04/26/2009 12:00AM

Derby works crucial with time winding down


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - We are turning into the home stretch with six days left before the Kentucky Derby; only six days to find a subtle clue or two during training hours that might lead one to lean towards or against one or more of the 20 3-year-olds who will enter the starting gate for the Derby.

Churchill Downs

Sunny, 68 degrees, Track Fast

With five Derby runners having worked the previous morning and three others yet to arrive on the grounds, there were just a dozen or so potential Derby starters to observe on here Sunday, and only two of them, Hold Me Back and Square Eddie, turned in official works. As was the case on Saturday, the track was fast but still a bit on the deep side yielding slower than average workout times.

Hold Me Back (five furlongs in 1:01.15 seconds): One of the more important works of the week considering Hold Me Back's only previous start over conventional dirt yielded a disappointing performance in the Remsen.

With regular rider Kent Desormeaux aboard, Hold Me Back broke off a couple of lengths behind his WinStar stablemate Flying Warrior and was well held off that rival through opening splits of :2.91 and 25.51 seconds. Hold Me Back drew even with his partner approaching the stretch but readily drew well clear once given a slight nudge by Desormeaux near the eighth pole. Hold Me Back accelerated readily when asked to do more at that point, completing his final quarter mile in 24.09 before galloping out a solid six furlongs in 1:14.66 seconds.

Although track clockers caught Hold Me Back in a slower 1:01.60, the final time was irrelevant. It was the manner in which the Lane's End winner and Blue Grass runner-p got over the ground that really mattered, and he appears to be handling the Churchill surface extremely well. He has taken big strides in a short time and is giving every indication he'll be able to maintain that form on Derby day.

Square Eddie (four furlongs in :50.21): After having finished a troubled third in the Lexington eight days earlier, Square Eddie wasn't about to do anything too strenuous less than a week before the Derby. So his easy, half-mile drill from the three-furlong pole to the seven-furlong pole was not unexpected, although Square Eddie did put in a good morning's work as he also jogged nearly 1 1/2 miles alongside a pony before breaking off to begin his work. He went along as smooth as usual once finally getting under way, posting splits of 24.93 and 37.44 before galloping out in 1:03.28, with the lone hiccup a momentary bobble near the eighth pole from which he recovered without issue.

Square Eddie has made a great appearance since shipping over from Keeneland earlier this week but is facing a tough assignment wheeling back on short rest in the Derby off such a taxing effort in the Lexington.

A decision on whether Lexington winner Advice will start in the Derby should be forthcoming following a scheduled workout here Monday. But he certainly remains on his toes following a high energy gallop before dawn during which he better than two-minute clipped for much of the way while shadowed by a stablemate from the Todd Pletcher barn.

Hall of Fame trainers Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas adjusted their usual pre-Derby training schedules on Sunday. Baffert, who traditionally sends his Derby runners out after the renovation break, instead sent Pioneerof the Nile to the track at 7:15 a.m. for another in a series of impressive-looking gallops. Lukas, best known for training his Derby contenders under the cloak of darkness, brought Flying Private out with blinkers-on for a very encouraging gallop of his own after the break.

Win Willy made a decent first impression on Saturday but was not as appealing this morning. He got a little hot after visiting the starting gate and did not appear to stride out extremely well through his opening mile, although he did improve somewhat after getting a wake-up call when passed by another galloper nearing the wire the second time around.

General Quarters had another good day and may finally be starting to recuperate from his grueling effort in the Blue Grass. He will never look pretty during his gallops but certainly seems to be breaking off and cruising around with a lot more interest since his recent workout.