04/08/2012 12:34PM

2012 Kentucky Derby: Gemologist, Alpha headed for rematch in Louisville

Tom Keyser
Wood winner Gemologist (right) and runner-up Alpha both received a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Gemologist and Alpha, separated by a neck when first and second, respectively, in Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, were reported to be in good shape Sunday morning and will both be pointed to the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

Gemologist, who improved to 5 for 5 with his Wood triumph, was flown back to south Florida on Sunday and for now is scheduled to do all his major preparation for the Derby at the Palm Meadows training center. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he plans to work Gemologist twice at Palm Meadows before shipping him and El Padrino to Louisville on May 1.

Gemologist has already proven his affinity for Churchill Downs, winning both of his starts there last fall, including the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Pletcher also mentioned he likes the consistency of the weather in south Florida at this time of year compared with Louisville.

“There’s no huge advantage to be at Churchill this whole time,” Pletcher said Sunday morning by phone from Palm Meadows. “For the most part you know what you’re going to get weather-wise here. If it gets a little warm, horses get a little bit of a lift going from warm to cool. If it’s warm at Churchill, he’ll be used to it.

“Being at Churchill last spring and watching it rain for 17 consecutive days, we might as well stay here,” he added.

Gemologist was floated six-wide into the first turn of the Wood and raced three-to-four-wide down the backside. He made the lead turning for home and though it appeared Alpha had dead aim on him in deep stretch, Gemologist responded when confronted by Alpha.

In a matter of three weeks, Gemologist went from under the radar to near the top of most handicappers’ Kentucky Derby lists.

 “I think he’s had arguably the best three weeks of any horse on the Triple Crown trail,” Pletcher said. “From unstarted this year needing some graded earnings to two impressive wins and plenty of graded earnings. I think things are coming together at the right time.”

 Pletcher will keep El Padrino at Palm Meadows as well and train him up to the Derby. Our Entourage, who finished fifth in the Illinois Derby, was flown to Palm Meadows on Sunday and will be pointed to the $200,000 American Turf at Churchill on May 4.

Meanwhile, Alpha remained in New York on Sunday morning and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he has yet to decide when exactly to ship the horse to Kentucky. McLaughlin said that Alpha could have one work in New York and one at Churchill or two at Churchill.

 “We’ll look at the weather both places. We might tend to go there earlier because of gate and schooling and if we’re going to go, let’s go,” McLaughlin said.

 McLaughlin will likely have to find a new rider for Alpha. Ramon Dominguez, who has ridden Alpha in all three starts this year, is also the regular rider of Hansen, last year’s 2-year-old champion who runs in Saturday’s Blue Grass at Keeneland. McLaughlin said he will likely wait until after the weekend to finalize a rider assignment. Among those he believes are open are Garrett Gomez, Alan Garcia, and Jose Lezcano.

 Alpha’s worst race from six career starts came in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, where he finished 11th in the 13-horse field. Alpha did act up at the gate prior to the race and was reported to have bled during the running of the race. He has raced on Lasix in all three of his starts this year, winning the Count Fleet and Grade 3 Withers before running second in the Wood.

 McLaughlin said he is “not worried about the track.”

 Both Gemologist and Alpha were assigned a Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

The connections of Bay Shore Stakes winner Trinniberg are continuing to combat any case of Derby fever even though the horse has enough graded earnings to make the field. Owner Shivananda Parbhoo reiterated on Sunday that he is more inclined to wait for the Preakness at Pimlico on May 19 than run in the Derby, though he didn’t completely shut the door on a Run for the Roses.

 “Who doesn’t want to go to the Kentucky Derby?” Parbhoo said. “But I don’t want to destroy the horse either. Hopefully, I will make a very nice, correct decision in two weeks.”

Trinniberg, who earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure for his three-length win in the seven-furlong Bay Shore on Satujrday at Aqueduct, was scheduled to van back to Calder on Monday along with stablemate Giant Ryan, the recently crowned New York-bred horse of the year for 2011.