Updated on 09/17/2011 10:07AM

Espinoza taken off Kafwain

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Bob Baffert took Victor Espinoza (above) off Kafwain for the April 5 Santa Anita Derby. Pat Valenzuela may ride Kafwain, although he has a mount in the Ashland the same day.

Jockey Victor Espinoza won his first Kentucky Derby last year, combining with trainer Bob Baffert, The Thoroughbred Corporation, and the colt War Emblem. On Wednesday, however, Baffert and The Thoroughbred Corporation bumped Espinoza from Kafwain, their main hope for this year's Derby.

Baffert was not happy with Espinoza's second-place ride aboard Kafwain in the Louisiana Derby, so he is making a switch for the Santa Anita Derby.

What happened to Espinoza is not uncommon. In fact, the relationship between a trainer and a jockey often works the other way, with a jockey searching for a better mount and leaving a trainer seeking a replacement. Just last week, David Flores chose Atswhatimtalknbout over the Baffert-trained Domestic Dispute for the San Felipe Stakes.

Now, with the Kentucky Derby only six weeks away, these moves are magnified, and the pressure is great. Behind the scenes, jockeys and their agents are trying to put themselves in the best position to win the Derby. It is a nerve-wracking high-wire act.

Wednesday was particularly hectic. Patrick Valenzuela worked Kafwain at Santa Anita, putting him in line to get the mount in the Santa Anita Derby. Valenzuela, however, is also the regular rider for the filly Elloluv, who is scheduled to make her next start in the Ashland Stakes on Keeneland on April 5, the same day as the Santa Anita Derby. Elloluv's trainer, Craig Dollase, is expected to release Valenzuela from that commitment if Kafwain indeed runs in the Santa Anita Derby.

Espinoza, meanwhile, has a chance to pick up another mount in the Santa Anita Derby. Neil Drysdale, who trains Santa Anita Derby probable Ministers Wild Cat, often employs Espinoza. Drysdale also uses Alex Solis, who has become available because Man Among Men is skipping the Santa Anita Derby and will wait another week for the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park or the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Ministers Wild Cat was second most recently in the El Camino Real Derby. He was ridden that day by Kent Desormeaux, who chose Ministers Wild Cat over Ocean Terrace, another colt he had been riding. Mike Smith rode Ocean Terrace, who won the race.

Smith, however, is committed to ride Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, when she makes her seasonal debut in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 5. Since Smith could not ride Ocean Terrace in the Santa Anita Derby, Desormeaux jumped back on him, leaving the mount on Ministers Wild Cat open.

Espinoza's predicament was made all the more frustrating because of a change in plans over which he had no control. Espinoza had been the regular rider of Peace Rules and was scheduled to ride him in the El Camino Real Derby on March 8. But a few days before the race, Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Peace Rules, decided to run him instead in the Louisiana Derby on March 9. Espinoza could not ride him in that race because he already was committed to ride Kafwain. Peace Rules won with Edgar Prado.

Jockey agents are particularly attuned to such potential conflicts. Jockeys often end up riding more than one top prospect, and have to choose. Plenty of riders are waiting to pick up the leftovers. Ron Anderson, the agent for Jerry Bailey, sensed just such a predicament last week with Atswhatimtalknbout and Domestic Dispute, and put in calls to the trainers of both colts.

"Fortunately, I have the guy a lot of people want," Anderson said Wednesday from Florida.

When Flores went for Atswhatimtalknbout, Bailey wound up on Domestic Dispute.

There are sure to be similar situations in coming weeks. John Velazquez, for instance, has been the regular rider for both Aristocat and Indy Dancer, both trained by Todd Pletcher, and both scheduled to run next on April 12. Aristocat is scheduled for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Indy Dancer the Wood Memorial. Velazquez will pick one, and there will be a feeding frenzy for the other.

Jockeys, though, sometimes get unforeseen opportunities to ride more horses. Robby Albarado, for instance, has been the regular rider for Badge of Silver. He had been scheduled to make his next start in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 5, but trainer Ronny Werner is increasingly leaning toward the Blue Grass one week later. If Badge of Silver does wait for the Blue Grass, that would free Albarado to pick up another mount for the Illinois Derby. As a result, the connections of Senor Swinger have reached out to Albarado's agent, Lenny Pike.

"Badge is my horse, if he stays on course," Pike said from Fair Grounds. "But naturally you want to get as many 3-year-olds as you can this time of year - just like Bailey plays the game."

Bailey and Anderson are the masters at this game. Already this spring, Bailey has ridden such prospects as Domestic Dispute and Ten Cents a Shine. He was the regular rider for Composure, the outstanding filly who was retired on Wednesday. He even was lined up to ride Eclipse Award winner Vindication this spring, because Baffert jettisoned Smith - who was unbeaten on Vindication - but Vindication was injured and taken off the Derby trail.

All that work has paid off, though. Bailey is on the current favorite for the Derby, Empire Maker, winner of the Florida Derby.

"Jerry worked Empire Maker one time before his first race," Anderson said. "In the three years I've been working for him, I can count on a couple of fingers the number of times he's been excited. He said, 'This could be the one here.' "

But Anderson always has his eye out for a top 3-year-old.

"They can spoil at any time, especially this time of year," he said. "You can never have too many. But I think this colt might be something extra, extra special."