04/02/2012 3:18PM

Kentucky Derby: Latest round of preps muddle picture

Keeneland/Coady Photography
All Squared Away, a 70-to-1 longshot, prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths over favorite Summer Front in the Lexington Stakes.

Upset wins by Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby, Daddy Long Legs in the United Arab Emirates Derby, and Hero of Order in the Louisiana Derby this past weekend left the pecking order of contenders for the May 5 Kentucky Derby less defined than it was a week ago, created great debate over the performances of horses and riders involved in those races, and caused considerable upheaval on the graded stakes earnings list, which seems certain, yet again, to determine the Derby field.

The first four finishers from the Florida Derby – Take Charge Indy, Reveron, Union Rags, and El Padrino – are still pointing to the Kentucky Derby. The result of the Florida Derby will be hotly debated for weeks, owing to the troubled trip encountered by favored Union Rags, who was in traffic for much of the race while inside of El Padrino.

Michael Matz, trainer of Union Rags, said jockey Julien Leparoux likely learned a lot about Union Rags in the race, and Matz said he had no problems with the tactics employed by jockey Javier Castellano – the former rider of Union Rags – aboard El Padrino.

“Javier was doing his job, race riding,” Matz said. “He knew [Union Rags] was the horse to beat. I’m sure Julien would have done the same thing if he was in his shoes.

“Hopefully, Julien learned a lot from it. That part of it is good. The rest was disappointing. He wasn’t able to run until he got to the eighth pole. Next time, maybe he’ll let him run away from the gate a little more. You just have to view it as a good lesson. The good thing is he came out of it okay, and we have five weeks to prepare for his next race.”

Matz said the re-shoeing incident with Union Rags prior to the race was a non-factor. Union Rags had his right rear shoe become askew while saddling, and it was quickly affixed.

“It was just one nail,” Matz said.

Take Charge Indy justified the decision of trainer Patrick Byrne to bypass the seemingly easier Tampa Bay Derby three weeks earlier. Keeping with his approach of not overtraining Take Charge Indy, Byrne said Take Charge Indy would likely have just one or two workouts at Churchill Downs after arriving there April 12.

El Padrino’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said Sunday he’d “be inclined to go to the Kentucky Derby, based on his body of work.” The question is whether the $250,000 El Padrino has in graded stakes earnings will get him into the field.

The Derby field is limited to 20 starters, and, for the first time this year, there will be up to four also-eligibles denoted when posts are drawn. If more than 20 enter, the field is determined by graded stakes earnings. While El Padrino is in the field right now, Pletcher said he will not have another prep race, and there are a number of horses currently below him on the list who will be chasing lucrative prize money the next two weekends in races like the Wood Memorial and Arkansas Derby, which are worth $1 million; the Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, which are worth $750,000; and the Illinois Derby, which has a $500,000 purse.

Both Daddy Long Legs and Wrote leapfrogged up the earnings list by finishing first and third, respectively, in the $2 million UAE Derby, after which trainer Aidan O’Brien said both would be pointed to the Kentucky Derby.

Hero of Order’s 109-1 stunner in the Louisiana Derby gives him $615,500 in graded earnings, but, because he is not nominated to the Triple Crown, his chances of getting into the Derby are remote. He still can be supplemented to the Derby for $200,000, but under the conditions for the Derby, supplemental entrants go to the back of the line, behind any horse who was nominated in January or March, regardless of earnings. That’s bad news for Hero of Order – who, according to trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, may run in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 21 to prep for the Preakness on May 19 – but fortuitous news for any bubble horse.

One of those bubble horses might end up being Mark Valeski, the Louisiana Derby runner-up, who now has $260,000 in graded earnings. He lost his left hind shoe during the race Sunday, perhaps from being stepped on, since the bulb of that foot was cut, bruised, and sensitive, trainer Larry Jones said.

“He apparently had to run quite a little way without the shoe because he was sore,” Jones said. “Running on three shoes, that affects you more than you think.”

Jones said Mark Valeski would run in the Derby if he has the earnings to get in, but he will not run in another prep to try and boost his bank account.

Consider, also, the potential fate of Bodemeister. Though he is highly regarded, he has just $60,000 in graded earnings. Though there’s a slight chance he could run in the Santa Anita Derby this Saturday, Bodemeister is more likely to run in the April 14 Arkansas Derby, where a win, worth $600,000, would get him into the Derby, but a second-place finish, worth $200,000, would put him in a precarious position.

The Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and Illinois Derby are all Saturday.

Alpha, Gemologist, and My Adonis head the prospective field for the Wood.

The Santa Anita Derby is expected to be topped by stakes winners Creative Cause, I’ll Have Another, and Liaison.

Currency Swap leads the likely field for the Illinois Derby, whose $300,000 first prize will give the winner more graded cash than, for instance, Mark Valeski and El Padrino.

– additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Marcus Hersh