03/16/2010 11:00PM

Eskendereya skips Fla. Derby for Wood

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Barbara D. Livingston
Eskendereya's owner says he prefers the Wood's four-week spacing into the Kentucky Derby rather than six weeks.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The complexion of Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby took a dramatic turn late Tuesday afternoon when owner Ahmed Zayat said that Fountain of Youth winner Eskendereya would not run in the race and instead would be pointed to the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3.

Todd Pletcher, trainer of Eskendereya, will still be represented in the Florida Derby with Rule, the winner of four straight races including the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. John Velazquez will ride Rule in the Florida Derby and Eskendereya in the Wood.

Zayat said he felt more comfortable running Eskendereya in the Kentucky Derby off a four-week layoff rather than six weeks. In the previous four years, the Florida Derby had been held five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby and produced two of the last four Kentucky Derby winners.

"The main issue is timing," Zayat said. "I'm not really comfortable off the six weeks. If I'm genuine about the Kentucky Derby, I need to give the prep I want to make sure he peaks on the right day."

Zayat said that the Fountain of Youth, which Eskendereya won by 8 1/2 lengths on Feb. 20, may have been too easy of a race for the colt and that he wants the horse to have a tougher race in his next start. Rebel Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky, last year's 2-year-old champion, has been mentioned as a possible starter for the Wood along with impressive Gotham winner Awesome Act and Fountain of Youth runner-up Jackson Bend.

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"I think the Wood is coming up a very tough race and I don't mind that," Zayat said. "I think this colt will win a Grade 1. Am I missing a Grade 1 [Florida Derby]? I think he'll get more out of the Wood than the Florida Derby."

Rule, owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Pletcher, will likely assume the favorite's role for the Florida Derby based on his four-race winning streak. However, the field is likely to expand to double-digit starters when entries are made Wednesday morning and post positions drawn Wednesday evening.

Trainer Nick Zito said Tuesday that he will enter Miner's Reserve as well as Ice Box. Zito said Kent Desormeaux would ride Miner's Reserve and Jose Lezcano would be aboard Ice Box.

Prior to learning that Eskendereya would not run, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. had said that if he knew the horse would not run, he would likely opt to run D' Funnybone in the Florida Derby as opposed to the seven-furlong Swale Stakes on the same card. Dutrow, who is already planning to run Radiohead in the Florida Derby, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Trainer Steve Klesaris said late Tuesday afternoon that he would now consider running Risen Star runner-up Tempted to Tapit. Klesaris, who had been looking at either the Louisana Derby or Sunland Park Derby for Tempted to Tapit's next start., said he would confer with his owner, Gainesway Stable, Wednesday morning.

Lentenor, the full brother to 2006 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, also is possible to join the field for the Florida Derby as is Best Actor.

Others confirmed for the race include Ice Box, Pulsion, First Dude, Game On Dude, Pleasant Prince, and Soaring Empire.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch