04/08/2007 11:00PM

Derby preps undergo shakeup

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With the regional finals having been run this past weekend in California, Illinois, and New York, focus for the May 5 Kentucky Derby becomes a little more narrowed. Other than the Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park, all the action will be taking place here in Kentucky, where Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes and the Lexington Stakes on April 21 are the final graded stakes leading to the Derby.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass at Keeneland will be headed by Street Sense, the current favorite for the Derby, who is training here at Churchill Downs and had an aggressive gallop Monday on a bitterly frigid morning in which temperatures fell below freezing. But the complexion of the fields for both the Blue Grass and the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby were altered dramatically on Monday, following a weekend in which several well-regarded Derby prospects saw their stock fall in such races as the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and Illinois Derby.

The Blue Grass lost Any Given Saturday last week, when he was re-routed to last Saturday’s Wood Memorial, in which he finished third to Nobiz Like Shobiz. On Monday, Lane’s End winner Hard Spun was officially removed from consideration for the Blue Grass. Rushaway winner Dominican, who had been scheduled to run in the Arkansas Derby, instead will now go to the Blue Grass. And the Arkansas Derby field was reduced further by the defection of Louisiana Derby runner-up Ketchikan, who has an injury to his left front leg.

Hard Spun was scheduled to leave Keeneland for Churchill Downs over the weekend, but when the Churchill main track froze on Saturday, trainer Larry Jones decided to remain at Keeneland. That, according to Jones, threw off a work scheduled for Tuesday.

“We definitely know he’s not going to run in the Blue Grass,” Jones said Monday. “I want to blow him out at Churchill Downs, to see if he likes Churchill Downs. I’ll probably take him there the latter part of the week and try to get a read on him.

“If he shows the same tendencies there that he did at Oaklawn,” Jones said, referring to the track where Hard Spun suffered his lone loss, in the Southwest Stakes, “he won’t run in the Derby. If that happens, he’ll run in the Lexington, and then the Preakness. But if he likes it, he’ll train up to the Derby.”

The defections of Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun helped convince trainer Darrin Miller to remain at Keeneland with Dominican – who is accomplished over Polytrack – rather than ship to Oaklawn.

“He worked good here, and we know he likes Polytrack,” Miller said. “So many horses are not going in the Blue Grass – and he seems to be going the right way – that I think he deserves a shot.”

The Blue Grass field will be small. In addition to Street Sense and Dominican, the field is expected to include Great Hunter, Teuflesberg, and Zanjero, who breezed a half-mile in 50.20 seconds on Monday morning at Keeneland. There may be additional stragglers by entry time Wednesday when word gets out that the prospective field is so small.

The Arkansas Derby field also is much smaller than it appeared to be one week ago. Ketchikan, who would have been one of the top contenders in that race, was lame in his left front leg on Sunday afternoon and was being evaluated on Monday by Dr. Larry Bramlage at the equine clinic Rood and Riddle, trainer Al Stall Jr. said.

“He worked great Friday, cooled out, walked Saturday, jogged Sunday, and was fine,” Stall said. “I took him out to graze Sunday afternoon, and he was off in his left front.”

Stall said radiographs and ultrasound could not pinpoint the problem. So, Ketchikan was scheduled to undergo nuclear scintigraphy, the process that detected minor bone changes in Sham Stakes winner Ravel last month. Regardless, Ketchikan is out.

“We’re all completely bummed out,” Stall said.

Curlin, the Rebel Stakes winner, is expected to head the Arkansas Derby field. Deadly Dealer, who was under consideration for that race and the Blue Grass, is headed to Arkansas, trainer Todd Pletcher said. Others scheduled for the Arkansas Derby are Delightful Kiss, Flying First Class, For You Reppo, Officer Rocket, Storm in May, and possibly Going Ballistic.

Pletcher arrived at Keeneland late Monday morning to supervise his star-studded lineup. He had a mixed day last Saturday with his 3-year-olds. Cowtown Cat won the Illinois Derby – in which he received a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 – King of the Roxy and Sam P. were second and third in the Santa Anita Derby, and Any Given Saturday was third in the Wood.

Any Given Saturday, Cowtown Cat, and Sam P. all are being pointed for the Kentucky Derby, along with Pletcher trainees Circular Quay and Scat Daddy. King of the Roxy will await the May 19 Preakness Stakes, Pletcher said.

Any Given Saturday “was a little disappointing the last sixteenth of a mile,” Pletcher said.

“Hopefully coming back in three weeks was part of the reason, and hopefully that will pay off for us on the other side,” he said, referring to the four-week gap between the Wood and the Derby.

Nobiz Like Shobiz got a 98 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory in the Wood. His trainer, Barclay Tagg, on Monday said Nobiz Like Shobiz came out of the race “real good” and would train at Belmont Park until just days before the Derby, the schedule Tagg used with Funny Cide in 2003.

Tagg said he would like to see Nobiz Like Shobiz settle a little better in the Derby.

“It was his first time with blinkers on and he came away from there really, really sharp and got into a bit of a duel right off the bat,” Tagg said of the Wood. “Hopefully, he’ll learn from that and won’t be that rank in the Derby. He came down the lane in [13.44 seconds], and that’s not what you want to see in a champion-caliber horse. But yet, they need some of those dogfights if they’re going to win the Derby too.”

From the Wood, only Nobiz Like Shobiz and Any Given Saturday are going to the Derby.

The Santa Anita Derby has three potential Derby starters in the victorious Tiago, along with Sam P. and Liquidity, who finished fourth. Tiago got a Beyer Figure of 100.

“I thought if he ran first or second, that would give us a chance to go to the Derby,” said John Shirreffs, who trains Tiago. “For him to win like he did was such a huge leap forward. He wasn’t pulling. He wasn’t rank. He knows his job. He has the ability to accelerate when you pull him out.”

Like Tagg with Funny Cide, Shirreffs in 2005 waited until just days before the Derby to bring Giacomo, Tiago’s half-brother, to Churchill Downs. Shirreffs said he will do the same this time.

“The weather in Kentucky is so unpredictable,” Shirreffs said.

Liquidity was part of a disappointing day for trainer Doug O’Neill, who sent out Cobalt Blue to a seventh-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Illinois Derby. On Monday, O’Neill said both Cobalt Blue and Liquidity remain under consideration for the Derby. Cobalt Blue is owned by entertainment impresario Merv Griffin, 82, who has never had a horse in the Derby. Liquidity is owned by Paul Reddam, who also has Derby prospects Great Hunter and Notional.

Reporting for Duty, who was second in the Illinois Derby, will make his next start in the Lone Star Derby on May 12, trainer Steve Asmussen said. Bold Start, third in the Illinois Derby, “probably wouldn’t go” to the Derby, trainer Ken McPeek said.

– additional reporting by David Grening, Marcus Hersh, Marty McGee, and Mary Rampellini