04/29/2009 11:00PM

One last look reveals some clues

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - All 20 Kentucky Derby starters went to the track Thursday at Churchill Downs - one last chance to see the field for this year's Derby before making a final assessment. There were a few surprises, both good and bad, in the offing.

Churchill Downs

Cloudy, track fast, 67 degrees

Two Derby horses blew out for the race, including Papa Clem (three furlongs in 34.47 seconds), who needed to do something serious and impressive following his very disappointing seven-furlong work here last week. And sure enough, that's exactly what he accomplished. With jockey Rafael Bejarano aboard, Papa Clem left the quarter pole in full stride and flew down the stretch, getting to the wire in 22.65 while reaching out nicely under some encouragement before finishing up at the seven-furlong pole and galloping out a half in 47.86. Only three furlongs but a definite improvement over his previous work.

Nowhere to Hide, a last-minute addition to the field, blew out a quarter-mile down the lane in 25.40 before pulling up three-eighths in 38 and change.

The major disappointment this morning was Desert Party, who just didn't gallop with the same smoothness and vigor he has displayed over the past couple of weeks. Changed back to his left lead prematurely approaching the wire and was not striding out as well as you would like to see just 48 hours out from the race.

General Quarters also did not look as smooth or comfortable on Thursday as he had in previous days, while Dunkirk had a very good morning, showing a little more energy during a very sharp-looking gallop than he had in his first visit to the track.

The following is a general assessment of all 20 Derby starters from impressions they made during training hours since my arrival in Kentucky two weeks ago.

Advice: Has shown high energy during a couple of morning gallops and worked a little faster than expected, a half-mile in 47.15 with a strong gallop-out in 59.97 last weekend. Will be making a quick turnaround out of his victory in the Lexington but looks like he has bounced back nicely from the race.

Atomic Rain: Has been on the grounds only two days and did work up a little kidney sweat during his routine gallop on Thursday.

Chocolate Candy: Faltered badly when sent a mile over a wet track in his first local work before rebounding with a strong five-furlong drill in 59.24 without much urging from jockey Mike Smith. That was a very positive sign since he has never run on dirt. Getting mixed signals here but off his last work perhaps he's capable of running in for at least a share of the gimmicks at a square price.

Desert Party: Trained as well as anybody on the grounds for most of the past two weeks while turning in arguably the best pre-Derby work of the field when drilling five-eighths in 59.44, galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.60, and pulling up seven-eighths in 1:26.20 on Saturday. Unfortunately, he did not look quite as sharp on Thursday morning when he appeared to take a couple of missteps before changing leads prematurely nearing the wire. Not what I wanted to see from a horse locked in as my top pick on Wednesday evening.

Dunkirk: Got to watch him breeze twice at Palm Meadows prior to leaving for Kentucky and hard to fault either work, although I did not get to see his final major Derby prep in south Florida. Made a nice appearance galloping with high energy here Thursday morning, but still getting mixed signals. Extremely talented and the one to beat if able to bounce back off his very impressive but draining performance in the Florida Derby. Concerned about his relative inexperience and running style in a 20-horse field.

Flying Private: In his final Derby prep, he was allowed to show a little speed, which he will need to avoid getting hung out to dry breaking out of post 20 on Saturday. Improving but still looks a notch below many of these.

Friesan Fire: Turned in a very sharp mile workout over the Keeneland Polytrack before shipping to Churchill Downs and being gunned through a five-furlong workout in 57.86 seconds on Monday. He was under urging down the stretch before shutting down abruptly coming to and especially after passing the wire. Bounced back nicely out of the work and must consider him a major player, although with some trepidation over the fact he has yet to race beyond 1 1/16 miles.

General Quarters: A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde couple of weeks for this year's Derby Cinderella story. Made a terrible first impression when reluctant to gallop and displayed unappealing leg action. Nor did he score any points when tiring noticeably at the end of his final Derby prep. Yet he bounced out of that breeze looking better than ever and had several very sharp mornings only to lose a little luster when looking less than comfortable or inspired during Thursday's training session.

Hold Me Back: Couldn't be doing any better and deserving of a mulligan over dirt following dull showing at 2 in the Remsen. Finished with interest in his final Derby work without need of urging from jockey Kent Desormeaux and has not had a bad day since. In fact, he didn't miss a single morning coming out of Sunday's work, which is taken as a very positive sign. Can see him as a longshot threat if he takes to the surface as readily as during his recent training sessions.

Join in the Dance: Cannot fault his Derby preparations and he was full of vim and vigor during Thursday's training session when galloping off at a very fast pace before ultimately coming to hand. Figures to be a major pace presence but hard to envision him hanging around for the finish.

I Want Revenge: Has improved on a regular basis over the past 10 days, culminating with a series of razor-sharp gallops and a solid half-mile work on Tuesday that was much sharper than his previous local trial. Looks ready to deliver another top performance.

Mine That Bird: Far from the most-imposing-looking member of the field, but does gallop soundly enough. Flipped leads late during a decent but uninspiring five-furlong work last weekend. Looks overmatched here.

Mr. Hot Stuff: Have had limited opportunity to observe Colonel John's baby brother, but like what I've seen so far. Makes a great physical appearance, although he did display some of his reported immaturity during Thursday's training session when gawking around and losing his focus a bit coming through the stretch.

Musket Man: Had him under consideration as a definite longshot player when arriving in town but have less expectations at this point. Turned in a very uninspiring final Derby work in which he was under heavy pressure but could not get by his stablemate, a recent maiden winner who actually was stronger during the gallop-out. Must wonder if he has not fully recovered from those big efforts in Tampa and Illinois.

Nowhere to Hide: Blew out an easy quarter-mile on Thursday after joining the dance at the 12th hour, so there has been little opportunity to garner any other impression other than he appears overmatched.

Papa Clem: Was on and then quickly off our list of contenders after a very disappointing seven-furlong workout last week in which he shut down very badly and barely made it to the finish line. Did like the way he bounced back and was reaching out during a zippy three-furlong drill on Thursday, but still think he may have peaked prematurely with his big performance in the Arkansas Derby.

Pioneerof the Nile: Could not be doing any better over the past couple of weeks and clearly should have little trouble handling dirt from what he has shown on a regular basis at Churchill Downs. Might be nitpicking to say I would have liked to have seen him finish up just a trifle quicker in his final Derby work, but other than that, he appears to be sitting on a big effort.

Regal Ransom: Has trained as well as could be expected with a couple of sharp drills over the course, although he has always been a good work horse. Not likely to get the same type of pace setup that carried him to victory in the UAE Derby.

Summer Bird: Exits an improved showing in Arkansas, but his final Derby work suggests he's liable to regress off the effort as he labored noticeably during the final stages of that drill. Lightly raced colt looks in over his head in this spot.

West Side Bernie: Has done little wrong in his final preparations, which included a relatively easy half-mile drill last weekend in response, I imagine, to the fact he's coming off a career-best effort in the Wood. Hard to knock yet thinking he's a notch below the best in this field.

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ACTIVITY REPORT

ADVICE - Galloped 1 3/8 miles

ATOMIC RAIN - Galloped one mile

CHOCOLATE CANDY - Galloped 1 1/2 miles

DESERT PARTY - Galloped 1 3/8 miles

DUNKIRK - Galloped 1 3/8 miles

FLYING PRIVATE - Galloped

FRIESAN FIRE - Galloped one mile

GENERAL QUARTERS - Galloped 1 1/2 miles

HOLD ME BACK - Galloped 1 5/8 miles

JOIN IN THE DANCE - Galloped 1 3/8 miles

I WANT REVENGE - Visited the starting gate, galloped one mile

MINE THAT BIRD - Galloped two miles

MR. HOT STUFF - Galloped 1 1/2 miles

MUSKET MAN - Galloped 1 1/2 miles

NOWHERE TO HIDE - Blew out a quarter-mile in 25.40 seconds

PAPA CLEM - Worked three furlongs in 34.47

PIONEEROF THE NILE - Galloped 1 1/4 miles

REGAL RANSOM - Galloped 1 3/8 miles

SUMMER BIRD - Stood at gate, galloped one mile

WEST SIDE BERNIE - Galloped one mile