Each afternoon the Churchill Downs publicity crew e-mails a report to turf writers around the country wrapping up that morning’s activity of all the horses expected to start in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Here’s their report this morning on Santa Anita Derby winner Pioneerof the Nile, who had his final Derby work Monday morning:
PIONEEROF THE NILE – Regular exercise rider Joe Steiner guided Pioneerof the Nile through a five-furlong work in 1:01 moments after the track reopened at 8:30 a.m. following the renovation break.
Trainer Bob Baffert watched the work from the front side of the track and, as is his custom, was in touch with the rider via radio. Pioneerof the Nile, owned by Zayat Stables, cruised through fractions of :11.80. :23.80, :36 and :48.60. He was allowed to gallop out a long way and was timed in 1:13.40 for the six furlongs.
“He went really nice,” Baffert said. “There was a lot of wind. He left the half-mile pole, went five-eighths and he galloped out pretty strong all the way around there. He was moving really well and looked comfortable over the track.”
Pioneerof the Nile has won all four of his starts on synthetic surfaces in California since being moved to Baffert’s care late last year. The son of 2004 Kentucky Derby runner-up Empire Maker has trained well on dirt, but the Derby will be his debut on dirt.
“He’s got a long stride as it is, but he really moves better over the dirt, I think,” Baffert said. “His stride is just tremendous.”
Baffert was pleased with the way the colt performed in his final breeze before the Derby.
“He did it pretty effortlessly,” Baffert said. “I think he wanted to go a little faster; I wouldn’t let him. I was really happy with the work. I’m really excited about the work.”
Steiner gave the Santa Anita Derby winner high marks, too.
“It was a comfortable, smooth move,” Steiner said. “He just kind of coasted around there and we let him gallop out on his own. He felt perfect.”
Steiner, who has been a jockey for nearly 25 years, said he likes the way the colt is approaching the race.
“Mentally, he’s focused, he’s confident, he’s calm,” Steiner said. “The way you want a horse to act, he’s shown everything. He’s like a dream to gallop. He’s very kind.
“I think the key at this point is being focused and confident. He’s handling all the media and all that stuff around him. It doesn’t faze him. And physically, he’s right on. With the combination of the two, now it’s up to luck.”
Steiner said Pioneerof the Nile feels the same way to him on the dirt track at Churchill Downs and the synthetic surfaces in California. The Derby will be Pioneerof the Nile’s first race on dirt.
“You couldn’t ask a horse to be doing any better than this.” Steiner said.