04/24/2009 12:00AM

Strong drill for Dunkirk in Florida


BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - On April 18, 2008, Big Brown worked five furlongs shortly after dawn in the near anonymity of the Palm Meadows Training Center here. Two weeks later, Big Brown was standing in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs after the Kentucky Derby.

On Saturday, almost a year to the day of Big Brown's penultimate Derby workout, Dunkirk followed a similar routine before just a handful of spectators at Palm Meadows. The colt's work kicked off the final two weeks of training for the 20 3-year-olds who will line up in this year's Kentucky Derby.

Palm Meadows Training Center

Clear, fast, 68 degrees

Conditions couldn't have been any better for Dunkirk's next-to-last Derby workout. Temperatures were in the high 60s with just a light breeze blowing as Dunkirk, the Florida Derby runner-up, took to a nearly deserted racetrack shortly after 7 a.m. with regular rider Patti Barry aboard. As was the case the previous week, trainer Todd Pletcher opted to work Dunkirk in company with stablemate Checklist, who is scheduled to run opening day at Churchill in the Grade 3 Derby Trial.

Checklist was first to break off at the five-furlong pole, with Dunkirk about a half-length behind. After cutting out easy fractions of 12.40 seconds and 24.49 for the opening two furlongs, Dunkirk eased back slightly off his partner, briefly falling a full length behind midway on the turn.

By the time the pair turned into the stretch, however, they were on even terms after completing three-eighths in 35.99. The two proceeded to hit the wire as a team, with Dunkirk well in hand and Checklist under only the mildest of urging. Dunkirk completed five furlongs in 59.72, according to Daily Racing Form. Both continued with good energy around to the mile pole, Dunkirk getting a wave and perhaps a light tap of the stick as he entered the turn before galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.26.

The workout was pretty much a carbon copy of Dunkirk's half-mile move in company with Checklist one week earlier, with the exception of the pace being a bit quicker and the finish a little stronger. Dunkirk got the final quarter in 23.73 on Saturday, as opposed to 24.22 last weekend. And like last week, Dunkirk continued to gallop out the length of the backstretch, in essence completing 1 1/4 miles before pulling up at the three-eighths pole.

"Basically we're continuing to do what we've been doing with him all along and following the same schedule we used leading up to the Florida Derby," Pletcher said immediately after the work. "I was very pleased with the way he went today. He relaxed well the first part, finished up good and galloped out strong."

Churchill Downs

Clear, fast, 52 degrees warming to 62

At Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., three Kentucky Derby prospects were sent through good-looking workouts on a beautiful Saturday morning. The Godolphin pair of Regal Ransom and Desert Party worked five furlongs 2 1/2 hours apart, both solo, while Musket Man breezed six furlongs alongside one of his stablemates from the Derek Ryan barn.

Over a fast track, Regal Ransom went under the cover of darkness at about 6:15 a.m. with little urging from exercise rider Bob Chapman. According to Churchill Downs clocker John Nichols, he went in fractions of 12.60, 24.20, 35.80, 48, and 59.80, with a six-furlong gallop-out time of 1:13.

Desert Party went shortly after the harrow break at about 8:45 a.m., also with Chapman aboard, going in 12.20, 24.60, 37, 48.80, and 1:00.20, with a six-furlong gallop-out time of 1:13.20.

Rick Mettee, the American-based assistant who has been on hand in recent days for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said he was very pleased with the way both colts went.

Regal Ransom and Desert Party were the one-two finishers in the March 28 UAE Derby. Godolphin officials have said both are under consideration for the May 2 Derby but have held out the possibility of running just one of them.

Musket Man, winner of the Tampa Bay and Illinois derbies in his last two starts, had regular rider Eibar Coa aboard for the team work, which also came shortly after the harrow break and just a few minutes before the Desert Party breeze.

Racing just outside of Bull Toccet, a 3-year-old colt who recently won a maiden race (by disqualification), Musket Man laid about a half-length off his workmate as both began hitting full stride shortly after turning into the backstretch and passing the 5 1/2-furlong pole. By the quarter pole, they were on even terms, and by midstretch, with Coa barely moving his hands, Musket Man was pulling away. He passed under the wire about three lengths ahead of Bull Toccet, continued on to the 7 1/2-furlong pole, then galloped strongly for another furlong or so.

Churchill clockers were unsure whether to credit the colt with a five-furlong work (five-furlong pole to the wire, which came in 1:00) or a six-furlong work (5 1/2-furlong pole to 7 1/2-furlong pole, 1:13). They settled on the latter after receiving word from Ryan as to his intentions.

Nichols caught Musket Man going from the quarter pole to the wire in 24.40.

- Marty McGee