04/25/2011 2:46PM

Kentucky Derby: Rain puts damper on training

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Barbara D. Livingston
Uncle Mo gallops at a sloppy Churchill Downs on Monday. He is scheduled for a major workout Tuesday.

If April showers bring May flowers, then the garland of roses put over the withers of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner will be overflowing.

Wet weather has pummeled the Louisville, Ky., area for weeks, and there is no let-up expected until Thursday, so training conditions have not been ideal for horses already at Churchill Downs who are preparing for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. Nehro, second in the Arkansas Derby, braved the weather and breezed on Monday, but the biggest work of the week was slated for Tuesday morning, when Uncle Mo was scheduled for his first drill since suffering his first loss in the Wood Memorial, from which he emerged with a gastrointestinal infection. (UPDATE: Uncle Mo works five furlongs before 6 a.m. Tuesday.)

Uncle Mo is one of several horses currently in the Derby field whose status will be closely monitored up until entry time next Wednesday, May 4. Also of interest will be The Factor, who is scheduled for a workout this Wednesday – his first since losing the Arkansas Derby and undergoing throat surgery – and J P’s Gusto, who finished eighth in the Arkansas Derby, one spot behind The Factor.

Neither J P’s Gusto nor The Factor is expected to make the race. But they, along with Uncle Mo, are currently in the top 20 in terms of graded stakes earnings. If more than the maximum 20 horses enter the Derby, the field is determined by earnings in graded stakes races. So, those whose horses are currently on the outside looking in, such as Shackleford and Twinspired, are keenly watching developments after moving up a spot on Sunday when Jaycito finally was officially declared out.

Also of significance is that J P’s Gusto, The Factor, and Uncle Mo all race on or near the lead, so their status could affect the Derby’s pace.

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“The complexion of the race can change so much over the next 12 days,” Steve Asmussen, the trainer of late-running Nehro, said Monday.

“You’ve got two horses who have run brilliant races,” Asmussen said, referring to Uncle Mo and The Factor, “so it’s kind of pick your poison when trying to decide whether you’d like them in or out of the race. But it is a situation that is out of our hands and one that will be discussed and over-analyzed, to say the least.”

In years past, trainers were eager to get to Louisville to prepare for the Derby, but after horses like Funny Cide and Giacomo came in right on top of the race in the last decade and prevailed, the approach is more varied now. Less than two weeks before this year’s Derby, runners are still in Ireland (Master of Hounds), Maryland (Toby’s Corner), California (Comma to the Top and Anthony’s Cross), and Florida (Dialed In and Soldat). Dialed In, the current favorite for the Derby, is scheduled to have his final Derby workout on Thursday morning at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida.

“I’m grateful we stayed here. This wasn’t a last-minute plan,” Nick Zito, the trainer of Dialed In, said Monday morning from Palm Meadows. “The reason is, it’s laid-back here. He just loves this track. Knock on wood, he hasn’t missed a day. He’s training, he’s happy. He’s very fit, very tight, very rippled.”

And very dry.

“It looks like, right now, we did the right thing,” Zito said.

According to the National Weather Service, Louisville has been inundated by nearly four inches of rain in the past four days, which has caused flooding along the banks of the Ohio River. On Monday, there was a severe weather report for the area, warning of strong thunderstorms, including hail, and a 90 percent chance of rain. There was a 60 percent chance of rain – including scattered storms, plus winds at 23 miles per hour – forecast for Tuesday, and another severe weather report, warning of strong storms and a 70 percent chance of rain, was issued for Wednesday. Not until Thursday and Friday is a break expected.

WATCHMAKER: Ranking the Kentucky Derby prep races

Those who are there, though, put their heads down and are going right on with it over a main track that historically handles wet weather well. With rain falling steadily early Monday morning, Nehro worked five furlongs under the Churchill Downs lights on a sloppy track in 1:02.81, according to Daily Racing Form. Exercise rider Carlos Rosas was aboard.

“It was nice and easy,” Asmussen said. “I was pleasantly surprised at the condition of the track the last two days, considering the weather. He’ll come back with a light half next Monday.”

Nehro has finished second in the Arkansas Derby and Louisiana Derby in his last two starts.

“I am pleased with the way he came out of the Arkansas Derby and where we’re at at the moment, but he’ll still have to run the race of his life to have any success,” Asmussen said. “I hope it will be his turn one of these times after having two tough beats.”

Thirty minutes before Nehro worked, with the rain pelting down even heavier and bolts of lightning lighting up the early morning sky, Uncle Mo, the reigning 2-year-old male champion, put in a very energetic 1 1/2-mile gallop for trainer Todd Pletcher.

At Hollywood Park on Monday, Comma to the Top, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, worked five furlongs on a fast track in 1:02.40 with his Derby rider, Patrick Valenzuela, aboard.

“He went nice and easy. I just wanted Pat and the horse to get acquainted,” said Peter Miller, who trains Comma to the Top.

Miller said Comma to the Top was scheduled to work again on Sunday at Hollywood Park, then fly to Kentucky next Tuesday, May 3.

Also scheduled to be on that flight, provided it looks like he will get into the Derby, is Anthony’s Cross, who is currently 24th on the earnings list if J P’s Gusto and The Factor are included, 22nd if they are out.

“We’re just sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happens,” Eoin Harty, the trainer of Anthony’s Cross, said Monday morning.

Anthony’s Cross was scheduled for a workout on Monday at Hollywood Park, but Harty called it off because “he had a very slight temperature” Sunday night.

“I just erred on the side of caution,” Harty said. “I don’t question his level of fitness, so I’m not concerned about missing a work. He’ll go back to the track Tuesday, work next Monday, and ship on Tuesday.”

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch

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