04/24/2009 11:00PM

Godolphin pair looking sharp

Barbara D. Livingston
Desert Party impressed with a 59.44-second five-furlong work Saturday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The sun was shining bright on the old Kentucky home of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, when Churchill Downs began its spring meeting with plenty of action in the morning and the afternoon on a warm, summer-like day. The day here commenced with workouts for five of the 20 horses scheduled to run in the 135th Derby next Saturday and concluded with the Grade 3, $100,000 Derby Trial, which has become more of a trial in recent years for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

But the news related to the Derby extended far beyond this river city on Saturday to both New York and Florida.

At Belmont Park, Florida Derby winner Quality Road, the pro-tem favorite for the Derby, had a promising morning jog as he attempts to battle through the second quarter crack to strike him in the past month. His trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, said the next 48 hours would be crucial, but Jerkens seemed encouraged by the progress Quality Road had made since being treated this past week by noted foot specialist Ian McKinlay.

At the Palm Meadows training center in Florida, Dunkirk, the Florida Derby runner-up, had his final work for the Derby, traveling five furlongs in company with his Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate, Munnings. With exercise rider Patti Barry aboard, Dunkirk received an official time of 1:01.05 from Palm Meadows clocker Bryan Walls.

"I asked Patti to go in 1:01. She nailed it on the money," Pletcher said from Palm Meadows. "He was on the outside, broke off about a length or a length-and-a-half behind, and finished up about a half-length in front. I could not have been more pleased."

Walls said Dunkirk's internal fractions were 12.80 seconds, 24.81, and 36.80 for the first three furlongs. Dunkirk galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.36.

"She never asked him to run at all," Walls said.

Dunkirk is scheduled to travel to Kentucky on Tuesday.

Here at Churchill Downs, impressive workouts were turned in by Desert Party and Regal Ransom. Musket Man, Papa Clem, and West Side Bernie also drilled.

Regal Ransom was the first Derby horse to appear, well before sunrise. He came on the track shortly after 6 a.m and proceeded to roll through a five-furlong drill in 59.13 seconds with exercise rider Bob Chapman. Regal Ransom was a front-running winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby in his last start, and the speedy way in which he began this move indicated he would try similar tactics in the Derby.

Desert Party, who, like Regal Ransom, is owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, also worked five furlongs with Chapman, but he went out after the mid-morning renovation break. He was timed in 59.44 seconds, completing his final quarter in a sharp 23.26. Desert Party was second in the U.A.E. Derby in his last start.

"That was the best work he's ever had," said Rick Mettee, the United States-based assistant to Godolphin's head trainer, Saeed bin Suroor.

Suroor, who has been in town since Wednesday, said "both worked good."

"They are coming the right way to the race," Suroor said. "Desert Party, he has learned a lot and is easy to train. Regal Ransom, he was keen. That's him. With their pedigrees, a mile and a quarter will suit them."

Desert Party was favored in the U.A.E. Derby. Suroor revealed Saturday that he had an uneasy feeling about Desert Party when saddling him before the race that night.

"When I put the saddle on him, he was quiet," Suroor said.

Suroor said both colts would school at the starting gate and in the paddock on Wednesday.

In contrast to the Godolphin horses, the other three Derby horses who worked here Saturday were disappointing.

Papa Clem, who won the Arkansas Derby in his last start, was given a seven-furlong time of 1:29.12 by Daily Racing Form when working after the break, but exercise rider Mundo Cedeno began to ease him up, on purpose, at the sixteenth pole. He did not misjudge the finish.

"Mundo did that because he was getting tired," said Papa Clem's trainer, Gary Stute. "I would have liked him to have worked a little faster, but he was rank early. I'd have liked to see him go slower early and then finish. If he's biting and kicking me tomorrow, I might blow him out a quarter-mile or three furlongs a couple days before the race."

Musket Man, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby, worked six furlongs in 1:14.81 in company with his unaccomplished Derek Ryan-trained stablemate, Bull Toccet, and was under far more pressure at the end of the work, then was second-best on the gallop out. Jockey Eibar Coa was aboard for the early morning work.

Coa and Ryan, by way of explaining Musket Man's time, both remarked that a horse broke off with the pair at the beginning of the work - "That got him a little excited," Ryan said - and another horse, well in front of them, ducked toward the rail near the end of the work. But Bull Toccet still was going the better of the two.

West Side Bernie, the second-place finisher in the Wood Memorial, went a workmanlike half-mile in 48.22 seconds with jockey Stewart Elliott aboard.

"I didn't want to tire him out by working him too far," said Kelly Breen, the trainer of West Side Bernie. "He came back blowing a little bit. I just wanted to get him used to the track. I'm looking to have a sharp horse coming into the Derby. I didn't want to leave my race on the track this morning."

Hull stays perfect in Derby Trial

The Derby Trial may yet again live up to its recent reputation as a springboard to the Preakness, because Hull, who remained unbeaten with a stylish victory Saturday afternoon, could very well head to the second leg of the Triple Crown on May 16, trainer Dale Romans said after the race.

"I think it's possible," said Romans, who said he would confer with co-owners Bill Heiligbrodt and Barry Irwin. "I think he's as good as anything out there. He could be very special."

Hull ($8.80), a colt by Holy Bull, was making his stakes debut after defeating maidens at Fair Grounds and allowance runners at Turfway Park, both times by daylight margins, in sprints earlier this year. Despite the jump in class, he romped again, prevailing by four lengths over second-place Kensei. Checklist battled on bravely to be third, another 1 3/4 lengths behind Kensei. Hull, ridden by Miguel Mena, completed the odd distance of 7 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:30.21.

Hull, breaking from post 7 in the eight-horse field, sat a close third on the outside while Checklist and Silver City set swift fractions of 21.78 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44.29 for a half-mile. After creeping forward to challenge for the lead, Hull kicked clear at the top of the stretch and was never threatened.

"He sat off the pace, and when he asked him to run, he really exploded," Romans said.

- additional reporting

by David Grening and Mike Welsch