LOUISVILLE — The final pre-Kentucky Derby workout is always a hold-your-breath moment. Count trainer John Sadler and Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Dale Romans among those who were breathing a little easier Saturday morning.
A handful of Derby contenders put in their final serious moves during a sun-kissed morning at Churchill Downs with Sadler-trainee Candy Boy and Romans protégé Medal Count leaving the strongest impressions.
In his second move since running third in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Candy Boy worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 in company. Breaking off about 4 lengths behind workmate Monument, Candy Boy caught that partner around the turn and finished up about a length in front notching splits of :12.40, :24.40, :36.20 and galloping out in 1:13.80 under jockey Gary Stevens.
"Churchill Downs, they either get over the track or they don't — there's no in-between. And he skipped over it," Stevens said. "He was very smooth. He finished up under his own power and galloped out a good, strong three-quarters of a mile. He was tough to pull up, took one deep breath, and that was it."
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Candy Boy won the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes in his season debut at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 8 but Sadler opted to wait until the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 5 to run him again.
The bay colt ended up finishing 83/4-lengths behind race winner California Chrome that day — an outing Sadler is chalking up to his charge being short form-wise.
"We gave him two months between starts so he might have gotten a little tired," Sadler said. "But he came out of it in good shape and he's always been a consistent horse. I'm looking forward to running him 11/4 miles. We think he can run very even for a long distance."
Spendthrift Farm's Medal Count continued to impress with his energy level, working 6 furlongs in 1:13 with splits of :12.60, :24.40, :36.20, :48.20, 1:00.20 and galloping out 7 furlongs in 1:26.60.
Medal Count will be making his third start in five weeks going into the Kentucky Derby, having won the Grade III Transylvania Stakes on opening day of the Keeneland spring meet and running second in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes eight days later.
"I would not have changed anything about the breeze, it was perfect," Romans said. "For him to come back and show a sharp work, you could tell he was happy with what he was doing. I think he's a horse that the more we do with him, the better he'll get."
Having run off the board in three stakes before breaking through with his Transylvania win, Romans attributes Medal Count's turnaround to good old-fashion maturation.
"He surprised me with just how long it's taken him to put those races together that we saw at Keeneland," Romans said. "I thought he was as good a horse as I've ever had since Day 1. I think a lot of it has to do with confidence. These horses have to have that self-assurance about them and know they're good enough and if they get a little adversity to overcome it and not just throw in the towel."
Lanerie gets mounton Harry's Holiday
Corey Lanerie will be riding in his first Kentucky Derby on Saturday as trainer Mike Maker confirmed the Louisville-based jockey will have the mount aboard stakes-winner Harry's Holiday.
"It's what everybody wants to do," Lanerie said of riding in the Derby. "It would be like getting to the top of the mountain, you know."
Harry's Holiday joined stablemate and Louisiana Derby winner Vicar's in Trouble on the worktab at Churchill on Saturday with both going 5 furlongs.
With Lanerie aboard for the move, Harry's Holiday breezed in 1:02.60 posting splits of :13.40 and :38.80. Vicar's in Trouble worked in company with jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard, coming home in 1:03.80 with splits of :13.20, :25.80, :38.20.
When asked if the slower clocking for Vicar's in Trouble was by design in an attempt to get the colt to relax, Maker said "No, whatever the time was it was."
California Chrome, Dance With Fate work out West
Brilliant Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner and likely Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome dazzled in his last major work before the first leg of the Triple Crown, breezing 4 furlongs in :48.20 at Los Alamitos.
Jockey Victor Espinoza barely moved in the saddle as California Chrome completed the drill, ears pricked the entire way.
"It was a great work," trainer Art Sherman said. "He doesn't need much now. Victor wrapped up on him and didn't let him do too much."
Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate was originally slated to work on the grass at Santa Anita Park, but had his moved switched to the dirt because rain softened the course. Trainer Peter Eurton ended up thoroughly enthused after Dance With Fate drilled a half-mile in :47 flat, second-fastest of 62 moves at the distance.
"I know how aggressive he can get but I think he went so well today I'm pleased we went that route (on dirt)," Eurton said. "I could not have been more pleased with how he looked down the lane."
Both California Chrome and Dance With Fate are scheduled to fly into Louisville on Monday. Eurton added that, if Churchill Downs allows, he would like to school Dance With Fate between races early in the card on Kentucky Oaks Day on Friday.