ALTERNATION (Distorted Humor) pleased his connections Saturday morning with an under-control workout at Oaklawn Park as the three-year-old colt attempts to prove his meltdown in the gate of the Rebel S. (G2) is behind him. If so, he could take another swing in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 16.
"I was very happy with it," said trainer Donnie Von Hemel, who watched on-track from his pony as Alternation and jockey Luis Quinonez officially posted a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 2/5. "He broke a little slow in the first part of it, but thereafter, each quarter seemed to get a little better. I was happy, especially with the way he moved down the lane."
Clockers assigned a five-furlong time, but Von Hemel considered the entire lap around the track in evaluating how the dark bay colt is doing. The gallop out through six furlongs was 1:14 1/5 and the final quarter from the turn to the wire was :23 4/5. Alternation got a lather of sweat on his neck through the exercise and Von Hemel was most happy with the colt's extension through seven furlongs.
"There are factors on top of this work that will help us make a decision," the trainer added. "We also have the factor of who comes for the race and how he comes out of this workout, but I like what I saw today from him."
While Von Hemel and the owners decide their next move, Quinonez was happy "the Big Horse" he has been riding this winter seems back on his game so soon after becoming agitated by the crowd on Rebel Day and flipping in the starting gate.
"That was a great work from him," Quinonez said. "He finished up really nice. I wish he can stay like this, like he is in the mornings. In the mornings he's great every time. That afternoon? I just don't know what happened to him."
In other Arkansas Derby news:
At Palm Meadows on Saturday, impressive Oaklawn maiden winner TRUMAN'S COMMANDER (Friends Lake) drilled a half-mile in :47, fastest of 34 moves at the distance on the fast track, in his first work since joining trainer Nick Zito.
After turning down several offers to sell 100 percent of the colt named for his godfather President Harry Truman, owner Harry T. Rosenblum struck a deal to sell majority interest to Robert LaPenta, with the provision that the colt would return to Arkansas for the Arkansas Derby.
"I talked to Nick Zito this morning and he was pretty sure it was the bullet workout," said Rosenblum, a Hot Springs, Arkansas, resident. "He said he did it very, very easily. They are pretty excited about him."
Rosenblum, who purchased the colt for $27,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Texas two-year-olds in training sale at Lone Star Park last April, said Truman's Commander has always been an eye-catching colt, but the key was getting him a race around two-turns. He also gives the colt's former trainer, Allen Milligan, a lot of the credit for his development.
"Allen did an extremely good job with him," Rosenblum said. "We thank him a lot for what he's done. We made him a late nominee to the Triple Crown and to have a chance to make those races, is really exciting."
NEHRO (Mineshaft), the surprise 36-1 runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (G2), is expected to join the Arkansas Derby line up.
Ridden by Michael Baze in his last two starts, the Steve Asmussen trainee made a giant improvement when he broke his maiden by 4 1/2 lengths on February 21 at Oaklawn after two dull efforts to start his career. The bay three-year-old then shipped to Fair Grounds to make his stakes bow in the Louisiana Derby, just missing by a neck on the wire.
According to Baze, the leaps forward in maturity in both races have been striking.
"The first time I rode him, he suddenly became really manageable," Baze said Saturday morning from Oaklawn. "I was able to just relax off them, and they all jammed up turning for home, but he let me just take him right around them and went right by."
It was an ambitious jump into a $1-millon race, but even within the Louisiana Derby, Baze said Nehro was still learning lessons en route to his neck loss to Pants on Fire (Jump Start).
"He was not as bad about getting out on the first turn," Baze explained. "Then we get to the quarter-pole and another horse hits him in the hind end and for a few strides he got knocked back a little bit, but he just took off after that. I almost wish I could have taken him outside, we could have been even closer or won it."
Bob Baffert said THE FACTOR (War Front) galloped on Saturday and will work Monday at Santa Anita for the Arkansas Derby.
"He's doing good," the Hall of Fame trainer said of the Rebel winner, who set a six-furlong track record of 1:06 4/5 when breaking his maiden at Santa Anita by 8 1/4 lengths on December 26.