04/26/2006 11:00PM

Just ignore Steppenwolfer's first lap


Danny Peitz doesn't ever train a full barn of horses, but his Churchill Downs string is especially short this spring.

"I'm a one-horse stable right now, I guess," Peitz said earlier this week.

With the rest of his stable at summer quarters in New York, Peitz's attention is devoted solely to Steppenwolfer, his horse for the Kentucky Derby. While many of the prospective Derby horses haven't even shipped in to Louisville, Steppenwolfer has been settled in for the better part of two weeks, since Peitz shipped him just days after Steppenwolfer finished a closing second in the April 15 Arkansas Derby.

And if Peitz is keeping tabs on Steppenwolfer's every move these days, so too are many other sets of eyes. Derby horses get intense scrutiny during the run-up to the race, and it hasn't taken seasoned observers long to notice Steppenwolfer's mannerisms during routine morning gallops.

"If they watch him go by the first time around, they're going to say, 'Whoa, no good,' " Peitz said. "But you have to wait and see him go past the second time around. Then, he'll be completely different. The first time around, you say, 'That's not impressing me.' The second time around, 'Oh, shoot, he's trying to run off.' "

Peitz said Steppenwolfer has been slow to get into a good stride during his training since he first took to the racetrack last fall, and Steppenwolfer trained the same way all through a productive winter that saw him win twice and place in two stakes prior to the Arkansas Derby.

"Everything's the same, so it's fine with me," Peitz said. "Is he a little stiff or something? Maybe. Maybe it takes him a little bit to warm up. Is it his feet? I don't think so, because he wouldn't get better the longer he goes."

Co-owner Robert Low phoned Peitz on Thursday and asked how his stress level was. "I said as long as the horse is happy, I'm happy, and I'm happy right now," he said.

WinStar buys piece of Sharp Humor

Bill Casner and Ken Troutt's WinStar Farm has purchased an interest in Swale Stakes winner and Kentucky Derby contender Sharp Humor. The farm purchased the undisclosed interest privately.

WinStar stands Sharp Humor's sire, Distorted Humor. The farm also bred 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, another son of Distorted Humor.

Sharp Humor, a son of the unraced Hansel mare Bellona, was bred in New York by Patricia S. Purdy. He races for the Purdedel Stable partnership of Patricia and Chris Purdy and Ed and Mara Edelberg. He will carry the Purdedel silks in the Derby.

In addition to his Swale score, Sharp Humor finished second to Barbaro in the Florida Derby. Last year he won the Bertram Bongard and Sleepy Hollow stakes.

- Glenye Cain

No holding him back

Sharp Humor has been so headstrong in his morning training that trainer Dale Romans said he has instructed the colt's regular exercise rider, Faustino Orantes, to permit the horse do "a little more" than he might otherwise.

"He's been so sharp, we're just letting him train along," said Romans.

On each of the last two mornings, Sharp Humor has gone well beyond a routine gallop by coming through the stretch at a very strong pace. In fact, on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, Daily Racing Form clocker Mike Welsch has timed Sharp Humor going several furlongs at a clip of less than 14 seconds per furlong, or significantly faster than the standard "two-minute clip" that defines a fast gallop.

"I can guarantee you there is no other Derby horse doing any better than he is right now," said Romans. "He is just so strong right now."

Sharp Humor has been training late in the morning, when traffic is relatively light. Said Romans: "We're doing that so there aren't as many horses around and it decreases the chance of him getting even more keyed up. He's already so eager to go anyway."

Romans said Sharp Humor will have his final Derby blowout Saturday morning. The colt's Derby rider, Mark Guidry, will be aboard for the five-furlong work.

Sharp Humor figures among the early flight in the speed-laden Derby, but Romans has said he is not inclined to attempt to harness that speed, even faced with the possibility of the colt being caught up in a ruinous pace.

- Marty McGee

Smith to ride Flashy Bull if he gets in

Mike Smith, who rode Giacomo to victory in last year's Kentucky Derby, would ride Flashy Bull this year if that horse can get into the field, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

"We just thought it was a great fit for Mike to ride a gray son of Holy Bull if we get in," said McLaughlin, who trains Flashy Bull for West Point Thoroughbreds.

Giacomo, whom Smith rode to victory in last year's Derby at odds of 50-1, is also a gray son of Holy Bull. Smith was also the regular rider of Holy Bull, the 1994 Horse of the Year.

Flashy Bull currently stands at 22nd on the graded-stakes earnings list. The Derby is limited to 20 horses and the field is based on earnings in graded stakes.

Flashy Bull has only one win from nine career starts, but was placed second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. He finished seventh in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, but was found to have a case of the thumps, an electrolyte imbalance.

- David Grening

Rain may force trainers to adjust

Flashy Bull may be one of as many as five Kentucky Derby starters whose work schedule could be altered due to potential rain showers, which are forecast for the Louisville area Saturday night and Sunday.

McLaughlin had penciled in final Derby works for both Flashy Bull and Jazil at Churchill Downs on Sunday. His colleague Todd Pletcher was planning a similar schedule for his Derby trio of Bluegrass Cat, Keyed Entry, and Sunriver. But both said they are prepared to move those works up 24 hours to Saturday morning if necessary.

"I'll look at the weather real closely," said McLaughlin. "Both horses are scheduled to ship to Louisville from Keeneland on Friday and we'll stick to those plans."

McLaughlin said that no matter when they go, Flashy Bull and Jazil would work in company. Pletcher said none of his three Derby contenders would work together, although Sunriver might breeze in company with one of his other stablemates.

- Mike Welsch