LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- One of the Big Four in the 117th Kentucky Derby, Best Pal, worked three furlongs in a quick 34 3/5 seconds yesterday at Churchill Downs and won trainer Ian Jory the morning's largest media assembly.
Best Pal, the top West Coast hope, was pulled up after going five furlongs in 59 2/5 seconds over a sloppy track. His regular exerise rider, Felipe Guerrera, was up.
"If I sent him five-eighths, he'd end up going a mile," Jory, 33, said beforehand. "So if I send him three-eighths, he'll wind up going five."
"He has taken like a duck to water here," he said afterward. "He loves this track. He's working better now than he's ever worked.
"That's the idea. You want to have a horse at his peak coming into this race. It's very gratifying to know that he's doing his best."
Best Pal will be one of the four favorites with Fly So Free, Strike the Gold and Hansel.
* Marylanders know trainer Reggie Vardon, who has maintained a small stable at Laurel off and on for the past several years.
Vardon saddled a colt named Forty Something to a nose victory in a six-furlong allowance race on Friday at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. It was the colt's second career win.
Derby material? Hardly. But apparently Vardon and/or owner Sam Morrell of upstate New York have caught Derby fever. Officials reported yesterday that Vardon has informed them he is bringing the Air Forbes Won colt to Churchill today with an eye on the Derby.
* Keep Corporate Report on your Derby list. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said yesterday the colt was much improved after he bruised a front foot on Sunday.
"The discoloration on the bruise has all left him," said Lukas, the nation's leading money-winning trainer for the past eight years. "Dr. [Robert] Copelan came in and went over him top to bottom to make sure we didn't have any other complications. We want to make sure we're on target and it looks like we are."
Interest in the colt has been much more intense than might be expected, especially considering his outsider status. Why?
First, there's the Lukas factor. But what's really drawn scrutiny is the scheduled presence of Pat Day in the saddle.
On Kentucky racing fans' scale of heroes, Day is as high as they get. For all he has accomplished -- all-time Churchill leader, over 5,000 wins, Preakness and Belmont winner, four Breeders' Cup victories -- the ultimate irony is that Day never has won the Derby. And the locals badly want a Pat Day Derby.
* As usual, the size of the Derby field is fluctuating in the days before the race. On Sunday the field was 16. Now its range is 14 to 17.
Take Kyle's Our Man out. Trainer John Veitch will not follow up on plans to ship the colt from New York this week. There is also a possibility that Subordinated Debt will not run.
Forty Something is a maybe. And another maybe is Paulrus, trained by Steve Penrod, who said yesterday he is "50-50" about entering the colt Paulrus.
Paulrus finished first but was disqualified in a 1 1/2 -mile turf race at the Dueling Grounds in Franklin, Ky., on April 21. The fact that he has run past the 1 1/4 -mile Derby distance is what is tempting Penrod.
"I should know something by Wednesday night," he said. Derby entry time is Thursday morning.