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Ideal for Circular Quay is clean trip, not cash
NEW ORLEANS - This has been the year of bad trips, be it stuck on the tarmac in poor weather in Austin, Texas; aboard Jet Blue flights in a snowstorm a few weeks ago at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City; or behind Slew's Tizzy, which is the predicament Circular Quay found himself in last month in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Whether on a plane or at the track, all anyone got was peanuts. For Circular Quay, he picked up a mere $6,000 for finishing fifth in the Risen Star. But it could have been much worse. When Slew's Tizzy clipped heels and dislodged jockey James Graham at the top of the stretch, Circular Quay and jockey John Velazquez were right behind him. Velazquez had to throttle down from 40 to 0 in 0.40 seconds, then Circular Quay somehow re-rallied in the final furlong.
Anyone in the stands - like, say, Circular Quay's trainer, Todd Pletcher - knew what kinds of disaster could have unfolded. But does a horse carry with him the memories of such an incident, or is that just an anthropomorphism?
"Sometimes I think we look at that stuff too closely and make things out more than they are," Pletcher said via telephone this week. "If you have a skittish, nervous horse, you might have a problem, but he's not like that. He's a cool customer.
"My biggest concern after the race was physical injury. He stopped badly, and he made contact with the horse in front of him. Johnny said the chest of his horse hit the other horse. Any of those things could have caused physical injury. I felt better when he finished like he did. He accelerated the last sixteenth. And then after the race we looked him over. I think we dodged that bullet."
Circular Quay is reloading. He has returned here to Fair Grounds, where on Saturday he figures to go off as the favorite against seven rivals in the Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby at 1 1/16 miles. It will be the second of three races Circular Quay is scheduled to have this spring in preparation for the May 5 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Circular Quay, by virtue of the bankroll he earned in several graded stakes last year, has plenty of cash to get into the Derby if more than the maximum 20 horses are entered. That affords Pletcher the luxury of pointing solely for the Derby with Circular Quay, rather than worrying about filling the coffers, too. But Circular Quay's first start of the year was far from ideal, so a clean trip Saturday is paramount.
There have been several prominent cases of horses overcoming near disaster to shine, most notably Afleet Alex, who was cut-blocked in the 2005 Preakness Stakes, yet rallied to win that race and then came back three weeks later to take the Belmont Stakes, too. Alysheba clipped heels in the 1987 Derby, but resolutely rallied to win that race, as well as the Preakness.
"A lot of seasoned horsemen say that if a horse hits the ground, they have trouble getting over that, but if they just stumble, that's okay," Greg Fox, the trainer of Slew's Tizzy, said here this week. "I do believe that some horses are affected by a bad event. If they have an incident in the gate, you sometimes have problems with them after that.
"My horse seems to be a very resolute animal. After the Risen Star, he got a bath, ate up, and acted like, 'Oh, this is interesting.' Race horses are resilient. After his last race, we waited several days after we got back to Kentucky to see if anything showed up, but he was fine. Horses overcome a lot of adversity."
In other Derby developments:
* Summer Doldrums, who was a runaway winner of the Whirlaway Stakes four weeks ago for trainer Rick Violette Jr., is expected to head the field in the Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct on Saturday. His rivals are expected to include Cowtown Cat, who was third last time out in the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and Longley, who exits a fast allowance race at Gulfstream.
* Bwana Bull, who won the California Derby on Jan. 28, goes for his third straight win for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at 1 1/16 miles at Bay Meadows on Saturday.
* Rags to Riches, who is scheduled to run on Sunday in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles, was one of a handful of fillies nominated to the Triple Crown. Her connections have not closed the door on going to the Derby.
* Street Sense, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and last year's champion 2-year-old male, is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut against Any Given Saturday on March 17 in the Grade 3, $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby. He has only two wins to his credit, however, thus making him eligible for an allowance race scheduled for next week at Gulfstream.
* Robby Albarado will ride Curlin in the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 17, trainer Steve Asmussen said Wednesday. Curlin won his debut sprinting at Gulfstream on Feb. 3 by 12 3/4 lengths, and got a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. After that race, he was sold privately, and transferred from trainer Helen Pitts to Steve Asmussen.
- additional reporting by Chuck Dybdal, David Grening, and Mike Welsch
The rich just get richer. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who had five horses in the Derby Watch top 25 last week, added three more this week because of performances last Saturday. Sam P., second to Great Hunter in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, makes his Derby Watch debut as a 25-1 shot on the future line of Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. King of the Roxy, who won the Hutcheson at Gulfstream, is 30-1 on Watchmaker's line, and Deadly Dealer, a fast allowance winner at Gulfstream, is 40-1. Also new to the list is Delta Jackpot winner Birdbirdistheword, who makes his first start of the year on Saturday in the Louisiana Derby. He is 50-1 on Watchmaker's line. Scat Daddy went from 30-1 to 12-1 this week following his victory in the Fountain of Youth.
To make room for the four newcomers, four horses - Belgravia, Day Pass, Drums of Thunder, and Forefathers - were dropped. Belgravia, who has not run since the Hollywood Futurity in December, has yet to work since coming down with a respiratory infection last month. Day Pass ran poorly in his 3-year-old debut last week at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai. Drums of Thunder and Forefathers were well beaten in stakes races last Saturday at Gulfstream. Nobiz Like Shobiz remained the Kentucky Derby favorite at 6-1 on Watchmaker's line, despite his loss in the Fountain of Youth.
ON THE BUBBLE
Ketchikan just missed making the cut this week, but he will be on the list if he performs well in the Louisiana Derby. Also worth watching Saturday are Bwana Bull, who heads the field in the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows, and Cowtown Cat and Longley, who are scheduled to run in the Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
- Jay Privman