03/05/2010 12:00AM

Derby hopefuls work around weather

Email
Benoit & Associates
A week's postponement didn't have a negative effect on Caracortado in the Robert Lewis Stakes.

ARCADIA, Calif. - It never rains in California? Yeah, right. Boy, don't they warn you. It pours. Man, it pours. Twice last month, Saturday cards were washed away here at Santa Anita because heavy rain left standing water atop the synthetic Pro-Ride surface. On both days, major stakes for 3-year-olds were scheduled. The first time, the Robert Lewis Stakes was brought back a week later with five of the eight who were originally entered, and Caracortado prevailed.

The second time, last Saturday, the Sham Stakes was scheduled. It also is being brought back a week later, but there is the chance that rain could again impact this Saturday's card, which also includes the Santa Anita Handicap, Santa Anita Oaks, and Kilroe Mile.

Yet even though two critical preps for the April 3 Santa Anita Derby and May 1 Kentucky Derby have been postponed, trainers who had horses in those races, or who have been training at Santa Anita this winter, say they largely have been able to work around the situation. And trainers Eoin Harty and Mike Machowsky, who had the misfortune of having horses in both the Lewis and Sham, say they remain proponents of this synthetic surface.

:: DERBY WATCH: (PDF)

:: VIDEO:

:: CONTENDER PROFILES:

"It's not a synthetic issue," said Harty, who had American Lion in the Lewis and has Kettle River in the Sham. "It's a drainage issue. Golden Gate has taken twice as much rain this winter, and they've raced right through it without a hiccup. This track is a very safe surface, which has been proven by the lack of fatalities."

Indeed, the track ambulance has been rarely needed in the mornings and the afternoons. Like Harty, Machowsky believes the pros outweigh the cons, especially being able to avoid the hard, sealed tracks that were the norm here on dirt following rain.

"We've been able to work around the closures," said Machowsky, who trains Lewis winner Caracortado and has Nextdoorneighbor in the Sham. "The surface is good. I'm a fan of training on it."

With Nextdoorneighbor, though, Machowsky desperately needs to get a race into him. He has raced three times, only owns a maiden win, and has zero graded stakes earnings. While Machowsky wants to run here Saturday, he has made contingency plans in case the worst happens and too much rain falls.

"He's nominated to everything everywhere," Machowsky said. "With Caracortado, if he missed the San Felipe next week, it wouldn't bother me as much because I wouldn't have a problem training him straight into the Santa Anita Derby if I had to. Nextdoorneighbor, I could wait and run him next week in the San Felipe if I have to. Or if they run the Sham Sunday, Monday, or at midnight to get it done.

"Nextdoorneighbor trains like he'd run on anything. He might even be better on a dirt track. So I could ship him somewhere. But I'd rather get the race into him and then decide on whether to bring him back in the Santa Anita Derby or something like the Sunland Derby. I could even look at the Illinois Derby or Wood Memorial, even the Arkansas Derby, but I'd rather not run three weeks before the Kentucky Derby."

Both Harty and Machowsky have high praise for Santa Anita's track superintendent, Richard Tedesco, who inherited this messy headache.

"He's done a fantastic job getting it to drain," Harty said. "Now, it drains, just not fast enough."

"We can survive a little bit of rain," Machowsky said. "We just can't get a half-inch in 15 minutes."

Bob Baffert, whose many Derby prospects includes Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky, said the wet weather has impacted his horses to different degrees.

"It affected some of the ones who haven't run," Baffert said. "Lookin At Lucky at least had run last year. He's got - what do you call it? - muscle memory."

But Baffert is not likely to chance wet weather next week, when Lookin At Lucky is scheduled to make his 2010 debut. Instead of running in the San Felipe, Baffert said he was likely to head to the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

"In case it rains here, I can't afford to stay here," he said.

The week's delay of the Sham enabled Baffert to put Marcello in the race. He was not in the field a week ago, but was entered Wednesday and drew the rail.

Baffert has horses stabled at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, and that has given him the option of easily heading across town to facilitate important workouts if the situation turns dire at Santa Anita.

John Sadler, who trains the promising 3-year-olds Dave in Dixie and Sidney's Candy, moved both colts to Hollywood from Santa Anita in order to stay on schedule for upcoming stakes.

"I've been lucky," Sadler said. "Both were sent to Hollywood, so we've been able to work around the weather. We've been a little bit impacted, but not major."

Dave in Dixie and Sidney's Candy were scheduled to work this weekend, then Sadler would decide whether one or both would run March 13 in the San Felipe.

Weather permitting, that is.

In other Derby developments, 10 horses were entered Wednesday in each of the graded stakes for 3-year-olds to be run Saturday: the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct and the Grade 3, $150,000 Sham at 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita. Of the 10 entered in the Sham, eight were in the original field last week and there were two newcomers, Boulder Creek and Marcello.

WHO'S HOT

The lone addition to this week's top 20 of Derby Watch is Radiohead, who scored an impressive victory in allowance company in his dirt debut at Gulfstream Park last weekend. He is a 25-1 shot on the Kentucky Derby future line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. Radiohead gives trainer Rick Dutrow two horses in the top 20, the other being Hutcheson Stakes winner D' Funnybone. With no graded stakes preps run last weekend, there was little opportunity for adjustments.

WHO'S NOT

To make room for Radiohead, Drosselmeyer was bumped from the list. He was the same price (40-1) as Tiz Chrome in last week's Derby Watch, but Tiz Chrome is adjudged, at this point, to have more upside, something he will get a chance to prove next weekend, most likely in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Aikenite (50-1) was rated lower than Drosselmeyer last week, but Aikenite has plenty of cash in graded stakes, so he is guaranteed a spot in the Derby if his connections head that way following the Blue Grass Stakes next month. Drosselmeyer is still cash poor.

ON THE BUBBLE

Nextdoorneighbor, Setsuko, and The Program are all scheduled to run in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, and a strong performance could vault one into the top 20. The Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, which drew a field of 10, includes Peppi Knows and European import Awesome Act. Odysseus, a runaway winner of a Tampa Bay allowance race last month, also is knocking on the door.