2007 Kentucky Derby Works
by Trevor Whenham - 04/30/2007
The prep races are all long since over, the field is basically set and all that is left for those of us who are completely obsessed with the Kentucky Derby are the morning works that fill the couple of weeks leading up to the biggest of days in the horse racing world. Horses work every day all across the country, and most of them do it in complete obscurity. For these two weeks, though, the tiniest detail of every work for each Derby horse is filmed, reviewed and speculated on by the hundreds of pairs of eyes that see them live, and the thousands more that wish they did.
It's never completely clear what impact the works will have on the race itself, but is sure is fun to speculate. If your new to looking at Derby works, there are a couple of tips to keep in mind. First, they are never as good or as bad as they appear. It is easy to get overexcited or depressed over a work, but the race is won on Saturday afternoon, not Monday morning. Think of the works as the NFL Combine - the numbers are impressive and seductive, but they mean nothing if a receiver can't catch the ball. Additionally, never believe a word a trainer says. He is paid a lot of money by owners to be optimistic, so every work is perfect and every horse is so fit that it can't possibly lose. A lot of money is lost every year when people buy into trainer hype. With those tips in mind, here are some of the highlights that have emerged in the last few days:
Hard Spun - No single work has been more confusing, or has split opinion more decidedly, that the one that the Lanes End Stakes winner posted on Monday morning. He was sent out with the goal of covering five furlongs in 59 seconds, which is reasonably ambitious. He blew that mark out of the water, going in a scorching 57 3/5 seconds, and proving that it didn't burn him out by galloping out six furlongs in an impressive 1:11 2/5. On one hand, this work shows that the horse, which hasn't run since March 24, is in shape despite the long layoff. It also erases concern over the very slow (1:42 2/5) mile he posted last week on the Polytrack at Keeneland. Obviously the horse doesn't like the synthetic surface. On the other hand, critics argue that this work is way too fast this close to the Derby, and that it leaves the horse both too keyed up and too spent with less than a week to go. One of two things will happen - either Hard Spun will disappoint in the race and this work will be pointed at as the problem, or he'll win easily and every trainer out there will be sprinting like mad in the week before the 2008 Derby.
Curlin - This horse is making it harder and harder, despite his shocking inexperience, for me to avoid betting a good portion of my Derby bankroll on him. Not only is he a freak on a racetrack, but he has shown over the last week that he is also a freak in the morning. The times for his last two works have been respectable, though not earth shattering - a five furlong breeze in 1:00.4 on April 23 at Keeneland, and four furlongs in 48.2 just a couple of hours before Hard Spun at Churchill on Monday. What the works have done, though, is make it perfectly clear how big and strong and fast and impressive this horse is. Virtually everyone who saw the works commented on how easy he made it look. The horse galloped out the mile on the 23rd in 1:41, despite the fact that his rider was standing in the stirrups attempting to slow him down from the 5/8 mark on. He's ready and he'll at least make it interesting.
Any Given Saturday - Though this isn't the highest profile of Todd Pletcher's massive stable of Derby horses, his work on Sunday is the one from the trainer that most caught my eye. With the great Angel Cordero Jr. on board, the horse was sent out to go five furlongs in 1:01. He did it in 1:01 1/5. Though impressive, that time's not spectacular and it clearly wasn't an all out run. What was so striking about the work, though, is that Cordero did not move a muscle the whole time. He sat completely still and the horse took care of business on his own. This horse has shown that he has talent, and this work demonstrated that he has the professionalism and maturity that could serve him well on Saturday.
Scat Daddy - While I was most impressed by Any Given Saturday's Sunday work, Cordero thought that Scat Daddy has the best work of the Pletcher group. He covered five furlongs in 59 2/5 seconds, and he reportedly came off the track afterwards barely breathing hard at all. Circular Quay also worked that morning, covering five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 in the company of the incredible filly Rags to Riches, the likely heavy favorite in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday. Some observers say that Circular Quay has never looked better. If Pletcher doesn't win the Derby this year with the group he has and the works they have been posting then maybe he should just pack it in.
Street Sense - Determined to break the Breeders' Cup Juvenile jinx, Street Sense fired a bullet at Churchill on April 24, posting the fastest time of 36 horses at the five-furlong distance. He went in 59 seconds, including an attention grabbing 22 3/5 seconds for the last quarter mile. Trainer Carl Nafzger's methods are a bit odd to say the least, but he has proven that he can win the big one, and he was thrilled with the work. The horse is clearly ready, and is yet another solid contender in a field full of horses that refuse to distinguish themselves from each other.