05/02/2011 1:05PM

Kentucky Derby: Nehro's tag as 'hot horse' not the label Asmussen wants

Barbara D. Livingston
Nehro (left) was narrowly beaten by Pants on Fire in the Louisiana Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nehro might well be picking up that label as the “buzz” horse for the 137th Kentucky Derby, and trainer Steve Asmussen isn’t all that happy about it.

“I don’t want any ‘Mushes’ on the bandwagon,” Asmussen said slyly. “I don’t want them bringing any of their bad luck around.”

Asmussen was referring to Eddie Mush, a notorious loser from the 1993 Robert DeNiro movie, “A Bronx Tale.” The implication is clear: Nehro, second by a neck in both the Louisiana and Arkansas derbies, is one of those horses who has emerged from under the proverbial radar and is gaining increasingly more attention in the days leading up to the Derby, a trend that hasn’t proven all that successful through the years.

Typical “buzz” horses in the last decade of the Derby include such also-rans as Awesome Act (19th in 2010), Sweetnorthernsaint (7th in 2006), Ten Most Wanted (9th in 2003), and Saarland (10th in 2002).

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Nehro was 15-1 when sweeping to victory in a Feb. 21 maiden race at Oaklawn Park, then 36-1 in the Louisiana Derby and nearly 10-1 in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. A son of Mineshaft, Nehro has developed a strong late kick and theoretically would be aided by a fast pace in the Kentucky Derby.

Asmussen said he has no idea what odds Nehro might be Saturday, nor does he care. Nehro, owned by the Zayat Stables of Ahmed Zayat, had his final pre-race breeze early Monday when going a half-mile in 50.72 seconds over a sealed, sloppy Churchill Downs surface. Regular exercise ride Carlos Rosas was aboard.

“When we ran him in the Louisiana Derby, I was wanting him to validate his maiden win, and he seemed to do that,” said Asmussen. “I haven’t really scouted the opposition. We’ve just got to do our very best. I do realize how fortunate a horse that comes from as far back as he does will have to be. We do have a horse moving forward at the right time. Like any of them, he’ll have to run the race of his life to win.”

A victory by Nehro would more than make up for what befell Zayat here last year, when he had Eskendereya as the clear-cut favorite for the Derby before the colt was diagnosed with a career-ending injury less than a week before the race.