04/26/2009 11:00PM

Rachel Alexandra steals Derby horses' thunder

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Barbara D. Livingston
Oaks favorite Rachel Alexandra turned in the work of the day at Churchill Downs on Monday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It took eight days in Kentucky to finally see a workout that would blow my socks off, a la Street Sense or Barbaro, in the weeks leading up to this year's Kentucky Derby. That work came Monday at Churchill Downs, but it was not turned in by a prospective Derby starter but by Rachel Alexandra, who will be the odds-on favorite to capture the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.

Churchill Downs

Sunny, track fast, 71 degrees

Everybody knew Monday would be the wildest morning yet heading into Saturday's big event, with nine potential Derby contenders and a couple of Oaks candidates all scheduled to work following the renovation break. But nobody expected the tragedy that unfolded in the heat of all that action. Two horses collided on the track, forcing several Derby workers as well as Rachel Alexandra to delay their breezes approximately 25 minutes. One of the horses broke a hip and was euthanized, and the other sustained a shoulder injury.

Six Derby hopefuls - Pioneerof the Nile, Friesan Fire, Chocolate Candy, Win Willy, Join in the Dance, and Flying Private - were fortunate to have completed their appointed rounds before the track closed due to the accident. All six worked almost simultaneously during a hectic three- to four-minute span immediately after the track reopened for business at 8:30 a.m. following the renovation break.

The racetrack seemed a bit on the dull side during the early training session, but appeared to have sped up noticeably after being harrowed and watered during the renovation break. A moderate headwind through the stretch likely affected the final eighth and quarter-mile splits of any horse who worked after the break.

Work of the day

Rachel Alexandra (four furlongs in 46.43): Although this is a Kentucky Derby workout report, there is little doubt who turned in the best work of the morning, or week for that matter. In fact, Rachel Alexandra's final Oaks prep was one of the most eye-catching Derby Week drills witnessed here in recent memory.

Rachel Alexandra was seconds away from commencing her work when the horn began blaring, warning riders of the collision that had just taken place near the finish line. Jockey Calvin Borel immediately aborted the drill and brought the filly back to the barn.

Rachel Alexandra returned to the track some 25 minutes later and finally broke off at the half-mile pole, just in front of possible Derby starter Advice. With Borel sitting like a statue, Rachel Alexandra went her opening quarter-mile in 22.64, and despite turning into a headwind, came home in 23.79 without even the slightest hint of urging. She then continued at a similar pace around the turn and into the backstretch, galloping out five furlongs in 58.40 and double galloping out six furlongs in 1:10.78 before finally pulling up seven-eighths in an incredible 1:24.65. The move was reminiscent of, if not even better than, Street Sense's final Derby prep, right down to the presence of Borel in the saddle.

Rachel Alexandra has been a joy to watch training here all week, and off this work would have been my pick had she taken on the boys in the Derby. However, she is not nominated to the Triple Crown.

Pioneerof the Nile (five furlongs in 1:00.87): Far from the fastest work of the day, but impressive nonetheless. Pioneerof the Nile went along at a fairly even pace, posting fractions of 12.65, 23.56, 36.08, and 48.78 while kept well within himself by exercise rider Joe Steiner. The Santa Anita Derby winner continued willingly around the turn and into the backstretch while under just slight pressure from the wire to the seven-eighths pole, much in the same manner he galloped out when working here for the first time last week. Pioneerof the Nile's move was certainly not as flashy as the filly's, but was enough to further foster the opinion that the long-striding colt is handling the track well and maintaining peak form.

Chocolate Candy (five furlongs in 59.24): The work of the day among the prospective Derby starters who trained this morning. Chocolate Candy showed an enormous improvement over his first local trial, during which he labored badly during the latter stages of a one-mile work over a wet track six days earlier.

With jockey Mike Smith aboard, Chocolate Candy broke off at a comfortable pace Monday but really began to pick up speed around the turn, completing his opening three furlongs in 34.96. But unlike last week, instead of getting leg-weary through the stretch and around the turn, Chocolate Candy continued on strong and steady into the headwind without need of urging from Smith, ultimately galloping out six furlongs in a sharp 1:13.03.

Must admit I didn't see this one coming. Chocolate Candy has a high leg action more suitable to turf or synthetic surfaces, and he hadn't shown any signs coming out of his previous work, during subsequent morning gallops, that would make one expect this type of a forward move. He certainly earned a new measure of respect off today's showing.

Friesan Fire (five furlongs in 57.86): It was Hard Spun revisited this morning for Friesan Fire and trainer Larry Jones. Just like the 2007 Derby runner-up in his final pre-Derby workout, Friesan Fire zipped around at a breakneck pace after being catapulted away by Jones on his stable pony approaching the five-furlong pole. He blew by the quarter pole after an opening three-eighth-mile split of 33.19 and completed a half-mile in 45.04 before getting predictably leg-weary, despite getting shaken up several times by jockey Gabriel Saez through the final three-sixteenths of a mile. Friesan Fire shut down rather abruptly beyond the wire, barely galloping out at all around the turn to the seven-furlong marker.

Barbara D. Livingston
Flying Private (left), ridden by Robby Albarado, works in company with stablemate Luv Gov.

Not sure what to make of this one. Friesan Fire's one-mile work at Keeneland eight days earlier was very encouraging, and the same workout strategy proved successful for Hard Spun two years ago. But Hard Spun turned out to be a very special colt, and it remains to be seen whether Friesan Fire will become another Hard Spun.

Flying Private (four furlongs in 47.40, according to track clockers): Broke off two lengths behind stablemate Luv Gov and finished three to four lengths in front.

Changed leads a trifle late and lugged in a bit nearing the eighth pole, but did complete his final furlong in 11.59, albeit under some pressure from jockey Robby Albarado.

Win Willy (five furlongs in 1:02.40, according to track clockers): Liked the fact that he did not get as hot as he has in recent mornings, but would have preferred to have seen a little better finish than a 24.60 final quarter-mile considering he was under pressure nearly the entire length of the stretch. Galloped out six furlongs in an uninspiring 1:15.60.

Join in the Dance (five furlongs in 1:00.20, according to track clockers): Only got to see the final eighth-mile of this one, during which he appeared to be moving well under little urging from retired Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr.

Advice (four furlongs in 47.15): Like Rachel Alexandra, Advice had to abort his work and wait nearly a half-hour due to the collision. He has displayed a high energy level in recent mornings and once again was very keen, skipping along at a sharp pace about 10 to 12 lengths behind the filly and continuing with interest under very little pressure to the wire and around the turn. Advice galloped out five-eighths in 59.97 before pulling up six furlongs in 1:13.78, flashing a higher turn of speed than expected from a horse who rallied from dead last to win the Lexington just nine days earlier.

Mine That Bird (five furlongs in 1:02.06): Began at a leisurely pace, covering his opening three-eighths in 37.48 under Borel, and finished willingly enough under some encouragement despite jumping up and flipping back to his left lead inside the sixteenth pole. Galloped out six furlongs in 1:15.30.

Take the Points (five furlongs in 1:00.06): Now 21st on the graded earnings list, he is poised to break into the Derby lineup with one more defection. Take the Points has shown definite improvement since returning to dirt and adding blinkers. He worked in company with stablemate Shramsburg, pulling away from his mate at the wire while completing his final quarter-mile in 24.24 and galloping out five furlongs in 1:13.73.

Kentucky Oaks

Flying Spur (four furlongs in 48.54): She's no Rachel Alexandra, but Flying Spur made a nice appearance, cruising along at an even pace without urging before being put to some encouragement to gallop out five-eighths in 1:02.12.

All times clocked by Daily Racing Form unless otherwise noted.

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ACTIVITY REPORT

ADVICE - Worked four furlongs in 47.15 seconds

CHOCOLATE CANDY - Worked five furlongs in 59.24

DESERT PARTY - Jogged one mile

DUNKIRK - Galloped 1 1/4 miles at Palm Meadows Training Center

FLYING PRIVATE - Worked four furlongs in 47.40

FRIESAN FIRE - Worked five furlongs in 57.86

GENERAL QUARTERS - Galloped 1 1/2 miles

HOLD ME BACK - Galloped one mile

JOIN IN THE DANCE - Worked four furlongs in 1:00.40

I WANT REVENGE - Jogged one mile, galloped one mile

MINE THAT BIRD - Worked five furlongs in 1:02.06

MR. HOT STUFF - Flew from California to Kentucky

MUSKET MAN - Galloped 1 1/2 miles

PAPA CLEM - Walked the shed row

PIONEEROF THE NILE - Worked five furlongs in 1:00.87

REGAL RANSOM - Jogged one mile

SQUARE EDDIE - Walked the shed row

SUMMER BIRD - Galloped 1 1/2 miles

TAKE THE POINTS - Worked five furlongs in 1:00.06

WEST SIDE BERNIE - Galloped 1 3/8 miles

WIN WILLY - Worked five furlongs in 1:02.40