05/08/2011 12:08PM

Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro likely to bypass Preakness for Belmont Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Nehro, with trainer Steve Asmussen last Wednesday at Churhchill Downs, is likely to be pointed for the Belmont Stakes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nehro, the runner-up to Animal Kingdom in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, will likely skip the Preakness and point to the Belmont Stakes, owner Ahmed Zayat said Sunday morning.

 “I would prefer, as of now, to run in the Belmont and maybe the Haskell and then we’ll see,’’ said Zayat, who added that his primary objective is to return to Churchill Downs in November for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “We’ll take it a day a time, but we’re probably going to point him to the Belmont. [The Preakness] is a possibility, but not probable.’’

Zayat said he was impressed with how well Nehro came out of the Kentucky Derby, his third race in six weeks and his third straight runner-up finish. He was beaten a neck by Pants On Fire in the Louisiana Derby and a neck by Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby. Nehro finished ahead of those horses in the Kentucky Derby.

“He came out of it fantastic. He’s very happy.  He’s all class,’’ Zayat said. “He can run from on the rail or outside from on the pace or off the pace.’’

Zayat, along with the majority of observers, was surprised with how slow the early fractions were in the Derby. The half-mile time of 48.63 seconds and the six-furlong time of 1:13.40 were the slowest since 1947 when Jet Pilot went gate to wire, running a half-mile in 49 seconds and six furlongs in 1:14. The official track condition that day, according to the chart, was slow. Saturday, the track was labeled fast.

“I was hoping the race would go in 1:09, I’d take 1:10,’’ Zayat said. “When I saw 1:13, I went `Oh my lord, they’re crawling.’ ’’

Trainer Steve Asmussen praised jockey Corey Nakatani for adapting to the pace scenario and having Nehro, usually a closer, within four lengths of the early lead. Nehro, who broke from post 18, made a three-wide bid to the leaders at the five-sixteenths pole and continued on gamely to the wire. While unable to match strides with Animal Kingdom in the final furlong, he did fend off Mucho Macho Man by a neck for second.

 “Not enough pace,’’ Asmussen said. “You wanted the race to stretch out a little bit more and I think it caused him to be wider. I thought Corey did a great job considering the circumstances. At least he let the race unfold and reacted to that instead of just taking a hold of him and drop him behind horses that weren’t going anywhere.’’

For Zayat, it was the second time in three years that a horse he owned finished second in the Derby. In 2009, Pioneerofthenile was beaten 6 3/4 lengths by Mine That Bird. Last year, the Zayat-owned Eskendereya, the early favorite for the Derby, was withdrawn from consideration six days out from the race.

“Of course it hurts, you’re not supposed to run second twice in the last three years,’’ Zayat said. “I’m very grateful, he’s a class horse.’’