05/04/2005 11:00PM

Kentucky Derby clocker report for Thursday

Wilko puts in his first gallop over the Churchill track on Wednesday. He enters Saturday's Kentucky Derby off a third in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A year ago, Smarty Jones looked and trained the best of all the Kentucky Derby contenders stabled at Churchill Downs coming into the race. He then validated that opinion by not only capturing the Derby but nearly sweeping the Triple Crown.

This year, the horse who has looked and trained the best is Bellamy Road, who gives every appearance of being a worthy favorite Saturday. He was just one of several members of the field, however, who left favorable impressions in the final, very chilly 10 mornings leading up to the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

Afleet Alex - This year's media darling has had a rigorous week but has held up quite well under the strain. Training five miles a morning on more than one occasion, he has had some good days and days that weren't as good during his routine jogs and gallops, although both his works were rock solid. It's hard to say exactly how he is holding up after all those two-a-days, since he certainly is not the most robust-looking member of the field, but he is extremely talented and among the logical contenders in this race.

Andromeda's Hero - I barely got a chance to see him, since he had been stabled regularly at Keeneland until shipping here Thursday. He did finish well in his one work over the track, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him run late to grab one of the minor awards.

Bandini - Arguably the second-best looking member of the field, behind Bellamy Road, he missed a little training last week but bounced back with several strong gallops, though at times he acted up on the track just like his daddy, Fusaichi Pegasus. I would have preferred to see him finish just a bit stronger in his final work Sunday, but it's hard not to respect him off his sensational effort in the Blue Grass.

Bellamy Road - A gorgeous individual who exudes class when galloping each morning, his head bowed majestically as he tugs and pulls his exercise rider, always trying to do a bit more. His final Derby work was nothing short of sensational, not so much on the clock but the manner in which he was striding out as he completed the move and then galloped out so strongly and effortlessly around the turn. He gives every impression of being the most talented member of this field.

Buzzards Bay - I didn't get to to see much of the Santa Anita Derby winner, who did not ship here until Wednesday.

Closing Argument - He has looked good since shipping over from Keeneland last weekend, but he seemed a bit distracted and even tried to drift out a bit during his lone local workout. He will have to be more focused if he is to outperform his long odds Saturday.

Coin Silver - The least regarded of the Pletcher trio, he has not been asked to do quite as much as stablemates Bandini or Flower Alley over the past 10 days since he is coming up to this race on only two weeks' rest. It's hard to find fault with his final work, during which he pulled away late from Illinois Derby runner-up Monarch Lane under moderate pressure.

Don't Get Mad - He has had an easy week since winning the Derby Trial last Saturday, but it's hard to get excited about any horse coming into the Derby on only one week's rest.

Flower Alley - He has trained with blinkers on during several of his morning gallops and in his final work, during which he outfinished Eclipse winner Ashado, although Ashado was obviously not on top of her game that morning. He does appear to be more focused with the equipment change and is a 3-year-old who is improving now, which is always dangerous.

Giacomo - Another of the California contingent who did not arrive until Wednesday.

Going Wild - It's hard to get a very good look at this longshot, since he does all his training in the dark. As expected, he flashed a high turn of foot in his final workout, and there is little doubt he will be a major pace factor Saturday.

Greater Good - Hits the ground hard and gives his all during morning gallops, when he occasionally was a handful for his rider. He was unimpressive in his final work, however, dropping far behind a workmate after being rank to the pole and not finishing with any interest despite some slow early splits. He looks like a horse heading in the wrong direction.

Greeley's Galaxy - His daily gallops have been impressive, but both workouts were disappointing. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when his first, rather unorthodox mile work from the eighth pole to the eighth pole did not quite go according to plan and he shut down badly at the end. But he failed to redeem himself when given a second chance Wednesday, again failing to finish sharply or gallop out strongly in his five-furlong drill.

High Fly - He doesn't have the prettiest way of going in the morning, but he has been training strongly, so much so that he required two different ponies to get him around during one training session. His final work was excellent, a five-furlong drill during which he easily put away a stablemate and then outfinished a second, unexpected bit of company he collared at midstretch while shading 24 seconds for his final quarter. A real fighter whose biggest concern may be the distance.

High Limit - Nobody except perhaps Bellamy Road is training better coming into the race. He has a series of strong gallops to go along with two sharp workouts, including the first, when he held his own against Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. He appears to be coming up to his best race yet, but as with High Fly, I'm just not sure he can go 1 1/4 miles.

Noble Causeway - Like the other Zito horses, he has had a great week, with a series of sharp gallops and an excellent work in which he shaded 1:00 but still had enough left to gallop out willingly around the turn. He is another dangerous 3-year-old because of the steady progress he has made lately, although he is one of the few in the field who is entering the race without a stakes win.

Sort It Out - He was a bit rank breaking off in his local Derby prep and then breezed a lot quicker than expected, although that type of speed might come in handy after he drew the inside post. He does not appear to be in the same class as some of the others.

Spanish Chestnut - I had an opportunity to see the likely pacesetter just once, when he shipped in to work Sunday. He has the quick stride and action of a typical sprinter, scampering through some swift early fractions before tiring late in his final pre-Derby trial. He should take them to the far turn.

Sun King - I came here willing to excuse his poor effort in the Blue Grass and left thinking he can bounce back with a big performance Saturday. I liked his well-orchestrated final work, during which he dropped far behind a couple of targets and finished relatively well despite angling about six wide into the stretch and zipping through some solid early fractions over an extremely cuppy track. He looked a little lackluster coming out of the work but really picked up the bit in the middle of the week.

Wilko - He arrived late and really didn't stretch his legs here until Tuesday, so it was hard to get a meaningful first-hand look at the reigning Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion. But after viewing a videotape and putting a watch to his workout last weekend in California, during which he outfinished Grade 1-winning sprinter P T's Grey Eagle and galloped out six furlongs in about 1:11, I was left with the impression that he is rounding back to peak form at the right time.