04/22/2010 11:00PM

Paddy O'Prado makes splash at sloppy Churchill

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - To work or not to work? That was the question facing trainers with both Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses after rain began falling early Friday morning, ultimately changing the racetrack from fast to sloppy by the time the special training session began at Churchill Downs after the renovation break at 8:30 a.m.

With more storms expected Saturday, some predicted to be quite severe, trainers with Derby and Oaks horses scheduled to breeze here this weekend were faced with the dilemma of moving those works up or rolling the dice and hoping the track will hold up the next few mornings. Among them was Dale Romans, who decided to move Paddy O'Prado's final Derby prep up 24 hours.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has more than a half-dozen Derby works scheduled this weekend, briefly considered breezing Devil May Care on Friday, a day earlier than scheduled, but after the track was sealed rather than harrowed following one last shower at 7:30 a.m, he opted to hold off and hope for better conditions on Saturday.

The sealed track did produce significantly faster times as compared with before the break.

Paddy O'Prado was one of only two potential Derby starters to work on Friday at Churchill Downs, along with Ice Box. Trainer Mike Maker also breezed his Derby duo of Dean's Kitten and Stately Victor at the nearby Trackside training center the same morning. Four Oaks starters, including the Pletcher-trained Ailalea, also turned in recorded workouts under the twin spires.

Paddy O'Prado (five furlongs in 58.44 seconds): The versatile and improving Paddy O'Prado was one of the horses who had caught my eye earlier in the week during his routine morning gallops, so his final Derby workout was much anticipated, and this son of El Prado certainly did not disappoint, turning in the most impressive pre-Derby prep of the week.

With exercise rider Tammy Fox, the wife of trainer Dale Romans, in the saddle, Paddy O'Prado gave no real indication of what was to come after cruising through an opening eighth in 12.20 seconds. He then proceeded to pick up the pace with each successive furlong around the turn and into the stretch, posting fractions of 23.60, 35, and 46.44 seconds, continuing strongly down the stretch and past the wire with little urging before turning in an eye-catching gallop-out of six furlongs in 1:11.06 and seven-eighths in 1:25.62.

Obviously, it is hard to factor what part the wet and sealed racetrack might have played in the move, but regardless, there is little doubt this is a colt who is on top of his game and peaking at exactly the right time.

Ice Box (four furlongs in 46.38 seconds): Trainer Nick Zito said Thursday, "You're going to see something really cool from Ice Box tomorrow. He's going to work a little quicker this time." And sure enough, he was right.

With exercise rider Megan Smillie aboard, Ice Box turned in what was undoubtedly a very purposeful final Derby prep on Friday. Breaking off at the half-mile pole alongside stablemate Morning Line, Ice Box was full of run from the outset, shading 23 seconds for his opening quarter-mile. Ice Box easily pulled away from his mate once settling into the stretch while under steady urging to the wire. Then, like Paddy O'Prado, he continued on willingly around the turn to gallop out five-eighths in 59.40 seconds.

It was not what one might have expected to see from a horse who had rallied from last to win the Florida Derby in his previous start. But as Zito, a two-time Derby winner, said, "One thing about the Derby you have to keep tweaking. You can't be over, you can't be under, you've got to get it just right."

Eskendereya had another good morning, seemingly handling the slop without any issues, as did Devil May Care. Mission Impazible has looked good all week both here and before leaving his winter home in south Florida, although he did appear a little uncomfortable over the dampened surface while galloping before the break.

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