Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up NEHRO (Mineshaft) galloped 1 1/8 miles at 6:10 a.m. (EDT) Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs with regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas up, according to owner Ahmed Zayat.
"We usually go a mile-and-a-half but today just a mile-and-an-eighth because he just worked the day before last and right now we're winding down," Zayat said. "He wants to do more. When he came back from his exercise he was so full of himself we could barely restrain him. You love to see that, somebody that wants to keep improving."
Wednesday was Nehro's first trip back to the track since breezing a half-mile in :51 1/5 on Sunday, a move that Zayat said his colt came out of in good order.
"His energy level is unbelievable," Zayat said. "Believe it or not, I think he's actually gained weight. This horse keeps showing us every sign of a horse that is going to put in a big performance. He's giving every indication that he's getting better. The most important thing is, when I look at him I see a very happy horse, a very healthy horse."
If there is anything to be concerned about with Nehro heading into Saturday's Kentucky Derby (G1) it could be the possibility of a sloppy surface. Trainer Steve Asmussen expressed his desire to compete on a fast track earlier this week and Zayat chose to look on the bright side when asked how Nehro handled the slop in Monday's work.
"I don't know," he said. "It's so hard for me; I'm not a professional trainer. It's really hard for people to grade a work in the mud. I'd be lying to you if I said, 'Oh, wow.' He's not that kind of a horse. All I need to see is a horse that's physically sound, who is mentally there, whose energy level is up. He had three tough races so all you want is to keep him healthy and happy."
Nehro made a big step up in the Louisiana Derby (G2), a million-dollar race he entered off a maiden win at Oaklawn Park. To hear others who were around talk about the decision, including Asmussen and Zayat's son, Justin, the owner was just about the only person who thought such a big step up in class was a risk worth taking.
"Go watch the maiden win," Zayat says, explaining what gave him the confidence to try the Louisiana Derby. "It was, to me, an Arazi move."
And even before that effort, Zayat sensed from conversations with Asmussen that Nehro possessed extraordinary talent, especially following an eye-opening breeze in New Orleans.
"Steve called me once in December, really excited -- and that's not Steve Asmussen -- and he tells me, 'Boss, I don't know if my watch was right or if the clockers were right, but this horse worked crazy.' Steve doesn't work horses that fast and Fair Grounds is not a fast track. That was telling."
It is especially meaningful for Zayat to have a Kentucky Derby contender this year after what he went through this time one year ago, having to withdraw superhorse Eskendereya from Kentucky Derby 136 consideration the Sunday prior to the race.
"Every time I watch, with my son Justin, (Eskendereya's) Wood Memorial (G1), the race gives me goose bumps," Zayat said. "The sheer dominance, the beauty and the majesty of Thoroughbreds. That was a horse that was once in a lifetime. In the bottom of my heart he would have won the Triple Crown. It is very hard to think, 'What if?'"
Zayat retained partial ownership in Eskendereya when he retired to stud duty and the son of Giant's Causeway bred 130 mares this spring.
Now Zayat is focused on making the most of Kentucky Derby 137. One thing he would still like to do is pay tribute to the late Jess Jackson -- owner of Horse of the Year winners Curlin and Rachel Alexandra -- perhaps by outfitting jockey Corey Nakatani in an armband or patch with Jackson's Stonestreet Stables colors.
"I would like to honor that man who did so much in a very short time," Zayat said, "a man who was very passionate and put money and passion and effort into doing great things and trying to make racing a better sport for all of us."