April 27, 2009

Derby 135 Week - Rachel Getting Ready

Monday had no shortage of drama on the Churchill Downs racing strip. By now you have probably seen the graphic video of a tragic training accident that occurred when a three year-old colt tossed his jockey and proceeded his workout, where he slammed into an unraced 2 year-old filly (Raspberry Kiss) at approximately 40 mph. You can probably guess the result... the filly received a broken pelvis and had to be euthanized, a truly heartbreaking scene.

The accident happened just as Calvin Borel was ready to shake the reigns at Rachel Alexandra to initiate her workout. When Rachel returned to the track to complete her scheduled work, the leggy daughter of Medaglia d'Oro dropped some jaws as she blazed around the track completing 5 furlongs in :58.40 and 6 panels in 1:10.60. By contrast, several entries in The Derby also had 5 furlong tuneups for Saturday's run for the roses; Pioneer of the Nile - 1:00.87, Chocolate Candy - :59.24, Join in the Dance - 1:00.20, Take the Points - 1:00.06, Win Willy - 1:02.40 and Friesan Fire - :57.86, following Larry Jones' aggressive training script. Even though Friesan Fire was the only horse to work faster than Rachel for 5/8ths of a mile, she made up four seconds while galloping out the final furlong while well in hand under Calvin "Bo-rail".

So what do all of these times mean... after all, this isn't quarter horse racing we're talking about! As a frame of reference, some of the fastest pre-Derby works in years past produced mixed results. Trainer Larry Jones employed the same style that didn't seem to phase Eight Belles (:58.20) or Hard Spun (:57.60) in previous runner-up efforts and Smarty Jones had a bullet 5 furlongs in :58.00 before his 2004 Derby triumph. However, the tightening may have adversely affected Point Given in 2001 (:58.20) and Artax in 1998 (:58.00), which had the scribes scurrying.

Trivia Answer: War Emblem was Baffert's last Derby winner, although he took over training the colt just prior to his Illinois Derby victory. His previous "real" trainee was "the fish" Real Quiet in 1998 one year after his first score with Silver Charm.

By the end of today, we'll have the official field for The Derby with post position assignments and morning line odds. Good luck with your handicapping!

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