Godolphin’s pair of contenders for the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) – Desert Party and Regal Ransom – turned in sharp works Saturday in their first serious training at Churchill Downs, while Illinois Derby (GII) winner Musket Man worked a strong six furlongs under Derby jockey Eibar Coa.
UAE Derby (GII) winner Regal Ransom turned in one of the best works of the day as he zipped five furlongs over a “fast” track in :59.80 under exercise rider Bob Chapman. The son of Distorted Humor worked shortly after the track opened for training on the perfect spring morning and carved out fractions of :12/60, :24.20, :35.80 and :48 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.
Desert Party, winner of last fall’s Sanford (GII) at Saratoga and the UAE 2000 Guineas and runner-up to Regal Ransom in the UAE Derby at Nad Al Sheba, worked just after the mid-session break for track maintenance and breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20. Chapman was aboard as the son of Street Cry covered the distance in fractions of :12.20, :24.40, :37 and :48.80 and galloped out strongly with six furlongs in 1:13.20.
“Both of them seemed to grab the track really good,” said Rick Mettee, assistant to Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “This is the first these two have worked over a dirt track since last fall. Of course they ran over the dirt at Nad Al Sheba, but that’s one reason why Saeed wanted to get them in here earlier. They’ve been training at the (synthetic) Tapeta track over at Al Quoz and then before they got there they trained over the conventional Polytrack at Keeneland.”\
Desert Party had some unexpected company on the track as he encountered Nowhere to Hide, the Nick Zito-trained fourth-place finisher in the Risen Star (GIII), Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) and Illinois Derby (GIII), at the head of the stretch and quickly blew past that colt as he split Zito’s colt on the rail and a galloper to the outside.
“He had some competition there turning for home and that kind of spurred him on a little bit,” said Mettee. “He grabbed the track fine and galloped out good and we’re really happy with that. He probably isn’t as a good a work horse as the other. The track might not have been quite as fast as it was early. That’s what my rider said.”
Mettee said there has still been no formal decision as to whether both colts will run in the 135th Kentucky Derby on May 2, but said today’s efforts by Regal Ransom and Desert Party could accelerate that decision.
“I think we wanted to kind of get past this hurdle and see how both of them were doing,” he said. “Both of them worked good before we left – both of them worked sharp halves. So this was the next step. Saeed and Shiekh Mohammed will go over that, and it probably won’t be that long before they make a decision.”
Mettee said Regal Ransom and Desert Party would have one more work in the days leading up to the Derby.
“We’re kind of ahead of the game now, so we could go anywhere from Saturday to Tuesday of next week,” he said. “Depending the weather and the track, we’d just wait and see.”
Desert Party has a career record of 4-1-0 in six races and has earned $688,467. Regal Ransom’s record stands at 2-2-0 in five races with earnings of $1,297,200.
Meanwhile, Eric Fein and Vic Carlson’s Musket Man, the winner of the Illinois Derby (GIII) and Tampa Bay Derby, breezed six furlongs in the company of a stablemate for trainer Derek Ryan. Coa guided the son of Yonaguska through the distance in 1:13 just after the break for track maintenance.
Musket Man pulled away from his workmate, the 3-year-old colt Bull Toccet, at the top of the stretch and was about four lengths clear at the finish. Bull Toccet covered the distance in 1:13.80.
The work started at the 5 ½ furlong pole and finished up at the 7 ½ pole, and clockers caught Musket Man through his final quarter mile in :24.40.
“I was pretty happy the way he worked,” said Coa. “He just sat next to that horse all the way to the eighth pole and when I asked him he really finished up good. That was what we were looking for today, and he did it the way we wanted to.”
It was the first work over the track for Musket Man since his arrival at the track on April 5, the day after his victory in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Park.
“It went very well – it couldn’t have been a better work,” said trainer Derek Ryan. “I always work him in company. Every work he’s ever had has been in company, because he’s a little bit laid-back on his own and we needed to get a good work in him.”
Musket Man has won five of six career starts with earnings of $572,600.
BAFFERT RETURNS TO THE CHURCHILL FOR DERBY – Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert was back at Barn 33 on Saturday to oversee the training of Zayat Stable’s Pioneerof the Nile in the two weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
The son of Empire Maker galloped Saturday morning following the break for track maintenance with Baffert looking on. Baffert last participated in the Kentucky Derby when he saddled three horses in 2006.
“It’s good to be back,” said Baffert. “You miss having a good horse for it. But if you don’t have the right horse, you don’t miss it. It’s not the same – it doesn’t get the juices flowing. This time, coming here with a horse like this, I feel like I have a good chance to win it, so it’s exciting when you know you have a good horse.”
Pioneerof the Nile has won four consecutive stakes races, including the Santa Anita Derby in his most recent outing on April 4. Baffert’s colt has yet to run on traditional dirt – all of his previous races have been on turf or synthetic courses – but Baffert is encouraged that horses that he had beaten in California – such as Wood Memorial (GI) winner I Want Revenge and Arkansas Derby (GII) winner Papa Clem – traveled East and performed well on dirt courses.
“It’s good that horses that left town to get away from him did well,” he said. “This horse is improving and I think he should move up on the dirt, but you never know.”
Baffert said Pioneerof the Nile would work Tuesday or Wednesday.
SUNDAY WORKS – Trainer Gary Stute said Bo Hirsch’s homebred Papa Clem, winner of the Arkansas Derby (GII), would work seven furlongs at Churchill Downs on Sunday.
Stute, who was traveling to Louisville on Saturday, said the colt would work close to the break for track maintenance.
Also scheduled to work on Sunday is Starlight Partners’ Take the Points, the runner-up in the Sham (GIII) who could enter the Kentucky Derby picture if there are defections from the list of possible starters over the next few days. Take the Points is trained by Todd Pletcher.