05/07/2009 12:00AM

Coa sticks with Musket Man

Barbara D. Livingston
Eibar Coa has opted to ride Musket Man rather than Big Drama in the Preakness.

For a guy who has yet to win a Triple Crown race, jockey Eibar Coa has been the man in demand this spring. Going into the Kentucky Derby, he had the choice of riding Musket Man, whom he had ridden to victory in the Illinois Derby, or General Quarters, on whom he won the Blue Grass Stakes.

Coa chose Musket Man, who finished third in the Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs behind Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile.

With the 134th Preakness Stakes on May 16 at Pimlico now on the horizon, Coa again found himself having to consider two prominent horses. Derek Ryan, the trainer of Musket Man, on Wednesday decided to run in the $1 million Preakness. Seems simple enough for Coa, right? Actually, no. Coa has been riding the speedy Big Drama, who has won 5 of 7 starts and is the most prominent of the new shooters aiming for the Preakness.

It was a tough choice, but Coa and his agent, Matt Muzikar, on Wednesday again cast their lot with Musket Man, setting off a round of musical jockeys as the field, and riding assignments, for the second leg of the Triple Crown came into sharper focus.

John Velazquez, who rode Mr. Hot Stuff in the Derby after Quality Road was withdrawn with an injury, quickly snapped up the mount on Big Drama. And Edgar Prado, who rode Dunkirk in the Derby, moved to another Todd Pletcher trainee, Take the Points, for the Preakness.

In addition to Musket Man, both General Quarters, who was 10th in the Derby, and Terrain, who bypassed the Derby after finishing fourth in the Blue Grass, were confirmed as definite Preakness starters on Wednesday.

Muzikar said the choice between Musket Man and Big Drama was "a hard decision."

"I can't say anything negative about Big Drama," Muzikar said. "Our train of thought was that horses that have run well in the Derby usually come back and run well in the Preakness; rarely is it a newcomer."

In the last 25 runnings of the Preakness, only three winners - Deputed Testamony in 1983, Red Bullet in 2000, and Bernardini in 2006 - did not run in the Derby.

Ryan said the decision to run Musket Man came down to whether to come back in two weeks, or await the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, on June 6.

"He will run in the Preakness and not the Belmont," Ryan said from Monmouth Park, where Musket Man is currently training. "After the Preakness, I want to have him ready for the Haskell here. That's the main goal this summer."

Ryan said Musket Man would be one of the last to arrive at Pimlico.

"I'll get there as late as possible," he said.

Ryan said Musket Man went back to the track for the first time on Wednesday and galloped 1 1/2 miles. He is scheduled to work three furlongs at Monmouth on Tuesday or Wednesday, Ryan said.

Big Drama, disqualified from victory in the Swale Stakes in his last start, was the first Preakness runner to arrive at Pimlico. He took an overnight, 19-hour van ride from Calder and got to Baltimore on Wednesday morning. Big Drama is scheduled to work at Pimlico on Monday.

Like Big Drama, Terrain will be joining the Triple Crown chase after bypassing the Derby. Terrain had also been under consideration for the Lone Star Derby this Saturday. Al Stall Jr., the trainer of Terrain, said he had no regrets about missing the Derby.

"Best-case scenario, we could have run second, and that's with a great trip," Stall said. "When it's over and done with, we've got a horse who's bright and fresh and not cut up. We're okay."

Stall said he had yet to choose a jockey for Terrain in the Preakness. He said Terrain would have his final Preakness workout this weekend at Churchill Downs.

Jockey Julien Leparoux will come back aboard General Quarters, whom he picked up for the Derby when Coa chose Musket Man. General Quarters went back to the track for a gallop at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

The Preakness field should be large, but fewer than the maximum of 14 allowed for the 1 3/16-mile race. On Wednesday, Jamie McCalmont, the British agent who handles owner Paul Reddam's European horses, said it was "doubtful" that Sky Gate would cross the Atlantic for the Preakness.

Mine That Bird, the Derby winner, galloped twice around the main track at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. He is scheduled to ship by van to Pimlico on Tuesday.

Pioneerof the Nile went back to the track at Churchill Downs on Wednesday for the first time since the Derby. He is scheduled to work on Monday at Churchill Downs.

- additional reporting by David Grening