04/17/2013 3:04PM

Kentucky Derby: Final prep races cut it close

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Tom Keyser
Cerro, entered in the Coolmore Lexington, is under consideration for the Kentucky Derby, but his ownership said the Preakness is more likely.

In 1948, Citation won the Derby Trial on April 27, the Kentucky Derby on May 1, the Preakness on May 15, and – since running in all three legs of the Triple Crown wasn’t quite enough work – the Jersey Derby on May 29 before the Belmont Stakes. He won all five of those races, part of a 19-for-20 campaign that year.

The times, they have a-changed. Not since 1999, when Charismatic won the Derby 14 days after winning the Lexington Stakes, has a Derby winner had his final prep two weeks or less from the first Saturday in May. The record of such horses in the Derby in the years since Charismatic is ugly: 16 starts, just one horse finishing in the money, that being Proud Citizen, who was second in 2002 after also winning the Lexington two weeks out.

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That, then, is the uphill burden facing any horse who tries to get into the May 4 Derby via a final prep in either the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday, or the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 27, the final two races for which points can be earned under the system put in place this year by Churchill Downs.

The points in the Lexington and Derby Trial begin with a mere 20 for first, one-fifth of what was available in recent weeks, including the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass last Saturday. But, owing to injury (Flashback, Hear the Ghost, Ive Struck a Nerve, Shanghai Bobby, and Violence), or poor performance (Uncaptured), several horses who would have had enough points to run in the Derby will miss the race, and the cutoff to make the race has fallen to around 20 points.

Eleven were entered on Wednesday in the Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington, including Cerro and Sunbean, who are still under consideration for the Derby, though earlier this week Barry Irwin, the chief executive officer of the Team Valor International syndicate that owns Cerro, said, “It is more likely, however, that we would consider the Preakness because of the better timing.”

The last two Lexington winners who competed in the Derby – Advice in 2009 and Derby Kitten in 2011 – both finished 13th.

Also Saturday is the Grade 3, $750,000 Illinois Derby, in which 14 were entered Wednesday. But that race offers no Derby points, as it was carved out of the prep schedule by Churchill Downs, which owns Arlington Park in Chicago and competes for racing dates there with Hawthorne, home of the Illinois Derby. Still, a horse could conceivably run in the Illinois Derby and then the Kentucky Derby if the points barrier drops further or if points don’t matter, which would happen if no more than the maximum 20 horses are entered in the Derby.

The Derby Trial last produced a Derby starter in 2005, when Don’t Get Mad won the Derby Trial, then returned a week later to finish fourth in the Derby. This year’s Grade 3, $200,000 Derby Trial is scheduled to include Titletown Five, who worked a half-mile in 47 seconds on Wednesday at Churchill Downs. He is co-owned by, and named for the number worn by, former Green Bay Packer great Paul Hornung, who lives in Louisville.

If Titletown Five wins the Derby Trial, “By the time the horse walks out of the winner’s circle, I don’t think I’ll have to make a decision, because I think the decision will be made for me,” his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Lukas is uniquely qualified to address what it takes to win the Derby on what is considered short rest in modern times, since he trained both Charismatic and Proud Citizen. Of the last nine Lexington winners to compete in the Derby, they are the only two who finished better than sixth.

“The most important ingredient is the product in front of you,” Lukas said. “Charismatic was a big, heavy horse, and what turned him around was tough love. We gave him more things to do, trained him harder, and he responded to that. Coming back in two weeks was tailor-made for him. He fit the mold.

“It’s harder now. Back when Calumet,” Lukas said, referring to Citation’s owner, “would win all those Derbies, they had the best horses, horses would run often on short rest, and the fields were nine or 10. Now you’ve got big fields in the preps, and they run 20 head in the Derby. It’s a whole different ballgame.”

In other Derby developments:

** Goldencents, the Santa Anita Derby winner, worked a half-mile in 48.40 seconds on Wednesday at Santa Anita. He is scheduled to have one more work there next week before flying to Kentucky, a similar schedule used by trainer Doug O’Neill last year when preparing I’ll Have Another for his Derby victory.

** Govenor Charlie, the Sunland Derby winner, was sent to Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington, Ky., after arriving in Kentucky from California because, according to trainer Bob Baffert, “We had a hind foot issue a couple days ago, so I want to make sure we didn’t miss anything.”

Early Wednesday evening, Baffert reported, "So far, so good," on the results of the precautionary tests, and said Govenor Charlie was scheduled to return to Churchill Downs on Thursday afternoon to begin final preparations for the Derby.

Baffert said War Academy underwent a similar examination, at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, after being pulled up Saturday in the Arkansas Derby. Baffert said War Academy checked out well and was now at Churchill Downs.

** Frac Daddy, the Arkansas Derby runner-up, arrived at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

– additional reporting by Marty McGee

danny More than 1 year ago
you know that i,m a trainer and i agree with you all the way.i f i could get my hands on so off there horse that they pay all this money for do you think i would put all this stuff in there body. hell no i take that horse and let him buiid his self up and( if you know what you realy doing when you work the horse and he don,t bleed why why why would you want to give him lasix). for all there big shot trainers yes they might win a lot races and that only because they have a hundred horse or more. yes like i said i wish i could have someone to trust me with horse like that i assure you that they would say now that man know how and what he,s doing.did you know that if you spend anough time and watch your horses they will talk. not say words but there walk and movment will tell you what the horse would say if he or she could talk.
jttf More than 1 year ago
the first two legs in triple crown drains our best 3 year olds. do these horses finish in the top two of recent breeders cup classics ? the last time was in 2008, there were 2 three year olds that finished first and second. oh, thats right. that was ravens pass and henrythenavigator. two 3 year olds that never run on lasix in europe. curlin won the 2007 classic. curlin never ran on lasix when he was two. how many recent horse of the year awards were won by 3 year old male horses ? thats right. curlin. have there been any triple crown winners since lasix came out ? heck no. we could go on and on and on. but i dont feel like giving any more research into the subject, without getting rewarded.
Brandon Layer More than 1 year ago
No horse has won the Derby coming out of the Lexington since 1999 because the best horses don't use it as a prep. They use better races. Lukas wants to act like a genius because he ran Charismatic in the Lexington but the only reason Lukas ran him there was to get enough earnings to get into the Derby. If Charismatic had won the Santa Anita Derby he would have never even run in the Lexington. Nothing wrong with the two week turnaround. Look how many Derby runners have come back to run huge in the Preakness off two weeks rest. A lot of times horses will actually run better in the Preakness than they do in the Derby.
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
Yep, look at Point Given and Afleet Alex
Randy Dusich More than 1 year ago
What is failed to be mentioned, is that the Lexington used to be run on dirt.
jttf More than 1 year ago
i dont understand why jay doesnt include the reasons why the scheduling has changed since the 1980s ? did jay not know that proud citizen and dont get mad were horses who were not getting dehydrated by lasix. the famous horses from the past did not run lasix and were able to run more often with less recovery time.
nancyb More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure Charismatic's training would be a useful blueprint for Triple Crown prep, since he broke down in the Belmont.
WafflesCharly More than 1 year ago
Don't forget AFIRMED. He ran one more time in Hollwood Park between the SA Derby and the KY derby before going on to win the Triple Crown. Difference is that Laz Bareera knew, as the extraordinary herseman that he was, that his horse needed the quick turnaround to peek in the Triple Crown due to all the training lost over bad weather in SoCal that year. Now, this quick turn around is a desperate quest for points, rather than a deep understanding on what the athlete needs to keep moving forward
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
It was the COMMON PRACTICE in the 1970s to race horses 2 weeks apart, not some special insight of Mr. Barrera, great trainer that he was. Alydar ran in and won the Blue Grass 10 days out from the Derby - the Blue Grass was always on the Thursday of the last week of Keeneland spring. It was a touching moment - Mrs. Markey of Calumet was very old and frail and the track allowed her to be driven onto the lawn near the clubhouse to watch her baby, and they allowed Alydar to be taken out of the post parade to go up the track to her. Then Alydar cantered.
WafflesCharly More than 1 year ago
It is still common practice among the vast majority of horse populations in the tracks to run every 10, 15 and 20 days. Alydars moment with his owner was without a doubt touching. My point was that Affrimed had missed many days of training, so when every other horse in the preps around the country sat chilli until Derby time, Barrera chose to run him again to tighten him a bit more, before going through the grueling campaign of the triple Crown. That turn around going into the triple Crown, with a heavy campaign since the fall is un heard of these days. Barrera almost won the triple Crown 2 years before with Bold Forbes, and not ever with that quick turn around into the Derby. My point is again : The turn around had a purpose....HAVE THE HORSE PEEKING FOR THE TRIPLE CROWN. Today, the point is GET THE HORSE TO THE GATE OF THE DERBY NO MATTER WHAT.
Roger More than 1 year ago
Wish Lukas would stop trying to wreck this Derby. This will be Oxbow's 9th race in a row without a rest. He has no chance in there, only going to speed up the pace to fade and get in other horses way. May break down and ruin the entire race as they are going to send him. Now it sounds like he'll try to get Titletown Five in on a weeks rest. Den's Legacy has 12 in a row without a rest and needs to sit this one out also. Let's see if Baffert has more sense. Doubt it.
jttf More than 1 year ago
it is really scary how a trainer like lukas. has no idea that you need more time in between races because of the effects of lasix. this means that vets dont inform the trainers of the side effects lasix creates. the racing industry still hasnt corrected the 2 week rest between the kentucky derby and preakness. how dumb are these leaders ? the vets are so out of line by not admitting the harm they are doing to these horses.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
While I agree about your recovery time analysis, I would like to remind or inform you that IV fluids are given to these horses the next day for dehydration. But two weeks doesn't allow for proper recovery diet wise as most go off their feed for a few days, IR ache and pain wise since they are large animals. Rush jobs usually backfire sooner or later...example CHARISMATIC ...who I loved both as a handicapper and horseman
Brandon Layer More than 1 year ago
A lot of horses run BETTER in the Preakness than they do in the Derby. Nothing wrong with the two week turnaround.
B More than 1 year ago
I wish I had lived during the times when there was REAL horse racing and horsemen who raced their horses instead of working them endlessly for no sport or no money. The weaklings we have today are considered HOY material if they run 6 times, which would have been a joke in the first half of the 20th century. I became involved with racing in 1972, so I got a taste of the old days with Forego. I was alive during the Kelso years, but I was too young to be aware of him, dammit! They don't make them like those two anymore.
Mac Wendel More than 1 year ago
Right on, B -- I agree. Imagine seeing Citation! Closest I got was seeing Shoe and John Henry win a big Saturday feature at Golden Gate Fields circa 1983 or 84 -- what a horse! HUGE! A throw-back. There are some good horses today, but they don't compare with the old-timers. Sorta like men...
jttf More than 1 year ago
you can thank the vets for selling us on lasix since the mid 1990s ? the effects of lasix since charismatic in 1999 has kept male horses from fully recovering in a 2 week period. proud citizen did not use lasix until the kentucky derby. since then, the last major derby prep races have been pushed back to 3,4, or 5 weeks. in the 70s and 80s, a two week layoff before the derby was the norm. if this effects the derby horses so much, why do we have the preakness only 2 weeks after the derby. last years top three finishers in the preakness havent raced since (i'll have another, bode, creative cause). the triple crown system was set up many years before the effects of lasix. if you care about horses, push it back at least another week.