04/25/2013 3:43PM

Kentucky Derby: Must-win situation for Titletown Five in Derby Trial

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The days until the big race have dwindled into single digits, and with most of the major players having settled in comfortably at Churchill Downs, only a few things are left to be done toward the Kentucky Derby.

One of those finishing touches may or may not be applied Saturday night with the Derby Trial, the last stop on its anagram, the Derby trail. Titletown Five, having played catch-up for months, is the only one of the nine Trial runners with designs on cracking the 20-horse Derby field by earning sufficient points toward eligibility.

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 Kentucky Derby contenders with odds and video]

As the 10th of 11 races on a Downs After Dark program that opens the 38-day Churchill spring meet, the Trial will not be run until 10:42 p.m. Eastern, a time when Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is usually well into his REM cycle before rising a few hours later. In any case, Lukas is hoping the result will be something worth losing sleep over.

“We’ve been trying all winter to give this colt a shot at making the Derby,” he said. “This is his one chance. We’d love to see him make the most of it.”

Titletown Five, with Gary Stevens to ride, will break from the outside post in the one-turn-mile Trial.

Not many horses would bring a more alluring storyline to the Derby – which will be run next Saturday for the 139th time – than Titletown Five. The colt is owned by a multi-way partnership that includes Lukas and Paul Hornung, who as a retired football legend and lifelong Louisvillian surely would lend a higher degree of fun to the pre-race proceedings.

Still, there are good stories, and there are real stories, and with Titletown Five being a 5-1 chance on the morning line for the 89th running of the Trial, the odds favor the Grade 3, $175,000 Trial being no factor whatsoever toward the Derby. In an unofficial straw poll of the connections of the other logical contenders, none was remotely close to having Derby leanings, even if their horse were to earn the 20 points that almost certainly would get them into the race if so desired.

“You can rule him out of the Derby,” said Justin Zayat, who helps manage Zayat Stables, owner of the speedy Zee Bros (post 3, Mike Smith, 5-2).

“Zero percent chance,” said Ian Wilkes, who will saddle Ruble (post 5, Alan Garcia, 6-1), fresh off back-to-back wins at Gulfstream Park for owner-breeder Jan Whitham.

“No,” said Lynn Whiting, trainer of Officer Alex (post 1, Robby Albarado, 8-1), already a four-time winner.

“We haven’t really discussed this race as a Kentucky Derby prep,” said Todd Pletcher, who will send out the uncoupled duo of Forty Tales (post 4, Joel Rosario, 3-1) and Capo Bastone (post 6, Garrett Gomez, 5-1).

Even in case of a victory by Titletown Five, the colt still would need several things to unfold in his favor to actually start in the Derby. As things stood Thursday, 20 others still would maintain preference over him, although No. 20 on that list is Winning Cause, the Coolmore Lexington Stakes winner who is unlikely to run, according to Pletcher, although the trainer has not completely ruled him out as a sixth Derby runner for his prodigious stable.

“We’ll probably work him Sunday and talk it over after that,” Pletcher said.

Winning Cause, with 20 points on the new eligibility system that serves as a first tie-breaker into the Derby field, would have a slight edge over Titletown Five in non-restricted stakes earnings, the next criteria for preference. But even considering all that, Derby entries will not be taken until Wednesday morning, and, furthermore, Churchill will once again employ an also-eligibles list (up to four horses, Nos. 21-24) in case the race is oversubscribed.

◗ While the Derby is set for a three-hour broadcast (4-7 p.m. Eastern) next Saturday on NBC, another 6 1/2 hours of airtime has been scheduled before and after the race on its sister network, NBC Sports Network.

One-hour airings include the draw show on Wednesday, the Kentucky Oaks broadcast Friday, and three episodes of “Derby Classics,” as well as a half-hour wrap immediately after NBC signs off on the Derby.