LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - With a bunch of trainers calling an audible on their horses' final workouts before the Kentucky Derby, the fast track at Churchill Downs resembled a busy freeway on Friday morning during the training time for Derby and Oaks contenders.
Because of the expected bad weather Friday night and into Saturday morning, eight Derby horses and five Oaks contenders worked on Friday. And all but one -– Classic Empire -– during the 8:30-8:45 time period set aside for Derby and Oaks horses.
"It was a busy time," said trainer Antonio Sano, who put Gunnevera through a four-furlong workout during the time.
Trainer Todd Pletcher worked five of his six potential Derby runners during the morning workout session.
"The weather just looks a little dicey for tomorrow," Pletcher said. "So, I'm glad we got them in when the weather was good and there was a good, fast track."
Working before the renovation break, 2-year-old champion Classic Empire went a half-mile in 49.21 seconds. The Arkansas Derby winner is likely going to be the morning-line favorite for the Run for the Roses.
"The hurdles go until the very end, but this was the big one," trainer Mark Casse said. "But this is as good as we could have expected. He was the Classic Empire we were all looking for. It gave me chills."
Casse sent his "other" horse out with the rest of the Derby horses as State of Honor was clocked in four furlongs in 48.50 seconds and the trainer called it "spectacular."
Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming had the eye-catching work of the morning. Pletcher called it "exceptional" as he went five furlongs in 59.47 seconds. Regular jockey John Velazquez was aboard as Always Dreaming looked full of himself and kept going until he was almost to the third turn.
"He has been a little aggressive and I think this is what he needed," Pletcher said. "He needed this to blow off some steam."
Always Dreaming was the first horse to work during the Derby-Oaks time period.
"We were fortunate to be the first one out and get as relaxed of an atmosphere as you could get at Churchill Downs on a breeze morning like this," Pletcher said.
Pletcher also sent Louisiana Derby runner-up Patch and Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit to work together as the duo worked five furlongs in 1:00.19 with Patch on the inside the entire way around the track.
"It was a little more enthusiastic work than what we have seen from Tapwrit," Pletcher said. "With Patch, that was typical of him. He's a little bit of a lazy workhorse. But I liked the way both of them did it."
Pletcher wasn't happy with Battalion Runner, whose four-furlong work he called "not as powerful" as he wanted to see. He went in 48.59 seconds and was working with a horse called Make You Look.
"He was struggling with the track a little bit," he said. "I'll have to see how he comes out of it and then make a decision."
Pletcher also has a decision to make on Rebel Stakes winner Malagacy. He has enough points to be in the field but Pletcher said he would talk to the owners sometime before Friday night and make a call.
"If we don't work him tomorrow, we'll look at the Preakness (Stakes) or something else," Pletcher said.
Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera worked an easy four furlongs in 49.96 and Sano said it was "excellent."
"His last work in Gulfstream was very strong," Sano said. "But right now, I just need to maintain my horse and make sure he comes into the race very sound."
Practical Joke worked five furlongs in company with a stablemate in 1:01.58.
Oaks horses that worked: Jordan's Henry, Salty, Tequilita, Wicket Lick and Vexatious.
The trainers were certainly glad this hurdle was over, but as Pletcher explained it's just the start of the Derby process.
"Today was a big step, but there's still tomorrow," he said. "We have to make sure they come out of it healthy. We're still eight days out."