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Notes from the Backstretch: Papa Clem shows his stuff

LOUISVILLE — It was the one last detail that had been nagging at trainer Gary Stute this week.

"Everybody has been criticizing his works," Stute said of his Kentucky Derby contender, Papa Clem. "I would have been worried if he didn't work well today."

Stute had a sigh of relief on Thursday when Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem blew out 3 furlongs in :34 flat with jockey Rafael Bejarano in the saddle.

In his previous two moves, the son of Smart Strike failed to impress when he covered 7 furlongs in 1:291⁄5 on April 25 and 5 furlongs in 1:043⁄5 April 19 at Churchill.

Thursday was a different story as the bay colt registered splits of :111⁄5 and :222⁄5 and galloped out in :471⁄5.

"He was so comfortable," Bejarano said of the work. "I didn't have to push him or nothing. Past the wire, I just let him gallop out strong and stay up in the saddle."

Stute indicated if Papa Clem had worked slower Thursday, he might have brought him back to the track Saturday morning, but now he feels they are ready to go.

"You see me smiling, don't you?" Stute said. "If he gets beat, it's all my fault."

Lukas shows no lovefor synthetics

Any time an opinion is needed on a racing topic, stopping by the barn of four-time Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas is never a bad idea.

True to form, Lukas sounded off on the issue of synthetic surfaces Thursday morning, saying the tracks affect more than just a horse's form.

"I'm not a synthetic person. I think it's caused a nightmare for the bettors," Lukas said. "The very lifeblood of our industry is the gambling public, and I think they've been put at such a disadvantage trying to sort this thing out. I think it'll run its course, and maybe in a couple years, they'll dig them all up and get back to natural dirt."

When discussing the fourth-place effort by his Kentucky Oaks contender, Be Fair, during the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 4, Lukas again pointed a finger at the Polytrack.

"I made the mistake of taking her over to the cotton candy at Keeneland. She didn't handle that," Lukas said. "Here we go again, we're making excuses for the surface they run over, which is not where racing needs to be. Simple as that."

Beating the odds

They might not be among the favorites in the Derby field but Atomic Rain and West Side Bernie still represent a great accomplishment for owners George and Lori Hall.

George Hall bought 20 yearlings at the 2007 Keeneland September sale, 10 fillies and 10 colts. West Side Bernie was a $50,000 purchase and Atomic Rain cost $170,000.

"It's pretty amazing to have two starters in the Kentucky Derby from the 10 colts we got at the sale," Hall said.