At Oaklawn Park on Sunday, a quartet of three-year-olds posted works in preparation for the March 19 Rebel S. (G2) -- ARCHARCHARCH (Arch), winner of the February 21 Southwest S. (G3); ELITE ALEX (Afleet Alex), a wide-trip third in the Southwest; CALEB'S POSSE (Posse), winner of the January 17 Smarty Jones S.; and ALTERNATION (Distorted Humor), a two-time allowance winner this meet.
Archarcharch turned in what trainer Jinks Fires described as the colt's best workout since arriving in Arkansas with a six-furlong breeze in 1:13 2/5 under regular jockey Jon Court.
"I'm very pleased with the work," Fires said. "Jon was really happy with it and said it felt like he's getting better. I told him, 'I sure hope he is.'"
Archarcharch came onto the fast track during the busy rush after the renovation break around 9 a.m. (CST) on a chilly morning. Court dropped him into the drill at the five-furlong pole and cut out fractions of :24 2/5 and :49 4/5 according to Oaklawn's clockers. Court was instructed to work the colt past the wire and around the clubhouse turn, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:26 3/5.
"I sent him around both turns because I want him to get used to it and I think some horses learn where the wire is," Fires said. "They learn that when the jockey pops up at the wire, they're done. Then they start waiting for it."
Moments earlier, Elite Alex set off on a more elaborate piece of track work involving his regular jockey Calvin Borel and two pace-setting workmates. The Tim Ritchey trainee settled three or four lengths behind two other Afleet Alex sons, Alex's Vision and Will's Afleet.
Borel guided his mount through fractions of :24 and :47 3/5, clicking his first three furlongs in tight 12-second clips. Borel angled Elite Alex three wide coming off the turn, notable in that the colt was nearly seven-wide turning for home in the Southwest.
The colt easily caught the workmates in hand, then spurted away from them in a matter of yards after a quick cross from Borel, reaching the wire more than two lengths clear, getting five furlongs in :59 3/5. They poured it on, galloping to the turn and getting the bullet six-furlong time of 1:12 2/5, best of seven works at the distance.
Will's Afleet and Alex's Vision were both credited with five-furlong times of 1:01.
"That was very awesome," Borel said. "He's just hitting everything right. He's such a big horse, I think he's only going to get better the farther we go. He's going to love the big sweeping turns at Churchill.
"He really reminds me of (2007 Kentucky Derby [G1] winner) Street Sense. I think that's why I love him so much. I wouldn't trade places with anybody for nothing right now."
Ritchey is aware of Borel's enthusiasm, and as the man who trained Afleet Alex, he's not completely afraid of the comparisons with some of the leading stars of the last decade.
"Now, we'll see if he can live up to the hype," Ritchey said. "If things had been different, he could be undefeated right now. He stumbled coming out of the gate in his first race (here) and then had a bad trip (in the Southwest). That's just horse racing."
Ritchey also said he gave no instructions to Borel about how to engage the lead runners.
"I left all that up to him," he said. "The first work he came up the rail. The last work he went between. This time he went around them. We know he can do all three now, and at least it wasn't seven wide like his race."
Bracketing those two workouts were the moves by the Donnie Von Hemel pair of Alternation, who beat Elite Alex in an allowance race January 15, and Caleb's Posse, still "angry" according to his jockey Eddie Razo Jr., over the horrible trip they got in the Southwest.
Von Hemel sent Alternation out under jockey Luis Quinonez at 7:30 a.m., and they went in company with fellow Pin Oak Stable homebred Pulpitarian (Pulpit). Quinonez kept his mount as many as seven lengths behind the target, but similar to his two Oaklawn allowance victories, uncoiled Alternation's long stride, guided him through a hole Pulpitarian left by design along the rail, and finished well clear at the wire.
Alternation was credited with the bullet five-furlong move of :59 4/5, fastest of 47 trials at the trip. Pulpitarian earned a 1:01.
"It's probably going to be a big field he sees next time," Von Hemel said. "We wanted to make sure he could come through there like that, and Luis said he handled it nicely."
Caleb's Posse was part of Von Hemel's second set after the break, and he was a "little more relaxed" than his stablemate two hours earlier.
Razo started the drill slowly, with the first quarter in :25, and kept the homebred largely under wraps until the wire. He was clocked going five furlongs in 1:02 1/5, but Von Hemel and Razo were excited by the way he reacted past the wire.
"Right at the wire, Eddie asked him to pick it up," Von Hemel said. "He dug right back in and was telling him he really wanted to go some more. That's just what we needed to see."
"He was on the muscle," Razo said. "He always works good, but today he just felt more solid. He's getting better every time. I think next time he's going to be really tough."