04/21/2010 12:00AM

Baffert may be feeling lucky

Barbara D. Livingston
Conveyance, with Calvin Borel riding, breezes five furlongs at Churchill on Wednesday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Bob Baffert is holding court on the Churchill Downs backstretch these days, you'd think he has never won the Kentucky Derby and that Todd Pletcher has won it three times.

Of course, the reverse is true, although the way that Baffert keeps going out of his way to praise Eskendereya, the Pletcher-trained favorite for the 136th Derby, you wouldn't suspect that Baffert might well be on the threshold of his fourth Derby victory.

But after Lookin At Lucky turned in a particularly strong workout with his proud trainer watching frontside here Wednesday, Baffert couldn't help getting in a few kind words on behalf of a defending divisional champion who surely will be a solid second choice to Eskendereya when the gates are sprung May 1.

"You know by the way a horse works if he has a chance in the Derby," said Baffert. "This horse has an excellent chance."

:: DERBY 136:



With Dana Barnes aboard, Lookin At Lucky blew past a Baffert stablemate, Broken Tango, in breezing six furlongs in 1:12.01 as timed by Daily Racing Form, a move that Baffert later described as "our serious work" before the Derby. An easier work Monday or Tuesday will follow.

Just before Lookin at Lucky worked, Conveyance, a second Derby horse for Baffert, went solo in breezing five furlongs in 58.76 seconds. Along with a six-furlong move by Homeboykris in 1:14.48, theirs were the only breezes here Wednesday, as most of the 20-plus horses being aimed for the Derby will be getting in their final workouts in the Saturday-to-Monday window that typically defines the end of serious pre-Derby training.

Baffert has been in good humor since arriving here April 14, making the ever-growing media crowds frequently chuckle as they encircle him in post-training interview sessions, but he also has been almost reverent when the subject of Eskendereya comes up -and it seems to come up often.

"Eskendereya is a really good horse," he said. "His last two races have been outstanding - they've been off the charts. Todd has never come in here with the best horse, but this time he is. He definitely has the horse to beat."

Baffert is, however, quick to add that the unique nature of the Derby, with its 20-horse field and 1 1/4-mile distance, sometimes means the best horse doesn't win. He experienced that himself in 2001, when Point Given bitterly disappointed Baffert by fading to fifth as the 9-5 favorite before redeeming himself by winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

"Point Given didn't show up that one day," said Baffert. As for Lookin At Lucky, "all I'm wanting him to do is show up. I just want him to run. I know by the way he worked today that we have a good chance."

Pletcher contingent hits track

Trainer Todd Pletcher had all seven of his potential Kentucky Derby starters on the track at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning, including the filly Devil May Care, who is now under consideration for both the Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Pletcher remained uncommitted as to both her status and that of two of his other 3-year-olds, Interactif and Discreetly Mine. They are among the top 20 horses on the graded earnings list but were described as still being "on the bubble" by their trainer after training on Wednesday.

"Right now we're preparing everybody as if they might run in the Derby," said Pletcher. "They all have enough earnings to get into the race, but some will have to have key works this weekend to earn their way into the race."

Wednesday marked the first local appearance of Eskendereya, who is just about everybody's favorite to win the Derby. Eskendereya galloped an easy 1 1/4 miles after the renovation break.

"He galloped exactly the way I expected him to this morning," said Pletcher. "He was curious and looking around, but he got over the ground well."

Pletcher said he was also pleased what he sees from Super Saver.

"He takes to this track better than anywhere, but like all of these horses, we'll know more after they work this weekend," said Pletcher.

Pletcher also said no decision regarding whether Devil May Care might run in the Derby or Oaks would be made until after her next work.

"She's had the benefit of working with some of these other good 3-year-olds in my barn this winter, and I know she can stick with them, and I'm also confident she'll like a mile and one-quarter and even a mile and one-half," Pletcher said.

Derby Trial again meaningful

In years past, the 20-horse Derby lineup usually had been fairly well set by this late juncture - or at least not subject to last-minute changes by the results of any remaining graded races.

It wasn't too long ago that the Derby Trial had sunk to non-graded status with a $100,000 purse, rendering it irrelevant toward its namesake, but that has changed for this year. Restored a few years ago to Grade 3 status, the Trial had its purse boosted to $200,000 for the 86th running here Saturday, and suddenly a Derby domino or two could tumble.

The connections of two of the 10 3-year-olds who were entered Wednesday for the one-mile Trial have said they intend to run back in the Derby if armed with the winner's share, which figures right about $120,000. Either of those horses, Pleasant Prince or Eightyfiveinafifty, could become the first Trial winner to run back a week later in the Derby since Don't Get Mad returned to be fourth behind Giacomo in the 2005 Derby. The last horse to win both the Trial and the Derby was Tim Tam in 1958.

The possibility of the Trial giving the winner enough graded earnings to crack the lineup is one of a handful of variables affecting horses on the cusp of Derby eligibility, those bubble horses being Homeboykris, Jackson Bend, Backtalk, and Make Music for Me. In addition, firm decisions are still pending regarding the Derby status of horses such as Noble's Promise and the Pletcher trio of Devil May Care, Discreetly Mine, and Interactif, so plenty of sorting out still remains before the 20-horse field is determined when entries are taken Wednesday morning.

Pleasant Prince was assigned post 4 and Eightyfiveinafifty post 10 in the Trial, which also has Game On Dude and Aikenite as major contenders. The Trial is set for 5:17 p.m. Eastern as the 10th of 11 races on opening day of the Churchill spring meet.

* Illinois Derby winner American Lion was scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs early Wednesday afternoon. American Lion has been stabled at Keeneland where he worked five furlongs on Tuesday.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch