04/24/2007 11:00PM

Favorites stretch their legs

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Kentucky Derby hopeful Curlin works at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. on Monday, April 23.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As of Wednesday, only five of the 20 horses expected to compete in the 2007 Kentucky Derby were stabled at Churchill Downs. The others were scattered about the country, with Nobiz Like Shobiz in New York, Stormello and Tiago in California, and nearly a dozen more based up the road at Keeneland.

But among that handful of Derby hopefuls training at Churchill are the two likely favorites, Curlin and Street Sense, who both went to the track Wednesday for the first time since turning in impressive five-furlong works earlier in the week.

For the undefeated Curlin, Wednesday's gallop was his first time on the Churchill Downs strip since last fall when he was trained there by Helen Pitts. Undefeated winner of the Arkansas Derby, Curlin began his career this past winter with a sensational maiden victory at Gulfstream Park, moved on to Fair Grounds and then Oaklawn Park after being purchased privately and turned over to trainer Steve Asmussen, then continued on to Keeneland, where he worked five furlongs on Monday.

Asmussen moved both Curlin and his other likely Derby starter Zanjero to Churchill Downs on Monday afternoon, although only Curlin went to the track on an overcast and unseasonably warm morning here Wednesday. Galloping easily over a slightly damp but fast track, Curlin made a favorable impression even under the dim pre-dawn light.

Street Sense hit the track 30 minutes later to jog once around the outside fence, just 24 hours after impressing railbirds with a bullet five-furlong work on Monday. Despite having had a serious work the previous morning, Street Sense was a handful for part of his jog, bucking and playing for several strides approaching the three-furlong pole and again shortly after turning into the backstretch, while painting an impressive picture as he traveled along comfortably with his head bowed.

Sending a horse to the track the day after a work may be considered an unconventional move for most trainers, but not for Carl Nafzger.

"If you worked out really hard one day and just laid around the next, you would feel it the day after that," Nafzger explained. "But if you went out and did something the second day, I guarantee you wouldn't feel so bad on the third. Well, the same concept applies to horses as well. And you could see how good he was feeling out there bucking and playing like he did."

Nafzger said Street Sense would walk on Thursday and after that his plans remain up in the air.

"Ian and I will sit down tomorrow and decide how to bring him in the rest of the way," said Nafzger, referring to his former assistant and now trainer Ian Wilkes. "As for when he might have his final work we'll just watch him gallop and make up our mind as we go along. He'll tell us when he's ready."

The final work schedules for the other 19 Derby contenders are pretty much set, barring any unforeseen setbacks or changes in the weather, which is expected to be clear and warm in Kentucky over the weekend.

On Friday, trainer Doug O'Neill plans to work all three of his Derby candidates, - Great Hunter, Liquidity, and Cobalt Blue - at Keeneland.

Saturday's itinerary includes works by Cowtown Cat at Keeneland and by Sedgefield and Teuflesberg at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Todd Pletcher plans to work his top three Derby hopefuls - Scat Daddy, Circular Quay, and Any Given Saturday - at Keeneland on Sunday. That same morning Sam P. and Dominican are penciled in to breeze at Churchill Downs, Nobiz Like Shobiz at Belmont Park, and both Tiago and Stormello at Hollywood Park.

On Monday, Curlin, Zanjero, Hard Spun, Storm in May, and Imawildandcrazyguy are to breeze at Churchill Downs.