Trainer Chad Brown had reason to feel encouraged after the way Normandy Invasion covered Churchill Downs on Saturday in the final big workout leading into the Kentucky Derby.
The horse clocked 59 seconds over five furlongs to top Derby hopefuls on a busy day, followed by Mylute and Black Onyx. Todd Pletcher came away feeling good about the quality efforts turned in by the five horses he's training including favorites Verrazano and Revolutionary, leading his high-quantity contingent.
Whether Normandy Invasion can snag attention from some of his more-publicized competitors over the next week remains to be seen. But he, Mylute and Black Onyx offered proof that horses in the second tier of the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings might be just as strong as those on top.
In the case of Normandy Invasion, Brown sees a horse showing that he's capable of challenging expected favorites Orb and Verrazano.
Tied with Frac Daddy in 14th place with 44 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings, the horse's comfort with Churchill Downs has become evident with two good workouts this week by himself. Running through traffic is another matter, but Brown sees potential there as well.
"The longer he's here at Churchill, I see a horse that's sharper and stronger," Brown said. "He's definitely settled in well."
While the need to build toward the 139th Derby on May 4 explains the urgency shown Saturday by many of its entrants in practice, the weather forecast might be why horses seemed to be in a hurry.
Predictions of morning showers changed plans throughout the barns, leading many to move up workout schedules a day with some running before dawn in an effort to beat the elements.
"When we sent him out there, it still looked like there was a chance of rain," Brown said about Normandy Invasion's agenda. "I just didn't want to take any chances. I only have one Derby horse, so for me, take the good track when you can get it and get it out of the way."
Sunrise ultimately provided a silver lining for everybody with overcast skies and cool temperatures, allowing competitors to train normally on a fast track. That alone was enough to make trainers and jockeys smile, with the workouts providing more cause for happiness.
Trainer Tom Amoss kept Mylute's 50.60 at four furlongs with Rosie Napravnik in perspective, even quoting former NBA player Allen Iverson's famous rant about it being "practice" and not a race. At the same time, practice also showed a horse getting closer to being ready for the biggest race of his life.
"Today's work was identical to the pattern that we used leading into the Louisiana Derby, and it went well," said Amoss, referring to Mylute's runner-up finish to Revolutionary.
Pletcher might have been happiest of all, working his fillies in one session and his colts in the next. His five Derby horses looked good paired with others.
Verrazano, with exercise rider Humberto Zamora aboard, worked the outside with stakes mare Authenticity inside and clocked 59.40 over five furlongs.
"He was very good this morning," Pletcher said of Verrazano, whose 4-0 career record includes a Wood Memorial victory earlier this month. "He galloped out well. ... At 59 (seconds), that indicated to me that he likes the track."
Revolutionary, ridden by newly-elected Hall of Famer Calvin Borel, worked four furlongs with Charming Kitten and covered the distance in 48.20 and 48.40 respectively.
Overanalyze (47.00) and Palace Malice (47.20) also worked four furlongs. Pletcher can now look ahead to Monday's workout of Winning Cause after a sleepless night focused on the weather.
"We're OK now; we're going forward," he said.
Orb meanwhile galloped 1 1/2 miles with exercise rider Jennifer Patterson and trainer Shug McGaughey will work him out on Monday.
"I've been very satisfied with him. I don't know he could be doing any better," McGaughey said. "He went to the gate yesterday and he stood there. We got that behind us in good order.
"All we've got to do is get through his breeze on Monday and school him in the paddock a couple times, and hopefully that'll go good. Then, we'll wait it out from there."
Another Derby contender, Goldencents, arrived on site Saturday afternoon following a cross-country trip from southern California including a stopover in Lexington.
Co-owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, the Santa Anita Derby winner last worked out Thursday at the same track.
Itsmyluckyday also arrived from Florida.