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Derby trail turns rocky
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The road to the Kentucky Derby is filled with potholes and dangerous curves, and on Monday, only five days before the 135th Derby at Churchill Downs, there were stark reminders, both here and at Belmont Park.
Most notable was the defection of Quality Road, who became the Derby favorite a month ago when he won the Florida Derby, but was felled by a troublesome quarter crack to his right front foot. He was not healthy enough to work on Monday morning at Belmont Park, prompting his connections, owner Ed Evans and trainer Jimmy Jerkens, to abandon hope of making Saturday's race.
His jockey, John Velazquez, was able to pick up the mount on Mr. Hot Stuff, the third-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby.
Quality Road's defection allowed Join in the Dance, the fifth-place finisher in the Blue Grass Stakes, to advance one key spot on the graded-stakes earnings list to the number 20 position, putting him in the Derby field. But Join in the Dance had even more good fortune on Monday, when he was able to avoid the remnants of a horrible early-morning accident at Churchill Downs that happened as he was working out.
The accident, involving two unraced horses, occurred as Derby candidates Chocolate Candy and Join in the Dance were completing their works. Only moments earlier, Friesan Fire and Pioneerof the Nile, two of the leading contenders for the Derby, and the longshots Flying Private and Win Willy had finished their drills.
"We were very fortunate," said Jerry Hollendorfer, the trainer of Chocolate Candy.
After a 25-minute delay, the track was re-opened, allowing Derby candidates Advice, Mine That Bird, and Take the Points to work, too.
Entries for the Derby are due on Wednesday morning. Post positions will be selected at noon at Churchill Downs, in a two-step process that will be seen live on HRTV. At first, a traditional blind draw will be held to determine a draft order. Then, a representative from each horse will select their post position.
Even with several prominent defections in recent weeks, such as Quality Road, Mafaaz, Old Fashioned, and Terrain, as of Monday there were still more than 20 horses whose owners were desirous of running in the Derby. If that is the case on Wednesday, the maximum field of 20 will be determined based on earnings in graded stakes races. Take the Points is currently 21st on the earnings list. His starting status may be determined by another Todd Pletcher trainee, Advice, whose owners, WinStar Farm, had yet to fully commit to the race on Monday. WinStar also has Derby runners Hold Me Back and Mr. Hot Stuff.
"All three worked to our satisfaction," Pletcher said, referring to Advice, Join in the Dance, and Take the Points. "We'll see how they are [Tuesday] morning, and decide at that time what to do after talking to the connections."
Pletcher said that if Advice runs, "the leading candidate to ride is Rene Douglas." If Join in the Dance runs, as expected, "Chris DeCarlo is the leading candidate." Pletcher said no rider had yet been lined up for Take the Points.
Pletcher's other Derby runner, Dunkirk, was scheduled to fly to Kentucky from Florida on Tuesday. He would be the last Derby horse to arrive here. Mr. Hot Stuff was flown to Kentucky from California on Monday.
With Quality Road out of the race, the likely favorite for the race is Wood Memorial winner I Want Revenge, who was scheduled to have his final Derby work on Tuesday. On Monday, though, nine Derby horses - nearly half the field - worked, all after the mid-morning renovation break.
Pioneerofthe Nile, the Santa Anita Derby winner, was first horse on the track after the break, and he went five furlongs in 1:00.87, according to Daily Racing Form, under former jockey Joe Steiner.
Friesan Fire, the Louisiana Derby winner, then sped five furlongs in 57.86 seconds with jockey Gabriel Saez.
Flying Private, fifth in the Arkansas Derby in his last start, worked a half-mile in 47.40 seconds with jockey Robby Albarado.
Win Willy, fourth in the Arkansas Derby, was timed in 1:02.40 for five furlongs with exercise rider Eli Lopez.
Then all hell broke loose.
The accident in the homestretch caused a loud warning horn to be sounded. Chocolate Candy and Join in the Dance were in the midst of their five-furlong works, and their riders chose to go on with them rather than abort.
Chocolate Candy, under jockey Mike Smith, was timed in 59.24 seconds.
"When he broke off, I heard the horn, but I couldn't see him," said Hollendorfer, who watched the work from the backstretch, where the view is obscured by numerous infield tents. "Around the turn I thought Mike would pull him up, but then I saw him in the stretch. It was a good work, but the whole thing was very worrisome."
Join in the Dance, with former jockey Angel Cordero Jr. up, recorded a time of 1:00.20.
"I was keeping one eye on him, one eye on the accident," said Pletcher, who was watching the work from the second floor of the grandstand, just above where the accident occurred. "Obviously we had an experienced rider, and you just hope he hears the horn, realizes that something is going on, and keeps his eyes wide open."
After the track was reopened, Advice worked a half-mile in 47.15 seconds with exercise rider Kevin Willey, Take the Points went five furlongs in 1:00.06 with exercise rider Horacio de la Paz, and Mine That Bird completed the day's Derby drills by going five furlongs in 1:02.06 with jockey Calvin Borel, who moments earlier had completed a postponed work on Kentucky Oaks favorite Rachel Alexandra.
On Sunday, Derby runners Hold Me Back and Square Eddie worked here, and Mr. Hot Stuff worked at Santa Anita.
Hold Me Back worked five furlongs in 1:01.15 with his Derby jockey, Kent Desormeaux.
Square Eddie went an easy half-mile in 50.26 seconds under exercise rider Tony Romero.
Mr. Hot Stuff worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 with exercise rider C.T. Lang. He had been in need of a Derby jockey since Corey Nakatani switched last week to Square Eddie, but trainer Eoin Harty did not commit to a replacement on the chance a prominent horse might defect before entries, and he would end up with a top jockey.
"It's unfortunate what happened to Quality Road, but these things have a way of happening Derby Week," Harty said. "I saw no need to panic last week. And we got a good jockey in Velazquez."
It has been unseasonably warm here the past few days, with the high temperature in the upper 80s. But that was about to change. Showers were due to arrive by Tuesday morning, causing the temperature to drop to the low 70s. Forecasts see a daily chance of showers or thunderstorms ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent the rest of the week. The forecast for Saturday is for a 40-percent chance of scattered thunderstorms, and a high temperature of 67 degrees.