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Kentucky Derby clocker report card: Training reveals plenty of clues
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Thursday dawned cold and for a change bright, with the sun shining over the Twin Spires and on the 20 prospective Kentucky Derby starters, all of whom visited the track at one time or another during the course of the morning.
Most eyes after the renovation break were trained on two horses, Uncle Mo and the European invader Master of Hounds, with the two leaving decidedly different impressions regarding their respective morning’s work. [UPDATE: Uncle Mo scratched Friday.] The starting gate proved a very popular spot for many of the Derby contenders, including likely favorite Dialed In, who schooled briefly before embarking on his daily gallop.
After spending three relatively inactive mornings since working in company with stablemate Stay Thirsty on Sunday, Uncle Mo was ready to roll and looked sharp galloping 1 1/2 miles over a racetrack that was the tightest and fastest I have seen over the past 1 1/2 weeks. His action was uncharacteristically high at times, as if he were climbing, but that seemed a factor of his eagerness to go and the hold his rider had to take to keep him from doing too much a little more than 48 hours in advance of the race. That being said, he has still left the impression he’s just not 100 percent and his starting status was in question as of Thursday morning.
Master of Hounds, on the other hand, looked dull and more like a horse just ending a hard campaign rather than at the beginning of one. After jogging 1 1/4 miles on the outside rail he turned around and galloped a very slow 1 1/4 miles on the inside fence, looking listless and stiff the entire time.
Dialed In looked the best I have seen him in the four days he has been here, while picking up the pace of his gallop noticeably over the fast and tight track.
The following are my final impressions of the 20 Derby starters from what I have observed here over the past 12 days.
Archarcharch: I didn’t really care for the way he was travelling when I first arrived but he just kept getting better and better on a daily basis and at this point I would have to say he’s training as well as anybody coming up to the race. His final work was perfect – fast, and with a strong gallop-out to punctuate the move – and he’s done little wrong ever since. The chief concern here is obviously the inside post.
Brilliant Speed: For a horse whose best efforts have come on grass or over artificial surfaces, he seems to have taken to dirt extremely well. His one and only work over the local surface, albeit a wet track, was visually impressive and he has continued to look well coming out of that breeze. He is undoubtedly an improving horse and eligible for a big performance but another whose chances could be compromised by the inside draw.
Twice the Appeal: With Calvin Borel in his corner, he’s an automatic contender, and like Archarcharch another of the Derby horses who seems to have improved as the week progressed. The best part of his last work was the gallop-out, which is an indication he might have the stamina to stay 1 1/4 miles and there’s little secret where to find him when the field turns for home: right on the rail.
Stay Thirsty: He has trained in the shadow of Uncle Mo throughout his entire stay but did work stride for stride with his more heralded stablemate over a sloppy track on Sunday, something he was not able to do when the pair trained this past winter in Florida. Perhaps this is an indication he is on the improve and I’m expecting a better effort following the failed blinkers experiment in the Florida Derby. The shades come off on Saturday.
Decisive Moment: For the most part the south Florida invader, who has been on the grounds the longest of any of the Derby contenders, has looked good in the morning although his final work got a little sloppy when he began swapping leads a couple of times from midstretch to the wire and shut down a little prematurely in the gallop-out. His running style looks like it could put him in the thick of a potential speed duel.
Comma to the Top: California-based 3-year-old is another of the speed types in this lineup. Has done very little since his arrival here earlier this week and I was surprised to see him only jog on Thursday morning rather than stretch his legs with at least a minimal gallop.
Pants On Fire: Cannot say anything negative about the way he has trained since arriving from Florida two weeks in advance of the race. I was a little disappointed in his final Palm Meadows drill but he looked much improved breezing a controlled half-mile with jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard earlier in the week. Had a spirited two-minute-lick gallop on Thursday.
Dialed In: Trainer Nick Zito has brought the once-beaten colt into the race in a bit of an unorthodox manner with only one serious half-mile work at Palm Meadows under his belt since winning the Florida Derby five weeks ago, but that drill was extremely impressive. He’s definitely not the prettiest mover during his routine gallops, but that’s just his style. He looked the same all winter, and as noted above he’s definitely stretching out and moving a lot more fluidly since his arrival here last weekend.
Derby Kitten: Lexington winner shipped over from the Trackside training center during the middle of the week. He’s smallish in stature and has looked just average during his limited appearances over the Churchill strip. Turf and Polytrack specialist remains a huge question mark over dirt.
Twinspired: Blue Grass runner-up is a sharp contrast to Derby Kitten, dwarfing his stablemate in appearance. He made a very favorable impression the first two mornings I saw him gallop while seemingly handling the main track extremely well despite also having had all his success over synthetic surfaces.
Master of Hounds: The initial impression of the lone European invader in the field was not a good one as he appeared to be a little listless during his first visit to the track on Thursday despite having been confined to quarantine the previous two mornings. His stride looked very stiff and short during a routine 1 1/4-mile gallop, although not having seen him on a regular basis, it’s hard to judge if this is his regular way of going. All in all, however, not what you would want to see 48 hours out from the race.
Santiva: He seems to have improved since a couple of uninspiring and lackadaisical gallops last week, one in which he actually got to stumbling a bit passing the grandstand. He was not asked for speed during his final work on Monday over a very sloppy track, but he finished up willingly enough with the best part of the work the strong manner in which he galloped out around the turn. Getting mixed signals here.
Mucho Macho Man: He has been trained as aggressively as anybody in this field, in part due to the fact he will have been idle for six weeks coming into the Derby, with four works during that period, including two at seven furlongs. He got visibly tired after going off too fast in his final Gulfstream work but finished up better when trying the same distance here eight days later. He was put to some severe pressure when losing focus briefly during his final work but came home the last three furlongs in 35 seconds and, best yet, has bounced out of that drill with a series of strong two-mile gallops. The big question will be his immaturity, since he’s the youngest horse in the field and won’t actually turn 3 for another five weeks.
Shackleford: Florida Derby runner-up has maintained a high energy level for the last two weeks and zipped through his final Derby drill in 58 and change and still had a little left in the tank during the gallop-out. Looks ready for another big effort but hard to see him avoiding some kind of pace battle considering all the other speed in this lineup.
Midnight Interlude: Although the Santa Anita Derby winner received a bullet for both his works here, his second local work was much better than his first when he struggled to keep up with older stablemate Mythical Power over a somewhat funky track on April 26. He certainly hasn’t wowed anyone with his routine gallops, but he does have Bob Baffert in his corner and that’s certainly got to be worth a couple of lengths. But the overall impression has been ordinary at best.
Animal Kingdom: Spiral winner showed his affinity for dirt with an eye-catching six-furlong drill one week ago and he has done nothing since to indicate he has regressed off that move. He had his head severely cocked to the inside and appeared to be looking around during the first half of Thursday’s training session but stretched out very nicely once able to keep his head straight through the second mile. An improving and very dangerous member of this field with any racing luck.
Soldat: He bounced out of his very disappointing Florida Derby experience with a huge workout on April 21 at Palm Meadows, during which he galloped out his final furlong in 12, and has looked very happy since getting into the cooler weather in Kentucky over the weekend. Still a lingering doubt about whether he can rate off all the other speed in this field, and an alert start will be crucial, but if he can run back to either of his previous 3-year-old starts he looms a major player. He may also be the major beneficiary if the track is wet at post time.
Uncle Mo: His gallops have been strong and his two workouts have not been bad, although he did not handle stablemate Stay Thirsty as well as he had in the past in his final drill on Sunday. Although his coat looks good, he’s definitely not carrying his usual weight and there is a lingering feeling that if he does start, he will go into the Derby at less than 100 percent.
Nehro: Another giving some mixed signals as his most recent work on Monday was not nearly as impressive as his previous one and his training regimen has lightened up ever since, with only a brief visit to the gate and an easy five-furlong gallop to report on Thursday. On the other hand, his form has never been better and he has the running style that certainly fits the likely profile of this race.
Watch Me Go: An outsider to begin with and post 20 certainly won’t enhance his chances, but he has trained forwardly since his arrival and gave every indication the distance might not be an issue as he galloped out very strongly at the end of his only local work.