Updated on 09/17/2011 11:13AM

Focus on Western front

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David Flores likes the looks of Atswhatimtalknbout.

ARCADIA, Calif. - David Flores was not merely returning a favor when he decided to ride Atswhatimtalknbout instead of Domestic Dispute last month. He certainly appreciated being elevated by trainer Ron Ellis after Chris McCarron, Ellis's main rider, retired last summer. But Flores has plenty of business from other clients, including Bob Baffert, who trains Domestic Dispute and has far more horses than Ellis.

No, Flores's reason was quite basic.

"He looked," Flores said Wednesday morning at Santa Anita, "like he had more talent than any other 3-year-old."

Atswhatimtalknbout will get a chance to prove he is at least the best in the West on Saturday, when he is expected to be a heavy favorite in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, California's last major prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby. A field of 10 was entered on Wednesday in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, with Atswhatimtalknbout landing post 6.

Atswhatimtalknbout is currently second on the top 25 of Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch. Six other members of that list - Buddy Gil, Domestic Dispute, Kafwain, Logician, Ministers Wild Cat, and Ocean Terrace - also were entered in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby. The other runners are Flirt With Fortune, Indian Express, and Iron Lad, all longshots. All horses carry 122 pounds.

The Santa Anita Derby will be the sixth race on an 11-race card that has a special first post of noon. The Santa Anita Derby is the first leg of a pick six with a guaranteed pool of $1 million.

This weekend is the start of the final push toward Louisville. Also on Saturday are Hawthorne's $500,000 Illinois Derby, featuring Alysweep, Lone Star Sky, and Ten Most Wanted, and Gulfstream's $250,000 Aventura Stakes, in which the unbeaten, lightly raced Dynever will meet Supah Blitz. The Aventura, Illinois Derby, and Santa Anita Derby comprise a national pick three wager. All three races can be seen live on ESPN, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

A week later, Empire Maker, currently the ante-post favorite for the Derby, has his final prep in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes - in which Badge of Silver and Peace Rules will meet again - is also that day, as is Oaklawn's Arkansas Derby, which may have the largest field of the April 12 prep races.

The pressure increases exponentially over the next few weeks. It is especially acute for Atswhatimtalknbout. His profile has increased dramatically now that entertainment heavyweights Frank Marshall, Gary Ross, and Steven Spielberg have bought a minority interest from owner B. Wayne Hughes.

Ellis, 43, is getting his first serious exposure to the Derby madness. He has never run a horse in either the Santa Anita Derby or Kentucky Derby. He has been inundated with media requests this week - he is scheduled to appear on Friday's "Best Damn Sports Show Period' on the Fox Sports network - but he is media savvy, having worked an analyst on the "Champions on Fox" series of races in 1999-2000.

The madness may be new, but Ellis has had plenty of exposure to the Derby. His wife, Amy, is a native of Louisville, and her three siblings have all worked in the racing industry. Susan, Amy's sister, worked in the turf club at Hollywood Park. A brother, Paul McGee, is a successful trainer in Kentucky, and another brother, Marty, is a Daily Racing Form reporter.

Amy Ellis has missed just one Derby in about 30 years. It happened in 1996, when the youngest of the Ellis's two daughters, Laura, was due to be born. As an example of Amy's passion for the Derby, consider this: Amy waited to be induced until May 8, so that Laura's birthday would never fall on the first Saturday in May.

"If her birthday fell on Derby Day, nobody would know it," Ron Ellis said, laughing.

Ellis and Flores go back at least a decade. "He used to ride me a lot in the early 1990's," Flores said. But Ellis forged a long, successful relationship with McCarron, while Flores in the mid-1990's struggled with alcohol addiction.

Flores, 35, has been sober for seven years now. "He's very active in AA," said his agent, Jim Pegram. "He helps a lot of people. I'll be shocked if this kid blows the turn." The highlight of Flores's comeback was his 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies victory on Tempera.

Flores is 0 for 4 in the Santa Anita Derby, and 0 for 5 in the Kentucky Derby, but he has been among the leaders on this circuit for more than a decade. He is currently third in the standings at Santa Anita. With the retirement last summer of McCarron, subsequent retirement of Eddie Delahoussaye, and possible retirement of Laffit Pincay Jr., his stock should rise.

"Once McCarron retired, I evaluated everyone, and thought he was the best mix, the best all-around rider," Ellis said. "I think he's always been underrated."

In other Derby developments:

* Trust N Luck on Wednesday was taken out of consideration for the Derby by trainer Ralph Ziadie. [Article, page 3.]

* John Velazquez, the main rider for trainer Todd Pletcher, will ride Indy Dancer in the Wood Memorial on April 12. He had to choose between Indy Dancer and the Pletcher-trained Aristocat, who is running that day in the Arkansas Derby. Pletcher said Wednesday he had not decided who would ride Aristocat. Indy Dancer will add blinkers for the Wood.

* Pletcher said Lion Tamer will run in the Blue Grass on April 12, or await the Lexington one week later. If Lion Tamer runs in the Lexington, Velazquez will ride. If he goes in the Blue Grass, Pletcher will have to get a new rider.

* Eugene's Third Son, the runner-up in the Lane's End Stakes, will more than likely make his next start in the Arkansas Derby, trainer Patrick Byrne said Wednesday.

* Also possible for the Arkansas Derby is the Tampa Bay Derby winner, Region of Merit. Trainer Christophe Clement said Wednesday he would wait until the horse works this weekend before committing to the Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass, or Wood.

* Offlee Wild was scheduled to leave Florida on Thursday for Keeneland. He runs next in the Blue Grass, which will be his first start since the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 15.