04/25/2012 1:38PM

Churchill Downs notes: Derby Trial attracts field of 11

Shigeki Kikkawa
The Bob Baffert-trained Paynter is one of the prime contenders in Satuday night's Derby Trial.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Bob Baffert knows enough about Kentucky Derby week that he isn’t a bit surprised when a race like the Derby Trial draws a lot of entries.

“Nobody’s shy about running here,” Baffert said.

Even with a promising colt named Paynter, trained by Baffert, and Bourbon Courage, a real phenom in New Orleans this winter, a field of 11 3-year-olds has been entered for the $200,000 Derby Trial, a Grade 3 race that once again will open the spring meet Saturday night at Churchill Downs by proving its anachronistic bent in failing to produce a starter for the Derby one week hence.

Baffert said he likes the potential that Paynter has shown in his two starts, a maiden victory at Santa Anita in February followed by a decent fourth behind I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby.

“I don’t know if we’d think about going back in the [May 19] Preakness if he won because right now we’re just taking it one race at a time,” he said.

Among his rivals in the one-mile Trial are Bourbon Courage, whose first two career races at Fair Grounds, both at six furlongs, produced eye-popping Beyer Speed Figures of 103 and 101. Kellyn Gorder trains Bourbon Courage, a colt by Lion Heart.

From the rail, this is the field for the 88th Trial (race 8, 9:39 p.m. Eastern), which anchors an 11-race card that begins at 6 p.m.: Tarpy’s Goal, The Black, Saint of Saints, Nonios, Hierro, Quick Wit, Paynter, Seve, Stealcase, Motor City, and Bourbon Courage. HRTV will have full coverage of Churchill all week.

This will be the second year that Churchill opens the spring meet at night. Last year, 38,142 turned out, setting a record for night racing since Churchill first began using lights for some of its cards in 2009.

Baffert defends the use of Lasix

The debate over whether to ban the raceday use of Lasix has become a hot topic throughout the country, no more so than in Kentucky where the racing commission last week deadlocked on a vote to implement such a proposal.

Trainer Bob Baffert, who is staunchly pro-Lasix, is in Kentucky this week to oversee the training of Bodemeister and Liaison for the Derby, and weighed in on the controversial topic shortly after his arrival in Louisville.

“Lasix is so important to racing, banning it would not only be disastrous for the business, but harmful to the horses,” said Baffert, who is based year-round in California. “It makes me angry when I hear the anti-Lasix proponents talk about banning the drug. Breeders do all sorts of things with their foals, and trainers are made out to be the bad guys. And for what? Giving Lasix and trying to take care of the health of their horses?”

Baffert said he believes many owners would get out of the business if  trainers were no longer allowed to treat their horses with Lasix on raceday.

“Without Lasix, it will cost so much more to race a horse,” said Baffert. “It currently costs about $50 to give a horse Lasix before a race. Without it, we’d have to start treating horses several days out and the cost for the owners would be far greater. And once horses start bleeding it affects their lungs and begins to compromise their careers. I find the whole issue very concerning.”

Oaks prospect Karlovy Vary gets feel for track

Karlovy Vary, one of the top contenders in what is shaping up as a wide-open 138th running of the Kentucky Oaks next Friday, had her first morning Wednesday at Churchill since she captured the April 7 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

“She just had an easy gallop,” said Jack Bohannan, assistant to trainer Rusty Arnold. “She’s settled in just fine.”

[WATCHMAKER: Kentucky Oaks shaping up to have a hot pace]

Regarding questions about Karlovy Vary being able to handle a dirt surface after racing primarily on turf or synthetic, Bohannan said: “She trained all winter on the dirt at Palm Meadows and really came around, Rusty said. She’s an awfully nice filly.”

Entries for the $1 million Oaks will be drawn Tuesday, and it appears the race will have an also-eligibles list beyond the 14-filly limit. As of Wednesday, the connections of at least 16 fillies had expressed interest in the race.

St. John’s River preps for La Troienne

Glancing at the nominations list, the Grade 2, $300,000 La Troienne Stakes on the Oaks undercard could have been one of the best races of Derby weekend. But it won’t be. Havre de Grace is retired, and neither Awesome Maria nor Plum Pretty is running, all of which leaves St. John’s River as the probable favorite for the 1 1/16-mile race. St. John’s River, the 2011 Oaks runner-up, worked a half-mile here Wednesday in 49.20 seconds for trainer Andy Leggio.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch