horses to the starting gate and paddock for some last-minute schooling and one, Pro Prado, even working three furlongs in 36.60 seconds.

Based on morning workouts the past nine days, the following are some final impressions of the 20 3-year-olds who make up this year's Kentucky Derby field.

Action This Day: A visually impressive colt who obviously came here needing to play catch-up and, as a result, was given a stiff prep in company with his stablemate and fellow champion Halfbridled. Action This Day did not have a bad week, but didn't do anything to suggest he'll improve enough off his last two dull efforts to impact the race.

Birdstone: Has trained well enough, but has been overshadowed by stablemate The Cliff's Edge here this week. He went a fast five furlongs (58.38) in his final Derby work but was under urging to do so. His gallops have been good, and he'll come into the race a lot better than his 50-1 morning line odds indicate.

Borrego: Has been a pleasure to watch during his regular gallops, and seems to be coming into the race in top form. Unfortunately, his handlers picked the wrong day for his final work, which came over a very sloppy track, and as a result he was never asked to show any real speed. The main negative was the way he shut down very quickly during the gallop-out. Disregard that glitch, however, and he gets high marks for the week.

Castledale: One of the late arrivals, he had his final Derby work at Santa Anita and went out the first two mornings here in the dark. He finally appeared in daylight on Thursday and was impressive, by his appearance and by the manner in which he galloped a strong mile - during which he spent time looking around at the new surroundings. He's one contender this clocker wished he had been able to see more of before the race.

Friends Lake: He had some rough moments here this week. Got caught out in a downpour, which put a damper on his final work, and had one shaky day schooling at the starting gate. But he finished on a roll, pulling his exercise rider out of the saddle during an eye-catching gallop on Thursday, after which he walked into the starting gate like an old pro.

Imperialism: One of the tougher horses to get a line on, partly because he has done most of his work in the dark, and partly because his final serious Derby work came over a drying-out racetrack, which was at its slowest at the time he worked.

Limehouse: Another who did most of his training in the dark. Not the prettiest jogger or galloper on the scene, he regularly needs some time to warm up before hitting his best stride. He looked much better in his final work, when able to pull away late from older stakes winner Speightstown under little urging. But he's in a rough spot, having drawn the rail on Saturday.

Lion Heart: Got just one look at the likely Derby pacesetter, who has been stabled at Keeneland and vanned in only to work. He has the compact stride of a sprinter and predictably worked a quick and measured half-mile in his lone visit to Churchill Downs last weekend. He gives the appearance of a horse who might be better suited to a one-turn mile, but has enough quality to pull a War Emblem if allowed to relax long enough on the lead.

Master David: He has done nothing wrong all week, and his final workout was good - although even in the morning he seems to want to relax and wait on horses once he gets his head in front. He had one of his strongest gallops in the slop on Sunday, which bodes well if the track is wet on Derby Day.

Minister Eric: Didn't like the way he completely shut down galloping out after his half-mile work earlier this week and is facing a difficult task coming into the Derby off a first-level allowance race. Respect his connections immensely but, like stablemate Action This Day, he is facing a difficult task.

Pollard's Vision: Another early riser, he has had a good week from what could be seem of him in the dark. His final work was average and he might be at a disadvantage considering his running style and outside post.

Pro Prado: Looked a little rough on several occasions in his morning gallops but improved as the week progressed, and his two recent works, including Thursday morning's blowout, were both solid. His chances didn't improve any at the post position draw (19-hole).

Quintons Gold Rush: He might have drained the tank winning the Lexington, because he looks like he should be carrying a bit more weight. Finished well in his last work, but figures to have to empty that tank even more just trying to get into striking position while breaking from post 20 on Saturday.

Read the Footnotes: He wasn't asked to do much in his only local work; he had completed his major preparations in Florida. But he has been on his toes during all of his morning jogs and gallops since arriving in Kentucky last week. Was especially sharp Thursday, and despite a seven-week layoff appears to be coming up to the race in peak form.

Smarty Jones: Turned in arguably the most impressive work of the week, an effortless five furlongs in 58.29 that ended with an explosive gallop-out under little or no urging. He has been a handful ever since, even running off from his exercise rider one morning earlier this week. The feel-good horse of the field to a point where he could be walking a fine line between feeling good and being too sharp and aggressive coming into the race.

St Averil: Has trained in bar shoes to protect his sensitive feet, and his action during morning gallops gives the impression he has not been comfortable over this track since his arrival from California early this week.

Song of the Sword: Another late arrival who has done the bulk of his training at Keeneland. He displayed a short, choppy stride, galloping around to the pole prior to working on Wednesday, but he did level out once under way. Didn't see enough of him to change the opinion that on paper he looks a notch below the best of these.

Tapit: He had one chance to make a first impression, and it was a good one. Looks like a million bucks with his gray coat all dappled out. He was a happy camper during his first visit to the track Thursday, on his toes throughout a one-mile gallop, during which he spent plenty of time taking a good look at his new surroundings. Would have liked to have seen him work once over a conventional racing surface.

The Cliff's Edge: Gets the award for the most impressive-looking member of this field, and nobody had a better couple of weeks leading up to the race. Overcame some traffic to turn in an excellent final Derby prep and obviously loves this racetrack. The lone concern would be the fact that he didn't seem as comfortable in a couple of his gallops over wet tracks this week as he did on dry tracks, but nonetheless a major player in his current form come rain or shine.

Wimbledon: Made the biggest forward strides of anyone in this field since his arrival. Appeared stiff and choppy in some of his earlier morning gallops but then turned in two exceptional works, including a dazzler over a sloppy track on Sunday - after which even his gallops have been stronger and significantly smoother. Suddenly has the look of a major contender.