08/10/2012 3:40PM

Emerald Downs: Distance makes Derby a riders' race

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Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
Trainer Tim McCanna has been teaching Italian Boy to relax during his races.

AUBURN, Wash. – A compact field of six 3-year-olds will tackle new territory Sunday in the $65,000 Emerald Downs Derby at nine furlongs. None of the six has raced that far, and to a man, the trainers of the three leading contenders agree the jockeys are certain to play a pivotal role in the outcome.

Each of the three horses, Makors Finale, D’honorable One, and Italian Boy, has at least one stakes victory at the meeting, with Italian Boy’s effort perhaps the most impressive. The Tizbud colt, making his first start around two turns, survived heated fractions to score a front-running victory in the 1-1/16-mile Seattle Slew Handicap in his last start. Italian Boy covered four furlongs in 45.05 seconds and six furlongs in 1:09.01 – and kept right on truckin’ to prevail by a head over D’honorable One.

Tim McCanna, trainer of Italian Boy, has tried in morning workouts to get his horse to tone down his early speed while building stamina for the long haul. McCanna has saddled Derby winners in 2005 (Alexandersrun) and 2010 (Saratoga Boot) and likes Italian Boy’s chances.

“I think I’ve got a good shot. I’ve got a real chance,” he said. “You need a horse that can relax a little bit and finish. He’s got a lot of speed, but he can come from just off the pace too. He had a good work here last weekend – he went 1:24 and four-fifths for seven-eighths, which was a hell of a seven-furlong workout. We’ll try to slow him down a bit and see if we can get there.”

If Italian Boy and jockey William Antongeorgi III elect to settle into a moderate tempo, the lead could fall to Makors Finale, a gate-to-wire winner of two earlier stakes races at the meeting but a fading fourth in the Seattle Slew after failing to keep pace with Italian Boy. When in doubt, trainer Tom Wenzel said, go with what works, and the front end could be there for the taking.

“The horse in the past has shown some ability to make a move off horses, but he’s shown at other times that he really likes the front end,” Wenzel said. “We had the outside post last time and tried to lay off a little bit, but we didn’t fare so well. We’re in the inside post here, so we’re going to let our horse run. That’s what I know.

“When these races get out this far, obviously fitness comes into play,” Wenzel added. “But it really comes to how hot is the pace, and then pedigree really takes over. Who can go this far and who can’t.”

And about those jockeys? Leslie Mawing will be aboard the late-running D’honorable One for trainer Blaine Wright. Rocco Bowen will ride Makors Finale for the first time – regular rider Gallyn Mitchell is injured and out for the meeting – and Juan Gutierrez, the leading rider at Emerald Downs, will pilot the quickly improving Edge Forward for trainer Doris Harwood.

“I probably won’t give any instructions,” Wright said of his pre-race meeting with Mawing. “It’s a rider’s race, and at this point, if I have my horse prepared well enough, he’ll show up and run his race.”

“The riders will have to be smart,” said McCanna. “Whoever rides a smart race will win it.”

Wenzel agreed, to a point: “In my opinion, it comes down to circumstance, and it’s a little bit of a riders’ race,” he said. “And whose horse shows up on that particular weekend. My horse is doing fine.”