03/21/2009 12:00AM

Dunkirk, Quality Road work for Fla. Derby

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BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Dunkirk and Quality Road, the two leading candidates for Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby, beat the rain at the Palm Meadows training center on Saturday morning, turning in sharp workouts.

Theregoesjojo was not as fortunate. Heavy showers turned the main track at Gulfstream Park into a sea of slop Saturday, forcing trainer Ken McPeek to postpone Theregoesjojo's final Florida Derby drill until Sunday.

Storm clouds were gathering when Dunkirk broke off about a length behind another of trainer Todd Pletcher's promising 3-year-olds, Affirmatif, at the five-furlong pole. Dunkirk, with regular exercise rider Patti Barry aboard, eased alongside his stablemate at the quarter pole after covering the opening three furlongs in 36.93 seconds. The pair then zipped home a final quarter-mile in 23.26, with Dunkirk completing five furlongs in 1:00.19. Dunkirk was well in hand as he crossed the wire, although Affirmatif, a nine-length winner in his lone start, which came on turf, did a good job keeping pace with his more heralded partner while under only slightly more urging. Dunkirk galloped out the stronger of the pair, pulling up seven furlongs in 1:27.23.

"I was looking for something between a minute and 1:01 and got a minute the right way," Pletcher said immediately after the work. "He finished strong and galloped out well. I couldn't have been more happy with that."

By the time Dunkirk had jogged off the track, rain began falling steadily at Palm Meadows. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who was already forced to postpone a scheduled workout earlier in the week due to heavy rain, had hoped to breeze Quality Road over a freshly harrowed track immediately after the renovation break at 9 a.m. Instead, he decided to send his Fountain of Youth winner out earlier than planned.

Obviously, Jerkens wasn't the only trainer with a similar notion. As a result, the racetrack was full of workers when Quality Road broke off at the six-furlong pole amidst a steady downpour and drilled a strong seven-eighths in 1:25, finishing up around the turn at the mile marker.

"I thought it was a very good work," Jerkens said. "I told the rider to go easy the first part and finish fast, and that's exactly what he did. The track was very fast at the time, but he's been doing great and if he didn't work that well, I'd have really been disappointed. He's coming into this race as good as his last and doing just as well as you could hope."

The rain fell earlier and even harder about 45 miles further south at Gulfstream on Saturday, foiling McPeek's plans to work his Fountain of Youth runner-up Theregoesjojo. McPeek said he would try again Sunday, either in the morning if the track dried out sufficiently or between races later that afternoon if necessary.

Beethoven, who also is a confirmed starter for the Florida Derby, did get in his final work for the race, if one could call five furlongs in 1:09.80 over the sloppy Gulfstream strip a workout.

Somehow the early morning precipitation managed to skirt Calder Race Course, which is located about 12 miles west of Gulfstream, where Florida Derby candidate Sincero worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.20 over a fast track.

Other prominent 3-year-olds on Saturday's work tab at Palm Meadows included trainer Kiaran McLaughlin's pair of Justwhistledixie and Charitable Man, along with former Kentucky Derby hopeful Capt. Candyman Can.

Justwhistledixie, who'll be the odds-on favorite to win Friday's Grade 2 Bonnie Miss, worked an easy half-mile in 50.85. Justwhistledixie closed as the betting favorite in the Kentucky Oaks future wager pool.

"It would have been nice if she'd gone a tick or two faster, but she's fine and fit and has been training right along," McLaughlin said.

Charitable Man worked five furlongs in 1:00.40. McLaughlin continues to point Charitable Man, who is undefeated in two starts but idle since September, for the Blue Grass on April 11.

"It's a tough decision and difficult to figure what the right thing to do is," McLaughlin said. "He'll be ready to run on the fourth, but I thought the Blue Grass would be an easier race for him and that he would also bounce back quicker coming off the Polytrack if we should decide to go on to the Kentucky Derby."

Capt. Candyman Can, who disappointed as the favorite in the Fountain of Youth, worked five furlongs in 1:01.42. He will make his next start in Aqueduct's Bay Shore on April 4.