04/15/2009 12:00AM

Pioneerof the Nile's drill impresses


ARCADIA, Calif. - Pioneerof the Nile has had 14 workouts since joining trainer Bob Baffert's stable after a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October.

None caught the trainer's eye in the same way as a half-mile work in 46.20 seconds at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

"It's probably the best work since I've had him," Baffert said.

It was not the time that impressed Baffert. En route to a four-race winning streak that has made him a top contender for the Kentucky Derby on May 2, Pioneerof the Nile has worked quickly on several occasions. It was the style of the workout, in tandem with stablemate Itlee, that left Baffert thrilled.

"We did a little equipment change, and it really helped," Baffert said. "I changed the bit. He had a ring bit, and it was too hard on him. I went to a D-bit. He's got a soft mouth. He handled it really well."

Baffert said that Pioneerof the Nile went the first half-mile in 24 seconds and galloped out five furlongs in 58.80 seconds. Retired jockey Joe Steiner was aboard for the workout.

Itlee started about seven lengths in front and was caught by Pioneerof the Nile.

"He does not want to lose," Baffert said.

Baffert is hoping that the equipment change will make Pioneerof the Nile easier for a jockey to handle. In the Santa Anita Derby on April 4, Pioneerof the Nile pulled his way to the front on the backstretch, led briefly before tracking pacesetter Feisty Suances, and retook the lead en route to a one-length win.

Owned by Zayat Stables, Pioneerof the Nile has won 5 of 8 starts and $1,234,200.

It is still unclear who will ride Pioneerof the Nile in the Kentucky Derby. Garrett Gomez has ridden Pioneerof the Nile in his last four starts, wins in the CashCall Futurity, Robert Lewis Stakes, San Felipe Stakes, and Santa Anita Derby.

Gomez also is considering taking the mount on Dunkirk, runner-up in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 28 in his stakes debut. Baffert is hoping to learn Gomez's plans this weekend, after talking with the jockey's agent, Ron Anderson, in Kentucky. If Gomez defects from Pioneerof the Nile, there will be no shortage of replacements, Baffert said. He declined to name the leading contender.

"I'm leaving Friday and I'll talk to Ron Anderson," Baffert said. "I've got 20 guys lined up. Everyone has contacted me."

Pioneerof the Nile will have two workouts at Churchill Downs, tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday and early in the week of the Kentucky Derby.

Magical Fantasy gets back on turf

Magical Fantasy's best day came last August when she pulled a 42-1 upset in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. It was a career-defining performance, ensuring her status as a valuable broodmare. It remains to be seen whether she will end her career as a one-hit wonder.

"Some one-hit wonders make a lot of money," trainer Paddy Gallagher said Wednesday.

Magical Fantasy makes her third start of 2009 in Saturday's $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf. So far this year, she has finished behind Life Is Sweet in two major stakes on Santa Anita's synthetic main track - a second in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies and a fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap against older fillies and mares on March 14.

"The older fillies may have been a little better at this time," Gallagher said. "We'll try her back on turf."

Magical Fantasy has not started on turf since finishing fourth, beaten two lengths, in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes over a mile at Hollywood Park on Nov. 30.

"She ran well in that race," Gallagher said.

A winner of 2 of 13 starts and $332,431, Magical Fantasy is part of a field of nine in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara. The race has drawn the first two finishers of the 2008 running - Foxysox and Black Mamba - as well Tizfiz, winner of the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap here in January.

Plans uncertain for Spring House

Spring House, who won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap in February but was last of five in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap in March, is not a certain starter in Sunday's $200,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap.

After Spring House worked a half-mile in 47.80 seconds Wednesday, trainer Julio Canani declined to commit the 7-year-old gelding.

"I don't know what I'll do," he said.

After the San Luis Rey, Spring House was pulled up on the clubhouse turn and was vanned off. Canani said Spring House was unable to get sufficient air.

"He choked," he said. "It was one of those things."

The San Juan Capistrano, run over about 1 3/4 miles on turf, needs Spring House. The unique race is likely to draw a small field, including Big Booster, Church Service, Midships, and Obrigado.