LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The fastest filly in Larry Jones' barn, Wildcat Bettie B., was sent out for a workout yesterday morning along with Hard Spun, the Kentucky Derby contender. But Wildcat Bettie B. was left up the track.
Not that any other horse on the track at Churchill Downs yesterday would have stayed with Hard Spun. The colt's final Derby workout created a buzz. He was timed at 57.60 seconds, with cumulative fractions of 11, 22, 33.40 and 45 seconds.
If this son of Danzig owned by Wilmington's Rick Porter wins the Derby, this will become part of the lore, the fastest Derby-week five-furlong workout since Forego went 57 flat in 1973, according to the Churchill Downs press office.
Of course, Secretariat won that Derby. Forego went on to a legendary career, but finished fourth at Churchill Downs that week.
Around here, the questions immediately were about whether the work was too fast and would turn out to be draining. One veteran reporter said: "I know who I'm picking in this year's Breeders' Cup Sprint."
Smarty Jones and Barbaro both had impressive workouts before their Derby triumphs. On the Saturday before the 2004 Derby, Smarty Jones worked the same five furlongs in 58 seconds flat. The Saturday before last year's Derby, Barbaro worked four furlongs in 46 seconds.
Even before this, Hard Spun had to be considered a wild card in this year's race. The Delaware Park-based colt, foaled at Brushwood Stable in Malvern, has won five of six starts - "and not just from here to that table," jockey Mario Pino pointed out the other day.
Hard Spun, who will go into the Derby off a six-week layoff, did this workout real easily, said Pino, who has worked thousands of horses.
"She made him run a little bit early, kept his attention," Pino said of Wildcat Bettie B. "Then he went by easy. He galloped out really nice. Larry has him really good. The thing I notice about him, he looks physically a little bigger and stronger."
Right after the workout, Pino said: "He's deceptive. He can be moving quicker than you think. But there was still something in the tank today. We didn't get to the bottom of him."
Echoing the words of every trainer who ever worked before the Derby, Jones said he was happy with the workout. But Jones also said of the duel with Wildcat Bettie B.: "He wasn't supposed to beat her by that much. She isn't chump change, you know. But Mario was happy with the way he did it, so that means I'm happy.
"The move was faster than I told him to go, but he was within himself. And we know he likes this track. That's for sure. . . . He came off the track blowing just a little bit, but he recovered within 10 or 15 minutes, and he's feeling plenty good. That's easy to see. He'll walk tomorrow and then we'll see from there."