Cup of Coffee: Perfect Practice

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It was a good work. A good work for any horse. For a jumper, it was go-to-the-window good. 

Monday morning on the turf, Divine Fortune and Danielle Hodsdon led Romp and Robby Albarado through a wicked 5-furlong breeze. The leader is – well, would become – a Grade II stakes horse, over jumps. The follower is a Grade II stakes horse, on the flat. The Jonathan Sheppard duo made a good, long run at the pole with Divine Fortune rolling along on the lead and Romp tracking him. Turning for home, Divine Fortune hugged the rail as Romp eased into his striking range. Hodsdon and Albarado asked them to finish; no whips, no elbows, simply cues to go on and go. That’s the way they finished, Divine Fortune a neck in front of Romp.

Hodsdon yelled at Albarado to gallop out in front. Romp’s ears went up as soon as he made the lead.

Clockers caught them going three quarters of a mile. Divine Fortune in 1:12.20. Romp in 1:12.60. Sheppard said they caught the gallop-out time, he called it a 5-furlong breeze. Sheppard lost concentration on his watch when someone started talking to him, but he figures they went in 58 and change. Hodsdon knew they went fast. Albarado thought they went perfectly.

Seventy-five hours later, Divine Fortune won the A.P. Smithwick. A day later, Romp was set to run in the John’s Call but was excluded from the over-filled stakes.

Albarado liked what he saw in front of him and what he felt beneath him.

“I couldn’t tell you he was a jumper, I thought he was a very good flat horse,” Albarado said of Divine Fortune. “He worked really good. I said, ‘Dani, who’s that?’ She said, ‘I’m on him in a few days.’ I said, ‘Really?’ Nice work, nice horse. Just off the bridle, dangling the reins, she squeezed him, then yelled at me to gallop out. We came back and she said he was a good jumper. I liked the work.”

So did Hodsdon and Sheppard.

The jockey/trainer have perfected this breeze. Sheppard likes to tune up his horses in their final work before they run. Whether they’re jumpers or flat horses – Forever Together or Divine Fortune – Sheppard needs wind in their sails.

“I know everybody else might not, but I like a fast final work. Some other people like to give a hard one two weeks out, an easier work one week out; that’s what (Steve) Asmussen seems to do. Al Stall with Blame, he’s done nothing with him. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Maybe that’s the way he’s always trained, I don’t know,” said Sheppard who was not criticizing any of his fellow trainers. “I’m a little more like Bob Baffert. I like a nice bullet work. I always have. It’s whatever your horse is used to but that works for me. My horses are used to increasing the momentum – medium, fairly fast, rock on. They know that means it’s time.”

Hodsdon has the controls whether it’s Forever Together prepping for the Diana or Divine Fortune readying for the Smithwick. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Forever Together went five eighths in 59.60 five days before the Diana. By Hodsdon’s and Sheppard’s count, Divine Fortune went as fast or faster. Hard to believe, a horse prepping to go 2 miles would post basically the same speed. Hodsdon isn’t surprised.

“We give them a flat-horse type of breeze. They know. Every one of them knows, this is it. They’re smart. This horse is meant to go in 1:03. I was pretty thrilled with his work,” Hodsdon said after winning the Smithwick. “Sometimes I feel like why don’t we do our hardest work two out, but mentally that’s what gets them there. Walking back to the barn, I didn’t feel like it had taken too much out of him, he was walking back like it was nothing. Our horses bounce out of a work like that.”

Seventy-five horses breezed on the turf Monday. One went three eighths of a mile. Most went a half. Some went five eighths.

Four went three quarters of a mile. Like pellets out of a gun. John’s Call hopeful Dry Martini zipped 5 furlongs in 59.50.

Belmont maiden winner La Cloche put in a maintenance 1:01.

Turf stakes horse Expansion went 1:02. Prince Will I Am scorched a half in 46.2.

Only one of them was tuned like a guitar for the first race Thursday afternoon.

“I turned this horse out (Thursday) morning and he was squealing, dropping down and rolling, jumping up, squealing and bucking in place, he didn’t even know what to do with himself,” Hodsdon said after the Smithwick. “It’s nice to see them like that, then you’re hoping you can get them to the paddock and the pre-race without losing it. That’s the best run-on finish he’s had, he usually hits that top speed and flattens out.”

Had to be the work.