BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. -- The Kentucky Derby favorite worked on Thursday. Not just any favorite but one trained by a two time Kentucky Derby winner. But something was definitely missing.
There was no horde of inquisitive reporters, no conga line of lens-toting photographers, no army of television cameras to follow the horse's every move from the instant he stepped foot out of the barn. In fact, there wasn't even an official track clocker on the somewhat surreal scene when the Nick Zito-trained Dialed In worked four furlongs in 48.53 seconds in front of a group of fewer than a dozen onlookers shortly after 7 a.m. on Thursday morning at the nearly deserted Palm Meadows training center here.
Zito announced immediately after Dialed In's victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 3 that he would keep his lightly raced star at his winter home at Palm Meadows as long as possible before shipping to Churchill Downs for the Derby. That strategy has already proven to be a stroke of genius considering all the rain that has pelted the Louisville area and soaked the Churchill Downs racetrack over the past several weeks.
Zito also declared his intention to work Dialed In just once prior to the Kentucky Derby. That work came on Thursday over a fast track under warm and nearly crystal clear skies.
With his regular work rider Maxine Correa aboard, Dialed In jogged back in front of those who had gathered on or near the clockers' stand at the finish line to watch him breeze in company with his stakes-winning stablemate Miner's Reserve. The two cantered slowly past the five-furlong marker before breaking off at the half-mile pole with Dialed In leaving about a half-length behind and on the outside of Miner's Reserve.
The pair went off easily, going an opening eighth in 12.09 and a quarter in 24.47. Dialed In changed leads efficiently entering the stretch, completed three furlongs in 36.91, then gradually began to edge away, with Miner's Reserve put to some mild urging inside the eighth pole. Dialed In was never asked to exert himself at any time.
At the wire, Dialed In was three lengths in front after completing his final furlong in a sharp 11.62, then galloped out another strong furlong to get five-eighths in 1:01.46 before pulling up six furlongs in 1:18.04.
Dialed In looked good, particularly coming to the wire and galloping out around the turn in what gave the appearance of being little more than a nice maintenance move. The question that will remain in the minds of most handicappers, however, is will one serious half-mile work in five weeks be enough to get him 1 1/4 miles on Derby Day.
Zito, for one, thinks it is.
"That's just what I wanted, those 12's," said Zito referring to 12 second eighth-mile splits. "And then for him to finish well, which he did. I told Maxine I didn't want anything too severe, just give me those eighths, and she did a great job. It's the everyday training that we do with this horse that does it, not the works. This is a very rippled horse. He's conditioned unbelievably. This horse will not be short. I can't guarantee anything else. I can't guarantee he'll win. That's up to you know who. But I can guarantee he'll come with his run and he won't be short."
Zito, who already has part of his stable at Churchill Downs, said he's glad for a number of reasons he remained behind at Palm Meadows with Dialed In.
"This is a good warm-up for what we'll be going into next week up there," said Zito. "Remember, he's a lightly raced horse that we've been kind of babying up to this point. He's a happy horse down here and I like the track. You have to be careful you don't go over the edge, but he's ready now to peak on the right day. If he has a good week, he'll be a serious horse a week from Saturday."
Among the interested smattering of onlookers when Dialed In worked were trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, whose Fountain of Youth winner Soldat will also participate in the Kentucky Derby, and two-time Derby-winning rider Jerry Bailey, who was impressed with what he saw from Dialed In.
"He looked good. He's a very well-balanced horse," said Bailey. "I'd like to have seen a little more, maybe a five-eighths or six-furlong work, but what I saw was good."
Soldat, who followed his win in the Fountain of Youth with a fourth-place finish behind Dialed In in the Florida Derby, galloped approximately 1 1/8 miles earlier Thursday at Palm Meadows. He is scheduled to have his final Derby work on Friday and then accompany Dialed In on a flight to Louisville on Saturday.