`War' looks `great' in last major work

Trainer Baffert praises Derby winner's session

six entries arriving today

Preakness notebook

Horse Racing

May 15, 2002|By Tom Keyser and Kent Baker | Tom Keyser and Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem looked sensational yesterday in Louisville, Ky., breezing an easy five furlongs at Churchill Downs in his final major workout for the Preakness in three days at Pimlico.

"He's just starting to bloom," trainer Bob Baffert said of the near-black War Emblem, whom he began training three weeks before the Derby. "Timing is everything. I got him at the right time."

Baffert's regular exercise rider, Dana Barnes, retained a firm hold on War Emblem as he completed five furlongs over a fast track in 1:03.20 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:16.20.

That was the seventh slowest of 26 works at the distance, uncharacteristic of a Baffert horse, but precisely what the trainer wanted as he tries to teach War Emblem to harness his speed.

"He's getting to be a little push-button," Baffert said. "He's learning to relax. He looked great out there. He wanted to keep on going.

"I just wanted to sort of breeze around there, just to take a little bit of the edge off him. He's going to be flying tomorrow, and he's never flown before, so I didn't want him too high to get on that plane. And I didn't want to excite him too much and go too fast."

Flying horses

Two charter flights carrying 23 horses - including six Preakness entries - will arrive at Baltimore-Washington International Airport today.

War Emblem will be on the second flight with Easyfromthegitgo and Booklet. They are scheduled to land just before noon and should be at the track by approximately 1 p.m.

The first flight is due in at 7:30 a.m. at BWI and will have on board both D. Wayne Lukas trainees, Proud Citizen and Table Limit, and the Kentucky Derby's beaten favorite, Harlan's Holiday. A van ride would put their Pimlico arrival between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Lukas changed his mind and decided to run Table Limit in the Preakness. After mentioning the lightly raced horse as a possibility the morning after the Derby, he said a few days later he had decided to race the colt in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont as a prep for the Belmont Stakes.

"He's good right now," Lukas said. "It's worth taking a shot."

Lukas tabbed Gary Stevens to ride Table Limit after Sunday Break's withdrawal from Preakness consideration freed the Hall of Fame jockey.

Table Limit has raced five times, winning twice. He is a speedy son of Conquistador Cielo, so he is another horse in the Preakness field capable of pressuring War Emblem early.

Booklet, Day meet

Booklet, the speedy newcomer, and Harlan's Holiday also worked at Churchill Downs.

Pat Day got acquainted with Booklet during a four-furlong breeze in 48.60. The speedball colt who will likely challenge War Emblem for the lead galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.60.

Said John Ward Jr., Booklet's trainer: "This is the first time Pat Day's been on him. So what I wanted to do was mainly let Pat push all the buttons, flip all the switches and see what he was going to be riding so there won't be any surprises Saturday.

"This horse has got some idiosyncrasies about him and Pat was probably able to feel and see all of them. So I think we're set up fairly well."

Harlan's Holiday, who finished seventh in the Derby, breezed four furlongs in 48.20 under jockey Tony D'Amico and galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.60. The time was third fastest of 46 at the distance.

"It was solid," said Ken McPeek, who trains the colt. "I think we got a little fancy in the last breeze before the Derby. Maybe we should have given him a sharp one and popped him away from there when the gates opened."

Zito ready to fade

With the Pimlico spotlight soon to shift to the powerhouses, trainer Nick Zito held court for one last time yesterday morning after his second horse, Crimson Hero, worked five furlongs over the track.

Zito acknowledged that fellow trainers Baffert and Lukas - 1-2 in the Derby - will steal the scene today after their horses arrive on the air charter from Churchill Downs.

"My time's about up," said Zito, who named Robby Albarado as his jockey on Straight Gin. "But it has been pretty good having it."

Zito's first choice was Stevens, but there was some confusion with Stevens' agent, and then that rider committed to the Lukas-stabled Table Limit.

The late-running Crimson Hero - who gets Chris McCarron in the irons - navigated his five-eighths at Pimlico in 1:02, a relatively slow time for a Preakness-caliber horse.

"The time may not look like much, but there was a headwind down the backside," said Zito. "My assistant [Jamie Sanders] couldn't pull him up, and that's a good sign."

The trainer added it doesn't hurt that Crimson Hero broke his maiden at Pimlico Sept. 13, winning under Ramon Dominguez. It is still his lone victory.

"Hey, these two horses are just getting good now," said Zito. "That's the way it should be. After Saturday, maybe they'll be getting more attention."

Et cetera

McPeek's outstanding 3-year-old filly, Take Charge Lady, also breezed at Churchill Downs - three furlongs in 35 - but afterward a veterinarian found mucus in her lungs. That will prevent her from running Friday in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico. She would have been the heavy favorite.

In a change of plans, USS Tinosa worked four furlongs in a brisk 46 2/5 seconds at Pimlico before the arrival of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who is due in today from California. Exercise rider Craig McGurn, a former jockey, flew in from San Francisco for the drill and described it as "great. I felt tears coming out of my eyes like I was on a motorcycle on a beautiful day with a stiff wind in my face."

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