LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Perhaps the only thing worse than rain on Derby Day is rain the week of the race, when the majority of the contenders stabled at Churchill Downs get in their final works.
Four consecutive days of rain altered training schedules and forced Derby hopefuls to gallop and work over a racetrack that may not have been to their liking and may bear little resemblance to the one they'll compete over on Derby Day.
When training hours began, as usual, at 5:45 a.m. Monday, a light drizzle added to the abundant moisture that had accumulated on the racetrack since early Friday. The muddy conditions, however, weren't a concern to the trainers of the five potential Derby starters expected to work; all reported for duty as scheduled when the course reopened following the renovation break.
WORK OF THE DAY
Lookin At Lucky (five furlongs in 1:00.38): This was a no-brainer. Lookin At Lucky solidified his status as Derby favorite with another nearly perfect-looking breeze for trainer Bob Baffert.
Unlike in Lookin At Lucky's previous drill five days earlier, when he broke off about five lengths behind his sacrificial workmate Broken Tango, exercise rider Dana Barnes had him nearly 10 lengths behind his target when leaving the five-furlong pole. Despite appearing to cruise along, Lookin At Lucky completed his first three-eighths in a crisp 35.79 seconds while readily overtaking his mate approaching the stretch. Switching leads right on cue, he widened the gap between the pair, completing his final quarter in 24.59 with Barnes as still as a statue the entire length of the stretch. She then reached down and grabbed a hold of her mount shortly past the wire to prevent too strong a gallop-out just five days out from the race. Lookin At Lucky pulled up six furlongs in a very respectable 1:14.96.
It is hard to find any fault with him in the last week, and it is also comforting to know he should have little problem handling a wet track if faced with one in the Derby.
Line of David (six furlongs in 1:14.98): Line of David was the first of the Derby workers to go Monday, and his abundant speed was immediately on display. He ripped off early quarter and three-furlong splits of 23.56 and 35.60. Unlike Lookin At Lucky, who continued on strongly down the lane after posting just slightly slower fractions, Line of David had nothing left in the tank despite being put to pressure approaching the quarter pole and throughout the final furlong, which he really struggled to negotiate despite the steady urging. He then shut down after passing the wire, to the extent I turned my watch off during the gallop-out.
This was a perplexing performance, since Line of David has made a very good physical impression here this week, but his lack of experience over wet racetracks may have been the cause. But that excuse aside, this was not what you'd like to see from a Derby horse this close to the race.
American Lion (five furlongs in 1:02.69): As was the case with Line of David, expectations were high this morning, considering the way American Lion has trained here in the last week. And while this work wasn't terrible, some observers may have wanted to see a bit more.
Breaking off at the five-furlong pole under jockey David Flores, American Lion began at a leisurely pace, completing his opening three-eighths in a shade under 38, slow enough to expect him to have really quickened down the stretch. Instead, American Lion finished up at the same pace, getting his final quarter in 24.78, albeit with Flores offering little encouragement through the lane.
Noble's Promise (four furlongs in 48.80, according to track clockers): I got to see only the final quarter-mile of this work because of all the other activity taking place. I liked what I saw, especially the way he easily pulled away from workmate Fist of Rage in the final furlong after getting mild encouragement from jockey Willie Martinez near the sixteenth pole. He also galloped out the strongest of this morning's quintet of Derby workers, getting an extra furlong in 13.46 to pull up five-eighths in 1:02.26.
This was an important test Noble's Promise had to pass to convince trainer Ken McPeek he was over the minor infirmities that have left his Derby status in doubt the last several weeks. From the looks of things, he passed the test with flying colors.
Interactif (four furlongs in 47.53): Trainer Todd Pletcher continued to lean strongly against running Interactif in the Derby, a notion that was probably confirmed after a fast but somewhat visually unimpressive work. He was put to some severe pressure leaving the turn, yet still struggled before gradually pulling away from his workmate nearing the wire.
I was eager to see something from Endorsement following three consecutive mornings of little or, as was the case Sunday, no activity during training hours. Sure enough, he did hit the track before dawn to jog and then gallop one mile, during which his action looked a bit on the choppy side.
Sidney's Candy returned to the track for the first time since working Saturday and looked extremely sharp. He left the impression he wanted to do much more than just jog once around alongside the pony.