04/21/2008 12:00AM

Derby preps done, agonizing begins


ARCADIA, Calif. - With the final prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby having been run last Saturday, graded stakes earnings are set, and all that remains is to determine the starting field. That's probably going to be in flux right up until entry time Wednesday, April 30. Far more than 20 horses are still under consideration for the Derby, but with the field capped at 20 based on earnings in graded stakes races, some horses are in danger of being left out.

So it was with one eye on the track, and another cast toward Louisville, Ky., that trainer James Kasparoff sent out Bob Black Jack, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, for a workout at Santa Anita on Monday morning. Bob Black Jack is currently 22nd on the Derby earnings list; he needs two defections among those above him to get in.

That should happen.

Proud Spell, currently ranked second, on Monday was estimated by trainer Larry Jones as only a "15 percent chance" to run in the Derby instead of the Mayo2 Kentucky Oaks. Salute the Sarge, who ran seventh in the Lexington Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland, is not expected to continue to the Derby, though trainer Eric Guillot did not return a telephone call on Monday seeking confirmation.

So, it looks as though Bob Black Jack will make it, and give Kasparoff, who trains only four horses, his first starter in the Derby. On Monday, Bob Black Jack worked six furlongs in 1:10.80 with jockey David Flores, who had to shove Bob Black Jack aggressively to get on even terms with a workmate late in the drill. The time was the second-best of 19 at the distance Monday.

"I thought the work was good time-wise, but he can be a little lazy," Kasparoff said as Bob Black Jack galloped out. "We had him come through inside to get a little more out of it."

Bob Black Jack is scheduled to fly to Kentucky on Saturday, and have his final work at Churchill Downs early next week.

If Bob Black Jack gets in, that would put Denis of Cork on the bubble. Denis of Cork remained on edge for the Derby with a five-furlong work in 1:00 Monday at Churchill Downs.

Both Bob Black Jack and Denis of Cork were aided on Monday by the confirmed defection of Massive Drama, who has $205,200 in graded stakes earnings but was coming off a poor performance in the United Arab Emirates Derby. Sobhy Sonbol, the racing manager for Ahmed Zayat's Zayat Stables, which owns Massive Drama, said the colt would not run in the Derby.

The injury that knocked champion War Pass out of the Derby, announced Saturday, also helped those hoping to get into the top 20.

Both Bob Black Jack and Denis of Cork, however, were leapfrogged last Saturday by Behindatthebar, who won the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. On Monday, his trainer, Todd Pletcher, described Behindatthebar as "possible" for the Derby. Behindatthebar got a Beyer Speed Figure of 99 in the Lexington.

If Behindatthebar comes out, and enough other dominoes fall, a horse ranked as low as Halo Najib, who has $157,996 in graded earnings, could make the Derby field. Halo Najib's trainer, Dale Romans, said he would run Halo Najib in the Derby if he can get in. Halo Najib is owned by Zayat, who also owns Derby runners Z Humor and Z Fortune.

A significant hiccup to the chances of those on the bubble is the filly Eight Belles, who has $210,000 in graded stakes earnings. Like Proud Spell, she is trained by Jones. According to Jones, Rick Porter, whose Fox Hill Farms owns Eight Belles, wants to run in the Derby, and will enter Eight Belles in both the Derby and the Oaks. Entries for the Oaks are taken, and posts drawn, on Tuesday, April 29, a day before entries are taken and posts selected for the Derby.

"We're going to enter both fillies in the Oaks," Jones said by phone from Delaware Park, where he was running horses Monday. "I've been told to enter Eight Belles in the Derby. If Eight Belles draws a good post in the Derby, and a crappy post in the Oaks, she'll probably run in the Derby. If she draws a crappy post in the Derby, and a good post in the Oaks, she'll probably run in the Oaks. I'd say it's a 50-50 chance. I do know Mr. Porter wants to run in the Derby if she draws a good post.

"Proud Spell, if she draws a really crappy post in the Oaks, we might cross-enter her in the Derby. But I'd say that's only 15-85."

If Eight Belles runs in the Derby, she will need a new jockey. Her regular rider, Ramon Dominguez, has committed to Monba, the Blue Grass Stakes winner. Gabriel Saez has the mount on Proud Spell, but he would be open in the Derby if Proud Spell runs in the Oaks.

Both Eight Belles (46.60 seconds) and Proud Spell (50.20 seconds) worked a half-mile on Sunday at Keeneland. Both will be sent by van to Churchill Downs on Friday, and work again over the weekend.

Foggy weather at Keeneland on Monday prevented the official timing of Pyro, who had his first work since his dull try in the Blue Grass Stakes nine days earlier. Steve Asmussen, Pyro's trainer, said Pyro worked six furlongs in company with the stakes-winning older sprinter Noonmark.

"You can't believe how foggy it was here this morning," Asmussen said. "Nobody knows what anybody did. He went by me real pretty."

Pyro was scheduled to head to Churchill Downs on Tuesday, and have his final work at Churchill next Monday, Asmussen said.

Z Fortune, Asmussen's other Derby contender, worked a half-mile in 50.20 seconds on Monday at Churchill Downs. He also is scheduled to have his final Derby work next Monday, Asmussen said.

Colonel John, the Santa Anita Derby winner, arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday after a flight from Southern California. He had his penultimate Derby work at Santa Anita on Sunday, effortlessly working five furlongs in 59.40. Eoin Harty, Colonel John's trainer, said Colonel John would have his final work this weekend at Churchill.

Adriano, the Lane's End Stakes winner, worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 on Sunday at Churchill Downs. He is expected to have his final Derby work on Sunday, though all trainers with works scheduled this weekend at Churchill are keeping on eye on the weather. The long-range forecast on Weather.com calls for extensive showers over the weekend, notably on Saturday and Monday.

- additional reporting by David Grening