Updated on 09/16/2011 8:11AM

The Irish are coming!


Weeks of trying to read tea leaves, consulting tarot cards, and visiting with psychics ended on Wednesday, when trainer Aidan O'Brien announced from Ireland that champion Johannesburg and stablemate Castle Gandolfo would head to the 128th Kentucky Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

The status of Johannesburg fueled rampant debate in recent weeks, with many left guessing about the intentions of O'Brien, and owners Michael Tabor and John and Susan Magnier. Johannesburg's connections had always left open the possibility of coming to the Derby, and O'Brien said Wednesday they are indeed headed this way.

"It looks likely we'll be coming," O'Brien said from his Ballydoyle training center in Ireland. "Both horses will be going. We have Mick Kinane and Jerry Bailey booked for the two horses."

Kinane, the contract rider for O'Brien, Magnier, and Tabor, was aboard Johannesburg for his unbeaten 2-year-old season last year, including a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park. Bailey will ride Castle Gandolfo, his consolation prize after Siphonic and Repent were injured, and Blue Burner finished fifth in Saturday's Wood Memorial.

"It just goes to show that you can never have too many," Bailey said last week, before the Wood. "They're very fragile. But at least I can go and get another mount. It's much more devastating," Bailey said, referring to injuries to Repent and Siphonic, "to the owner and trainer."

, who was 7 for 7 last year, has had just one start this year. He suffered his first career loss, when facing older horses, in the seven-furlong Gladness Stakes at The Curragh. He will go into the Derby with just that one prep race at age 3. He also has yet to race around two turns, or farther than 1 1/16 miles. And the 1 1/4-mile Derby will be only his second start on dirt. It is a tall order, and one O'Brien does not take lightly.

"It's a very difficult thing to do," he acknowledged. "We're hopeful. We hope they both run good races."

has won three times and finished second twice in five starts. He won his lone start this year, on an all-weather surface at Lingfield that is similar to an American dirt course. He finished second in a pair of Group 1 races last year in France and Great Britain, including one race at 1 1/4 miles. He was one of several horses Bailey, and agent Ron Anderson, were approached about riding in the Derby.

"What we thought, of the ones we were offered, was which ones can get a mile and a quarter?" Anderson said from Keeneland, where Bailey is riding. "It looks like this is the kind of year that that could be a huge positive." Regarding O'Brien and John Magnier, Anderson said, "You're dealing with elite entities in the business.

"When they come here, they are not guessing," Anderson said. "They have the facilities there to train on anything - wood chips, sand, grass, and dirt. It's a state-of-the-art facility. They know he can run on dirt. They're not guessing."

O'Brien said both Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo had breezes on Tuesday at Ballydoyle. "The horses are doing well at the moment," he said. "That's the main thing - they're both in good form."

Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo will fly from Ireland to the United States about one week before the Derby, O'Brien said. That gives them a chance to have another breeze or two in Ireland before departing.

Because there is no quarantine facility at Churchill Downs, both Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo will have to stay in a United States Department of Agriculture facility adjacent to Keeneland when they first arrive. They will be released in less than 48 hours, once their blood work is given the all-clear by a USDA laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The two-day quarantine is standard for all horses arriving from Europe. Once they are free to leave that facility, they will be sent by van 75 miles to Churchill Downs, where they will train for a few days, and then race.

O'Brien said he was unsure when he would come to the United States. The English 2000 Guineas is the same day as the Kentucky Derby, and O'Brien has several possible runners for that race, including the highly regarded Hawk Wing. "There's a lot happening here at the moment," he said.

In other Derby developments Wednesday:

* The Derby now seems very likely to have more than the maximum of 20 entrants, meaning earnings in graded stakes races will come into play. One horse who is on the bubble right now is Sunday Break, the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial. He ranks 25th on purse earnings among Derby candidates; four ahead of him as of Thursday - Booklet, Easyfromthegitgo, Azillion, and Ethan Man - are not expected to run.

* Blue Burner was confirmed as a Derby starter, according to Mike Boyd, the racing manager for owner George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable. Blue Burner does not have a confirmed jockey for the race. Also now a confirmed starter for the Derby, and also without a rider just yet, is Ocean Sound, who was third in the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday.

* A scheduled workout at Churchill Downs for Illinois Derby winner War Emblem was postponed until Thursday. Trainer Bob Baffert said exercise rider Dana Barnes was stranded Tuesday night in Dallas because of severe weather, and could not get to Louisville by Wednesday morning.

* Request for Parole, the Spiral Stakes third-place finisher, worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 at Churchill Downs. He needs a rider for the Derby.

* Essence of Dubai arrived in Kentucky on Wednesday from the Middle East. He was scheduled to be quarantined near Keeneland until Friday morning, then go on to Churchill Downs. Although Frankie Dettori, the contract rider for Godolphin Racing is scheduled to ride Imperial Gesture in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks, there is a chance he will return to England to ride Naheef for Godolphin in the following day's English 2000 Guineas. David Flores could pick up the mount on Essence of Dubai if Dettori is not available.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Alan Shuback