04/29/2007 11:00PM

Hard Spun turns in blazing work

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Hard Spun (left) and Mario Pino work five furlongs in 57.60 with the filly Wildcat Bettie B at Churchill Monday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Derby Week got off to a hot start on Monday at Churchill Downs, as temperatures here climbed into the upper 80s and one of the race's leading contenders turned in one of the swiftest pre-Derby works in recent years.

Hard Spun, winner of the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park, flew through five furlongs in 57.60 seconds, the fastest of 26 drills at the distance; the next-best time was 59.40. Hard Spun's drill was one of eight works at Churchill Downs for horses either in or hoping to be in Saturday's 133rd Kentucky Derby, and followed a day in which nine Derby horses recorded their final works at four different venues.

The heat may get turned up further on Wednesday when entries are drawn for the Derby, because as of Monday, more than 20 3-year-olds were still under consideration for the race. The Derby field is limited to 20 starters, with the criteria being earnings in graded stakes races. On Monday, Tesio Stakes winner Xchanger was said by his co-owner, Domenico Zannino, to be likely for the race. That left Bwana Bull in the final spot, with Teuflesberg on the bubble, followed next by Imawildandcrazyguy. And that assumes no one else with more graded earnings gets silly at the last second and enters.

Entries are due Wednesday morning. At that point, the field will be determined, and a blind draw will be held in the Churchill Downs racing office to determine a draft order for post positions. Then Wednesday night, posts will be picked by a representative of each horse during a live one-hour telecast on ESPN2, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

Hard Spun's work was far from the usual routine five days before the Derby, resembling something expected of a horse preparing for the Breeders' Cup Sprint rather than the 1 1/4-mile Derby. Hard Spun worked in company with the Grade 1-winning filly Wildcat Bettie B. They went off at a wicked clip before Hard Spun drew away under jockey Mario Pino.

Larry Jones, the trainer of Hard Spun, tried to put the best spin possible on the drill.

"It was faster than I told them to go, but he did it well within himself," he said. "He got over the track very well, which was a concern we had three weeks ago."

Jones had been concerned that Hard Spun would find Churchill's track similar to that of Oaklawn, where Hard Spun suffered his lone loss. But those fears were alleviated by a five-furlong breeze in a sensible 1:00.20 here on April 12.

A few minutes after Monday's work, Jones said Hard Spun appeared to come out of it well.

"His breathing already is back to completely normal," Jones said.

"It's not what we were looking for," Jones admitted. "We weren't trying to find out who was the fastest. Poor Bettie. She's a Grade 1 winner, and she looked like a claiming horse."

Seven other Derby horses worked at Churchill Downs on Monday. Five of them - including the unbeaten Curlin - are assured of being in the race, and two of them - Imawildandcrazyguy and Reporting for Duty - are lower than 20th on the earnings list and thus are hoping for defections by Wednesday.

Curlin and Zanjero, both trained by Steve Asmussen, worked a half-hour apart. Each worked solo and covered a half-mile in 48.40 seconds with exercise rider Carmen Rosas.

Curlin "breezed nice," Asmussen said. "I feel comfortable with how he is over the racetrack."

Sedgefield, with jockey Julien Leparoux up, also worked a half-mile in 48.40 for trainer Darrin Miller. He worked in company with Bacetto, who had Miller aboard.

Bacetto "is a good work horse. I've used him a lot with both horses," Miller said, referring to Sedgefield and his other Derby runner, Dominican.

Bwana Bull, who scratched from the Derby Trial on Saturday in order to go in the Derby, worked six furlongs in 1:14.40 for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Javier Castellano, who rides Bwana Bull in the Derby, was aboard.

Trainer Bill Kaplan sent Imawildandcrazyguy and Storm in May through three-furlong drills. Storm in May was timed in 35.80, Imawildandcrazyguy in 36.20. Both were ridden by Juan Leyva, who has the mount on Storm in May in the Derby. Imawildandcrazyguy needs two defections from the top 20 to get into the race.

Another horse on the outside looking in, Reporting for Duty, worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 for Asmussen, who said Reporting for Duty would head to the Lone Star Derby on May 12 if he does not get into the Kentucky Derby.

On Sunday, trainer Todd Pletcher worked four of his Derby runners: Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, and Scat Daddy at Keeneland, and Sam P. at Churchill Downs. Also working at Churchill on Sunday were Dominican and Teuflesberg. Nobiz Like Shobiz had his final work at Belmont Park, and at Hollywood Park, both Stormello and Tiago turned in their final drills.

Any Given Saturday (1:00.20), Circular Quay (1:00.20), and Scat Daddy (59.40) all worked five furlongs with former riding great Angel Cordero Jr. up. Circular Quay worked in company with Kentucky Oaks favorite Rags to Riches. Any Given Saturday and Scat Daddy worked by themselves. Scat Daddy was wearing bar shoes on both front hooves, but Pletcher said he will not race in them Saturday.

Sam P. worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 in company with the 3-year-old filly Awesome Ashley. Exercise rider Horacio DePaz was up.

Dominican turned in Sunday's fastest work of 26 at five furlongs, 59.40. Exercise rider Willie Herrera was aboard Dominican, who worked in company with Avenstoke.

Teuflesberg covered five furlongs in 1:00.80 under Jamie Sanders, his trainer and co-owner.

Nobiz Like Shobiz worked five furlongs on Belmont's main track in 59.98 with jockey Cornelio Velasquez, who has the mount on Saturday for trainer Barclay Tagg.

"If you ask a little bit he's going to go too fast," Velasquez said. "I wanted the last work to be easy."

Stormello breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80 with his Derby jockey, Kent Desormeaux. He worked in company with Eyesalrite, who like Stormello is trained and co-owned by Bill Currin.

Currin has been trying to teach the eager Stormello to be comfortable behind horses.

"He still wants to go strong," Currin said. "Kent spent more time teaching him. Maybe he got something out of it. There's no point in going out there in 58 flat. Kent says he breaks like a Quarter Horse with his tail on fire. We'll try to take some of that away."

Tiago worked six furlongs in 1:11.40, the fastest of 27 recorded works at the distance at Hollywood on Sunday. He was ridden by his Derby jockey, Mike Smith, and worked with John Shirreffs-trained stablemate Gem Palace, who was left behind when Tiago quickly drew off in the stretch.

"What I like about Tiago is his ability to settle," Shirreffs said. "When Mike calls on him, he reacts quickly."

Both Stormello and Tiago arrived here from California on Monday. Pletcher's Keeneland-based horses were scheduled to van over to Churchill on Tuesday, and Nobiz Like Shobiz is due on Wednesday.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen, David Grening, and Byron King