05/02/2006 11:00PM

At 63, Cordero still has ties to Derby

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. is the regular exercise rider for Sunriver, who had been pointed for the Derby but was excluded.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The strenuous and anonymous work that Angel Cordero Jr. puts himself through on a daily basis belies his age - and his legacy. As the 132nd Kentucky Derby has approached, Cordero, 63, occasionally has been back in the racing spotlight while working as an exercise rider for his close friend, trainer Todd Pletcher.

While Cordero has been exercising Sunriver - one of three horses Pletcher had hoped to run in the Derby - every day, he also was aboard for workouts last weekend by Keyed Entry for Pletcher and Jazil for Kiaran McLaughlin. And although such work is important in preparing a horse for the Derby, it pales in comparison to the larger-than-life role that belonged to Cordero for so many years during his Hall of Fame riding career.

Indeed, it was 30 years ago this week that Cordero sat atop the racing world by riding the second of his three Derby winners, Bold Forbes, a speedy colt who benefited from the strength and confidence that made Cordero perhaps the most feared jockey of his generation. Bold Forbes, the 3-1 second choice, led all the way in a nine-horse field and turned back Honest Pleasure, the 2-5 favorite under Braulio Baeza.

"Honest Pleasure was much the best, but Braulio was too good a rider to come out there riding [hard for the lead]," recalled Cordero. "I could read through the lines. I thought I could be on the lead without running too fast. Bold Forbes had run such a good race in the Wood and I really liked his chances in the Derby."

That Derby win came two years after Cordero rode Cannonade to win the 100th Derby in a 23-horse field, the largest in race history, and nine years before Spend a Buck led all the way under Cordero to win the 1985 Derby.

Pletcher is among Cordero's untold number of fans. "Angel still has a great passion for the game and still loves watching races," he said. "He has a tremendous amount of knowledge about what goes into riding races. He's a great guy to have on your side."

Cordero suffered a personal tragedy in January 2001 when his wife, Marjorie, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Greenvale, N.Y. He said his work for Pletcher and as the agent for John Velazquez, the two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey recently sidelined by injury, are major reasons his life is tolerable in the face of such heartbreak.

"I get on five to six horses a day," said Cordero. "My life is going good. I miss my wife. There's a big pain in my heart, but I have my kids and a lot of friends. Watching Johnny ride, that's been good medicine for me, too. Sometimes I feel I am out there with him."

Bids for a repeat

John Shirreffs will try to become only the seventh trainer in Derby history to win the race in successive years when he sends out A. P. Warrior on Saturday. Last year, the Shirreffs-trained Giacomo scored a 50-1 upset.

A. P. Warrior arrived Tuesday night and made his first visit to the Churchill Downs main track on Wednesday morning. He arrived a day earlier than Giacomo did last year, but still in keeping with Shirreffs's plan of traveling as late as possible.

Shirreffs said A. P. Warrior is a different horse to train than Giacomo.

"I've made little changes for their personalities," Shirreffs said. "A. P. Warrior acts like he wants to go a distance. He looks like he wants to run long. He's got a little more acceleration. Giacomo, his big training thing was to keep going, going, going, going. Steady. Start with a 12-[second furlong] and finish with a 12, ba-da-dump, ba-da-dump, ba-da-dump."

Shirreffs said that in hindsight, he believes A. P. Warrior gained invaluable experience with his third-place finish in the five-horse Santa Anita Derby.

"He learned to run the middle part of the race," Shirreffs said. "It might have been a good lesson for him to realize he has to make more than one move in the race. It was nothing that we planned on doing. We wanted to come along and finish strong and go on to the next one. But in small fields, the strangest things happen."

The trainers who have won successive Derbies are Hebert John Thompson (1932-33), Ben Jones (1948-49), Jimmy Jones (1957-58), Lucien Lauren (1972-73), D. Wayne Lukas (1995-96), and Bob Baffert (1997-98).

Bailey likes two horses for Derby

Retired Hall of Fame jockey and current racing analyst Jerry Bailey, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, was on the Churchill Downs backside Wednesday morning, sharing his thoughts on Saturday's 132nd Run for the Roses.

Bailey has some doubts about highly regarded Derby entrants Barbaro, Brother Derek, and Sweetnorthernsaint. Bailey said his pick is between Point Determined and Lawyer Ron.

Bailey said he would like to see John McKee ride Lawyer Ron the way he did in the Rebel as opposed to the Arkansas Derby. In the Rebel, Lawyer Ron settled early before making his move. In the Arkansas Derby, McKee asked his horse for run entering the first turn.

"As good as he rode him in the Rebel, I don't think he rode him that well in the Arkansas Derby," Bailey said. "If he can have the presence of mind and the patience to recreate the Rebel-type ride, it's a perfect fit."

Bailey said he believes Point Determined, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, will finally get to run the way he prefers because he won't have to chase the speed horses early.

"He's been trying to catch up to Brother Derek on those fast tracks out there and he's finally going to get the scenario that is more beneficial to him and less beneficial to horses he's been chasing," Bailey said.

Bailey said he believes Brother Derek is a free-running, high-cruising runner who may have benefited from racing on California tracks "because speed carries," he said. "Not the case here so much, but I don't think you can change his style. I don't think he's going to try."

Bailey said he is somewhat leery of Sweetnorthersaint's chances.

"I'm not a big proponent of your last race before the Derby being your career best," he said.

Regarding Barbaro, Bailey's concern is how that horse will take dirt in his face after having raced in the clear while a stalking second in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby.

Big guaranteed pools for exotics

Churchill is offering several lucrative guaranteed pools on multi-race wagers for Oaks and Derby days.

For the Oaks, a $500,000 guaranteed pick four starts on race 7 and ends with the Oaks.

On Derby Day, a $750,000 guaranteed pick six starts on race 5 and ends with the Derby; a $1 million pick four starts on race 7 and ends with the Derby; and a $500,000 pick three starts on race 8 and ends with the Derby.

* A Derby tradition will be renewed on Friday night, when racecaller Dave Johnson makes his annual appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman." Johnson always is on via telephone, with Letterman explaining that he is a fan of Johnson's signature call, "And down the stretch they come." Johnson will call the race this year for Westwood One radio.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Jay Privman