With exactly one week remaining to the GI Kentucky Derby, a pair of War Front colts–one with a growing reputation and the other with a bit of a tarnished image–took to the Churchill Downs main track Saturday morning to turn in their final serious pre-race drills. By all accounts, each worked beautifully and much to the satisfaction of their trainers.
Fox Hill Farm’s Omaha Beach, who is expected to be one of the favorites if not the top betting choice next Saturday afternoon, breezed five-eighths of a mile in :59 flat under the watchful eye of trainer Richard Mandella, clicking off fractions of :12, :23.60 and :35.40 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.80.
At the behest of owner Rick Porter, Omaha Beach breezed in company. His workmate, the stakes-winning Kowboy Karma (Kodiak Kowboy), was supposed to break off just ahead of Omaha Beach, but instead ran off and put four lengths on his company. Julien Leparoux, who was tabbed to put Omaha Beach through his paces in the absence of big-race rider Mike Smith, took a hold of his mount, allowed him to draw on even terms in upper stretch and the duo finished well clear of Kowboy Karma.
“I just wanted him to have one more good work; that’s all he needed,” Mandella said. “He got it today. They were supposed to go off together, but it all worked out fine. He went and got him. I really liked that he settled right down after the work. He acts like a professional racehorse. I don’t think this work took much out of him at all. It couldn’t have gone better. It’s all working out just right.
“I’m glad to have it [the work] done. You need to get past all the obstacles. This is one of the big ones. I’m glad it’s over.
Mandella, who has not had a Derby starter in 15 years, is clearly relishing the experience with a colt that has taken him there.
“I’ve never had a 3-year-old doing this well this early. He’s just special,” Mandella said. “Since the Rebel [his victory in a division of the GII Rebel S. at Oaklawn Park Mar. 16], he’s filled out and just gotten better. He’s pure class. And he’s a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.”
WATCH: Hall of Famer Richard Mandella speaks after Omaha Beach’s Saturday work
Gary Barber’s War of Will trained and ran like a horse that could be the Derby favorite with commanding victories in the GIII Lecomte S. and GII Risen Star S. before going down to defeat as a long odds-on selection after losing his hind-end action briefly in the GII Louisiana Derby and emerging muscle-sore. Whatever may have been ailing the colt seems a thing of the past, as he fired a bullet half-mile in :47.60 Saturday morning.
With jockey Tyler Gaffalione at the controls, War of Will was clocked in splits of :12, :24 and :36.20 before drawing well clear of a stablemate. His five-furlong gallop-out was timed in 1:00 flat with six panels in 1:13.60.
“What you got to see this morning, if you weren’t impressed with him this morning, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” Casse said. “The [workmate] was only there for about an eighth of a mile. I don’t know how you could ask for a horse to work any better than he just did.”
Additionally, Gaffalione believes he will be sitting on a ‘horse for the course’ come next Saturday.
“Every track that he’s run over he handles fine, but he especially loves this track,” Gaffalione said. “I don’t know what it is–it might be all the people. I think he knows he’s a star so he likes the attention. I’ve been so high on this horse since I first got on him. I worked him here before he broke his maiden [last November]. The thing about him now is he’s just all together mentally.”
Plus Que Parfait Goes Nice and Easy…
Plus Que Parfait (Point of Entry), who punched his ticket to the Derby with a victory in the G2 UAE Derby Mar. 30, went five furlongs in 1:02 Saturday morning, covering the trip in fractions of :12 flat, :23.60, :36.20 and :49.40 before galloping out three-quarters of a mile in 1:15.60.
“He has become more aggressive now than how he used to be, which I think is a good thing to see,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “He went a little faster than we wanted early on and the last thing I wanted to do was do too much with him right now. Then, when he left the lead horse, he lazed a little bit and it was fine. I wanted 1:02 and out in 1:15 and that’s exactly how he went. We don’t need to see anything spectacular right now from him in the morning and he’s never going to do that anyway. I actually really like the way he was doing it. He did it so easy once he leveled off and was moving great.”
UAE Derby Runner-Up Drills at SLR Downs…
Gray Magician (Graydar), second to Plus Que Parfait at Meydan four weeks ago, had Drayden Van Dyke in the irons when working five furlongs in 1:00.40 Saturday morning at the San Luis Rey Downs training center in Southern California.
“He worked super and came home really well,” trainer Peter Miller said. “I couldn’t be happier with how he did it. He came home (his final quarter-mile) in :23 1/5 and that was very good. He galloped out another eighth in 1:12 2/5. This is a fast race track here, but it was the way he did it.
He added, “Drayden came and worked him and the horse really did it on his own. He just shook the reins at him once and he opened up on his workmate. He started out about three lengths behind him and finished about 12 lengths ahead. Drayden got along well with the horse and in all likelihood, unless the owners think otherwise, he would ride him [in the Derby]. As long as he comes out of the work well tomorrow, he will ship on Monday.”