04/24/2008 11:00PM

Clocker's Report 4/23: Getting feel for dirt


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One of the most important elements to focus on during training hours in the final days leading up to the 2008 Kentucky Derby will be how horses who have had the bulk if not all of their success over artificial surfaces handle the conventional dirt track at Churchill Downs.

Much of the attention in this area will be focused on the Santa Anita Derby winner, Colonel John, who has yet to race over dirt. He had not even trained over it before his arrival here earlier this week.

Colonel John had his second opportunity to try the Churchill Downs strip on a warm, sun-drenched morning shortly after the renovation break on Wednesday. And while the gallop went without incident, Colonel John, a well-made son of Tiznow, gave the appearance he still might not be completely comfortable over the surface. He strode along more like he was still testing and acclimating himself to the new footing rather than reaching out, as one would expect he usually does over familiar ground back home.

The key test will come when trainer Eoin Harty sends out Colonel John, undeniably among the top contenders in this year's Derby field, for perhaps the most significant of all the final Derby works to be held here this weekend.

Like Colonel John, Gayego has had the majority of his success on the artificial surfaces of Southern California. Unlike his fellow West Coast invader, though, Gayego has already proven himself on dirt in his game triumph in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby.

Yet despite that win at Oaklawn Park, Gayego also figures to garner plenty of attention during training hours here over the next several days as he continues to familiarize himself with the nuances of the local surface. Sadly, an attempt to see him train on Wednesday went for naught, as trainer Paolo Lobo chose to give Gayego the morning off.

There were no Derby workers on Wednesday. The morning's most impressive performance by a Derby candidate came from the Illinois Derby winner, Recapturetheglory, who galloped a strong two miles, keeping a straight and true course down the center of the track throughout both tours of the one-mile oval.

Trainer Louie Roussel Jr. was so taken by the performance that he immediately notified the media that he had canceled the work he had scheduled for Recapturetheglory on Thursday morning. Roussel pushed the drill back to Saturday, weather permitting.

"He's doing so well now he doesn't need two more works before the Derby," Roussel said.

At Keeneland, Wood winner Tale of Ekati worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 shortly after dawn, going in fractions of 12.40, 24.40, and 36.60 seconds before ultimately galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.40.

The most excitement at Churchill Downs on Wednesday came immediately after the renovation break when Golden Doc A, a grass and artificial-surface specialist herself, and the more versatile Bsharpsonata surprisingly joined forces, working in company to prepare for their upcoming assignments in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. Golden Doc A is from the Barry Abrams barn, and Bsharpsonata is trained by Timothy Salzman.

In an obviously orchestrated maneuver, Golden Doc A (five furlongs in 58.96 seconds) broke off approximately five lengths behind Bsharpsonata (five furlongs in 59.93 seconds) approaching the five-furlong pole, drew nearly even in early stretch, and was under considerably less pressure as the pair crossed the wire in tandem.

Golden Doc A posted fractions of 23.24, 34.72, and 46.15 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:11.91 in what must be considered a very significant and impressive trial run over dirt.