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Updated on 09/16/2011 8:16AM
Exactly what they were looking for
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainers Bill Mott and Shug McGaughey approached the final workouts for their Kentucky Derby hopefuls Monday morning from vastly different perspectives.
Mott, who trains Blue Burner, was looking for a fast, strong work to indicate that his 3-year-old is indeed worthy of a spot in the starting gate for Saturday's 128th Run for the Roses.
McGaughey, trainer of Saarland, wanted a less strenuous move, hoping to save something for the long Churchill stretch come late Saturday afternoon.
Both seemed please with their results as Blue Burner drilled five furlongs in 59 seconds - the second fastest of 49 moves at the distance - while Saarland covered the same ground in a leisurely 1:02, among the 10 slowest five-furlong moves of the morning.
"I wanted to see a good work today; I didn't want a 1:03," Mott said. "It's Monday, he's got time to get over it. Had he worked poorly today, I'd probably be rethinking what we're doing, but I thought it was very good. He held his leads good, galloped out good. If he'll bounce out of it in good fashion, we're all set."
Blue Burner, second in the Florida Derby and most recently fifth in the Wood Memorial, worked in company with Boastful, a stakes-winning 4-year-old turf horse owned, like Blue Burner, by George Steinbrenner. Blue Burner started out about 1 1/2 lengths behind Boastful, drew even around the turn, and moved by him in upper stretch. Exercise rider Judy Nicks smacked Blue Burner twice with a right-handed whip inside the eighth pole after he relaxed a little passing his workmate.
"The only reason she tapped him was when he went to the front of the other horse he kind of put his ears up, so she tapped him one time just to let him that know he had to keep on," Mott said.
"The first part of the work was a little quicker than what we normally go with him, but he was doing it kind of on the bridle and he still finished up very well and galloped out good."
About 2 1/2 hours before Blue Burner worked, Saarland went five furlongs in 1:02 under exercise rider Adolph Krajewksi. Saarland worked by himself and got his last three furlongs in 36.53 seconds without any urging from the rider.
"I just wanted to get something in him where he got a decent bottom in him," McGaughey said. "I didn't want him go fast. I wanted him to get something out of it but leave a little something there too. Hopefully, he did all that."
McCarron right on target
Before Came Home worked here Monday, trainer Paco Gonzalez told jockey Chris McCarron to go five furlongs in 1:01. When McCarron pulled up Came Home, he felt as if he had hit the bullseye. His wristwatch read 1:01.
"That's about as perfect as I'll be," McCarron said with a smile.
Jockeys may have a natural sense of pace, but McCarron has taken it to another level in the last several years, using a digital wristwatch to time workouts while riding.
He uses a subtle flick of his right hand to reach over and push a button on his left wrist when he wants to stop the watch or record a fractional time.
"It helps me to judge pace," McCarron said. "I've been doing it about 12 or 13 years."
McCarron said he is not able to record fractional times in all workouts. He said some horses take a hand motion as a cue for acceleration.
Officially, Came Home was given a time of 1:00.60, but that mattered little to Gonzalez and McCarron, who were happy with the colt's workout.
"He was very enthusiastic," McCarron said. "He normally stands there for a minute on the track before we go off, but we went straight off. I wanted to [work] over a good surface and not after eight or 10 horses had worked."
Proud Citizen 'moving forward'
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has been brimming with optimism over the chances of Proud Citizen, had his confidence level soar even higher after Proud Citizen worked five furlongs in 58.60 seconds under exercise rider Stacy Maker on Monday.
"He was full of run, and the best thing about it was by the time I picked him up with the pony he wouldn't have blown out a match," Lukas said.
Proud Citizen will be wheeling back on just two weeks' rest in the Derby after winning Keeneland's Lexington Stakes.
"The main thing you want to see coming back on short rest like this is recency - that your horse is moving forward and not regressing - and the way he's trained this week there is little doubt he is definitely moving forward," Lukas said.
Proud Citizen led throughout to win the Lexington, but with all the speed in the prospective Derby lineup, Lukas may change his horse's tactics on Saturday.
"I elected to have him show speed in the Lexington, but Stacy said the way he went this morning, I can do anything with him," said Lukas.
Essence of Dubai got heated up when he was schooled in the paddock for the first time on Sunday. But assistant trainer Tom Albertrani is not the least bit concerned.
"He got a little warm, but that can be expected the first time over there," said Albertrani. "All in all he acted pretty well. I'll take him back [to the paddock] during the races on Thursday and I don't expect any problem. He was also a lot more professional when I brought him over to the starting gate this morning. He didn't use up all the energy like he did Sunday when he got spooked by something he saw and briefly broke away from the pony."
Old friends team up
Trainer Steve Asmussen didn't just stumble onto the choice of Richard Migliore as his jockey for his Derby longshot, Windward Passage.
"I've known Richie since I was 15 years old," said Asmussen, 36. "I'd go up to New York to visit Cash, and Richie would always be around. He's all quality. I also believe he's a great choice for a Derby jockey."
Asmussen's older brother, Cash, won the Eclipse Award as top apprentice in 1979. Two years later, Migliore won the apprentice Eclipse.
Depending on what happens Wednesday at entry time, Windward Passage may still get excluded from the field.
"That's out of our hands, so it's something I haven't worried about," said Asmussen.
Take my wife, please
Lukas had a big crowd laughing at a reception held in his honor Sunday evening at the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Lukas, who has won the Derby four times, was being honored by the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association for his many contributions and successes in racing. Asked to speak, he quickly latched onto the subject of marriage.
He said that when he and his wife, Laura, were married several years ago, they came to an agreement.
"We agreed that she would handle the Quarter Horses, and I would handle the Thoroughbreds," he said. "We also agreed that she would make all the little decisions, and I would make all the major decisions.
"You know, it's funny, but in five years of marriage, there still hasn't been one major decision to be made."
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen, Marty McGee, and Mike Welsch