04/28/2011 2:53PM

Derby Trial runners look beyond Kentucky Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – They are 3-year-olds with goals less ambitious than the Kentucky Derby. The King’s Bishop at Saratoga, perhaps even the Breeders’ Cup Sprint here in the fall, could be eventual landing spots for the best to emerge Saturday night from the Grade 3, $200,000 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.

“We’re just trying to see where he fits right now,” said Neil Howard, trainer of Machen, one of the main contenders among the nine horses entered in the one-mile Trial. “He’s a nice colt – not Derby material, as we found out, but still very useful, I’d say.”

Much of the same could be said for the others in the Trial. Travelin Man, brilliant in winning the Grade 2 Swale earlier this month at Gulfstream Park, is the 7-5 morning-line favorite in a lineup that also includes stakes winners J J’s Lucky Train and Indian Winter, as well as the Swale runner-up, Indiano, and promising maiden winner Dominus.

Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, Travelin Man has the same tandem as Derby contender Uncle Mo.

None of the Trial runners is expected to wheel back in the Derby. The last horse to do so, Don’t Get Mad, easily won the 2005 Trial before running fourth in the Derby.

For a longshot, four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Duca should run much better than he did in the Wood Memorial, in which he finished ninth by 27 lengths.

“He bled in the race,” Lukas said. “He was just coasting along real easy before that. He’s actually a real nice colt.”

The Trial will come during the night’s peak as the eighth of 11 races. The night card (first post, 6 p.m. Eastern) owes largely to the fabulous turnouts since lights were first used here in June 2009. Three other night cards are scheduled for Fridays at the end of the meet: June 17, June 24, and July 1.

The Saturday weather is expected to be terrific, with no chance of rain and temperatures cooling moderately from a daytime high of 76. Officials said most reserved seating in this massive plant is sold out and that the ontrack crowd could approach 40,000, which would be a record for a Churchill date not involving the Derby, Kentucky Oaks, or Breeders’ Cup.

The Trial is the first of 25 stakes worth at least $100,000 at the 39-day spring meet, which runs through July 4. Among the jockeys who will stay on through the Derby are Calvin Borel, Julien Leparoux, Robby Albarado, Kent Desormeaux, Shaun Bridgmohan, Jamie Theriot, Jon Court, and Miguel Mena.

Lukas, the Hall of Famer whose recent career resurgence culminated in leading-trainer honors at the recently ended Oaklawn Park meet, is represented Saturday in a program-high six races, one more than Steve Asmussen, a nine-time leading trainer here.

St. John’s River works for Oaks

While no Derby horses were out for work here Thursday, one candidate for the May 6 Oaks was set down for a serious drill on the rail shortly after the harrow break. St. John’s River, with Rosie Napravnik aboard, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80.

“She was in hand,” trainer Andy Leggio said. “She’ll go back to the track Sunday, and then we’ll put the finishing touches on her. I think she’s about at a peak.”

In just her fourth career start, St. John’s River was second to another Oaks filly, Daisy Devine, in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks. She was made eligible to the $1 million Oaks by a $1,500 late supplementary payment; original nominations are made for $200.

Like the Derby, it appears the Oaks will meet its field limit, which is 14. As many as 15 3-year-old fillies are under consideration, although Arienza “probably will go in the Eight Belles instead,” trainer Dan Peitz said.

R Heat Lightning, Joyful Victory, Kathmanblu, Zazu, and Daisy Devine figure as the wagering favorites for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks. Entries will be taken Tuesday.

Trakus system debuts at Churchill

The Trakus display system already in use at three North American tracks will make its Churchill debut Saturday night. Among other innovative features, the video system allows fans to more easily track their horses by displaying colorful “chicklets” that move in correspondence to how races are actually unfolding.

Trakus, which uses a sophisticated global-positioning system, has been in use for several years at Keeneland, Del Mar, and Woodbine. Officials with the data company said earlier this year that Trakus also is being installed at Santa Anita and Gulfstream.

Trakus has been particularly popular with novice fans who are unable to follow the races through more conventional means.

Asmussen sends two in allowance

Besides the Trial, the Saturday night opener also includes two allowance races. Asmussen holds a strong hand in race 4, a $51,000, first-level sprint for 3-year-olds and upward, with the uncoupled duo of Berberis and Chipshot. Roger Attfield is in a similar situation in race 9, a $53,500, second-level turf route, with the uncoupled pair of Ernfold and Oregon Lady.

The 11th and last race, a $17,000, starter-allowance route for older horses, is scheduled for 11:10 p.m.

* Because of the late Saturday card, Churchill will not have racing here on what would have been the first Sunday of the meet. Instead, following two dark days, racing will be held here Tuesday and on through Derby Day. Churchill historically had run on the Tuesday of Derby week before eliminating that date last year. The Sunday after the Derby is always dark.