04/09/2012 1:48PM

Kentucky Derby: Race for graded stakes cash intensifies

Benoit & Associates
From left: I’ll Have Another, Creative Cause, and Blueskiesnrainbows run 1-2-3 in the Santa Anita Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. – In the winner’s circle following the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, the scores of employees of owner Paul Reddam who stuffed themselves into the enclosure along with I’ll Have Another began chanting “CashCall, CashCall,” and while it may have been a shout out to their boss’ business, it was an appropriate rallying cry for this year’s Kentucky Derby, because it appears a large influx of cash is going to be needed to make the Derby field.

Even with races such as the Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, and Lexington Stakes still to be run over the next two weekends, the cutoff for the Derby field already is more than $250,000. That puts horses like Mark Valeski, El Padrino, and Reveron in a tenuous spot and makes Saturday’s Arkansas Derby virtually a must-win situation for Bodemeister, because $200,000 for running second would only bring him to $260,000.

Sure, there are likely to be defections before entry day May 2, but the cutoff, at this date, is higher than in most years, a reflection of how consistently well the top-tiered runners from this crop have performed this spring.

[2012 Kentucky Derby contenders ranked by graded stakes earnings]

And that is why it was imperative for I’ll Have Another and Wood Memorial winner Gemologist to come through with big efforts on Saturday, or else they might have risked being on the outside looking in. If more than 20 horses enter the Derby, which seems certain, the field is determined by earnings in graded stakes races. And, going into Saturday, both were below the cutoff.

I’ll Have Another, along with Santa Anita Derby runner-up Creative Cause, emerged from the race in good condition and will move on to the May 5 Derby at Churchill Downs, their trainers reported. Liaison, who was sixth in the Santa Anita Derby, also could run in the Kentucky Derby, since he has banked enough cash, even though his recent form is below par.

Gemologist and Alpha also are bound for the Derby following their one-two finish in the Wood. And so is Done Talking, who rallied to win the Illinois Derby and take down a $300,000 first prize.

I’ll Have Another received a Beyer Speed Figure of 94. Gemologist got a 98, and Done Talking recorded an 86. All those races were at 1 1/8 miles, a furlong shorter than the Kentucky Derby.

Trinniberg, who won the seven-furlong Bay Shore at Aqueduct on Saturday, got a 94 Beyer. His connections are on the fence regarding the Derby, and a decision on his status will be watched closely by those on the earnings bubble, because, right now, Trinniberg is among the top 20.

“It’s very, very hard,” said Shivananda Parbhoo, who owns Trinniberg. “The whole family wants to go to the Kentucky Derby. It’s the first chance we have to go to the Derby, but to me I want to do the right thing for the horse. Maybe he could go a mile easy, beyond that I’m not so sure, and I don’t want to go to the Derby and find that out.”

Doug O’Neill, trainer of I’ll Have Another, had yet to consult with Reddam and decide when I’ll Have Another would head to Kentucky.

“I’m excited to bring the Santa Anita Derby winner to the Kentucky Derby,” O’Neill said.

Creative Cause just missed after a stirring stretch drive in a performance his trainer, Mike Harrington, called “probably the best race he’s run.”

“Joel,” Harrington said, referring to jockey Joel Rosario, “said if he’d been outside, he could have won.”

Creative Cause ran without blinkers for the first time in the Santa Anita Derby. Harrington said he would “probably” start Creative Cause without blinkers in the Kentucky Derby. Regardless, Creative Cause will do the bulk of his training at Hollywood Park before leaving for Kentucky on April 28, allowing him time for one workout the week of the Derby at Churchill Downs.

Liaison “came back like he didn’t run,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He never liked this track. He’s had terrible trips.”

Baffert said Liaison will ship to Churchill Downs, but must train well to start in the Kentucky Derby.

“I’ll take him there and train him,” Baffert said. “I hope to see a real improvement.”

Gemologist, who spent the winter at the Palm Meadows training center, was flown back to Florida on Sunday and will do all his serious training there before heading to Kentucky on May 1, trainer Todd Pletcher said. El Padrino also is at Palm Meadows.

“There’s no huge advantage to be at Churchill this whole time,” Pletcher said from Palm Meadows. “For the most part, you know what you’re going to get weather-wise here. If it gets a little warm, horses get a little bit of a lift going from warm to cool. If it’s warm at Churchill, he’ll be used to it.

“Being at Churchill last spring and watching it rain for 17 consecutive days, we might as well stay here,” Pletcher added.

Take Charge Indy, the Florida Derby winner, and Union Rags also are currently training at Palm Meadows.

By contrast, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on Monday said he would “most likely” van Alpha from New York to Churchill Downs on April 16 or 17 in order to have two workouts there, plus do some gate schooling, since that was an issue for Alpha in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall at Churchill Downs.

Done Talking returned to Laurel from Hawthorne on Sunday, but will arrive at Churchill Downs in time to have at least one workout over the track, trainer Hamilton Smith said.

“I want to try and get him there a little ahead of time,” Smith said. “I guess it’d be better to get a breeze over the track.”

– additional reporting by Steve Andersen, David Grening, Marcus Hersh, and Mike Welsch