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Kentucky Derby spots, points remain up for grabs
By Jay Privman
The Kentucky Derby is turning into the haves and the have little.
Victories on Saturday by Java’s War in the Blue Grass Stakes and Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby brought to seven the number of horses with at least 100 points on the new system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 4 Derby, but the dropoff is precipitous after that, with as few as 20 points now likely enough to earn a starting berth this year.
Horses such as Uncaptured (30 points), Departing (20), Merit Man (20), and West Hills Giant (20) likely would have had enough points to get into the Derby, but their connections are bypassing the race, allowing horses farther down the list a chance to get in. Departing heads the Illinois Derby on Saturday, and though the Illinois Derby was conspicuously cut out of the Derby points prep schedule by Churchill Downs, Departing likely could make the field if desired. But trainer Al Stall Jr. on Monday said there is “no chance” Departing would run in the Derby, regardless of how he performs Saturday.
Significantly, there are still two Derby preps to be run – the Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland, and the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 27 – and since both offer 20 points for first, the winners could earn starting berths in the Derby if their connections are so inclined.
The prospective Lexington field includes Cerro, who disappointed when he ran sixth in the Fountain of Youth behind Orb. Barry Irwin, the chief executive officer of the Team Valor syndicate which owns Cerro, said Monday that if “Cerro could actually get into the Derby by winning the Lexington, we would strongly consider it if we liked his race well enough.”
“It is more likely, however, that we would consider the Preakness because of the better timing,” Irwin added. “The Fountain of Youth knocked him for a loop, and it took him longer to recover because he was pressing a very fast pace. He has recovered well and has two nice works here at Keeneland and we expect him to perform up to his best level. But coming back in two weeks would only be considered if a winning effort on Saturday didn’t poop him out. He is a big, strong colt, but we have seen what a hard race does to him.”
As for the Derby Trial, prospective runners there include Titletown Five, who is co-owned by Louisville resident Paul Hornung and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and Sunbean, who had a dreadful trip in the Louisiana Derby and since has been transferred by owner Evelyn Benoit from Stall to trainer Mike Maker.
The points only come into play if more than the maximum 20 horses enter the Derby. If there are 20 or fewer, all entrants run. Under the new system, fillies can earn points only if they run in open races, not races restricted to fillies. So, conceivably, a horse like Dreaming of Julia, the runaway winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks, could make the Derby field if the race doesn’t oversubscribe. But trainer Todd Pletcher on Monday said that “right now, there are no plans” to head in that direction.
Pletcher said the only way that would even be considered was if there were “major defections” from the prospective Derby field. But he reiterated that the Kentucky Oaks on May 3 is the goal for Dreaming of Julia, as well as his filly Unlimited Budget.
Pletcher has seen most of his Derby hopes fall into place, even with champion Shanghai Bobby and highly regarded Violence getting knocked out this spring. Pletcher already qualified Verrazano (Wood Memorial) and Revolutionary (Louisiana Derby), and on Saturday added three more Derby starters – Overanalyze, as well as Palace Malice and Charming Kitten, who finished second and third in the Blue Grass.
“Everybody seems to have come out of their races well,” Pletcher said.
Palace Malice had just 10 points going into the Blue Grass, but his runner-up finish was worth 40 points. Charming Kitten earned 20 points, but under the tiebreaker – earnings in unrestricted stakes – he’s currently 20th on the list. In addition, there are a couple of horses above Charming Kitten – Super Ninety Nine and Falling Sky – who could defect, so the Lexington and Derby Trial results are unlikely to keep him out.
Palace Malice will be ridden in the Derby by Mike Smith, Pletcher said Monday. Garrett Gomez rode Palace Malice in the Blue Grass, but he is already committed to Vyjack for the Derby.
Verrazano and Revolutionary arrived at Churchill Downs over the weekend and are scheduled to have two works preceding the Derby, one on each of the next two Sundays, Pletcher said.
Calvin Borel on Monday was named to ride Revolutionary, reuniting the team that won the 2010 Derby with Super Saver – Borel, Pletcher, and owner WinStar Farm. Borel is a three-time Derby winner. The mount on Revolutionary became open when Javier Castellano opted to ride Normandy Invasion.
Trainer Ken McPeek saw two of his horses earn Derby berths on Saturday – Java’s War and Frac Daddy, who gleaned 40 points for his second-place finish in the Arkansas Derby.
By contrast, trainer Bob Baffert has seen his number of Derby prospects plummet in recent weeks. Govenor Charlie is certain for the race, and though Baffert has yet to officially rule out Super Ninety Nine (30 points), Den’s Legacy (20), or Code West (20), all are unlikely to run.
“We’ll know by next week,” Baffert said Monday, the day before Govenor Charlie and Midnight Lucky, his unbeaten Kentucky Oaks contender, were scheduled to fly to Kentucky from California.
– additional reporting by David Grening, Marty McGee, and Mary Rampellini
My take on Super99 running is: Since BobB and DougO are not even semi-friends, Bob will decide Gov. Charlie needs a traveling companion and sends 99 along to Churchill. Then, if BobB feels there is not enough early speed entered to take the sting out of Gcents early, 99 runs. If track comes up sloppy, 99 runs. Otherwise scratches 99. Super, Def: overused word / name Super, Good name for: a. Manof Steel b. Bowl Super 99, Bad name for: a. One penny, price-cutting 'Dollar Store' b. Classy, (but not super) 3 year old, chestnut colt Name 'Super' should be earned, not adopted
Goldencents and Ord
Points sistem makes sense. I just wish they would accommodate to fillies as well. Some believe that if they want to earn a spot in the Derby, they have to proof themselves against the males in the prep races that would earn them points. However, some fillies only have ONE real shot to beat the boys at a distance that is still unknown to all participants. Before or after that, they may never catch up to them, cuz males maturity translates in more power and strength, whereas females mature in a different way.
Like Eric said below, "time is only important if you are serving it in prison " One little 1/2 step at the break, one little take back on the backside and you are seconds difference in a clean race and trouble race, time wise ! I said from the beginning , GOLDENCENTS is a sprinter, BUT, Im going to eat my words, because with a lack of a big speed demon, and GOLDENCENTS learning to rate off horses, Ill say he is going to be sitting in a very nice spot, soft pace, maybe 3-4 lengths back, getting first run into the stretch, long way from the wire, but give me 3 lengths, Ill bet he can gut it out !
If they gave the winning horse a watch, I would be more concerned about time. This year's group are a nice mix and solid. Alot of these horses will be running closer with Govenor Charlie instead of Verrazano. Oxbow, Falling Sky and especially Goldencents will ensure good pace. I think Orb and Itsmyluckyday will pass that bridge when they come to him. Good luck and keep your horses healthy into the gate.
All this chat about Pletcher/ Baffert/ What about that guy Tom Amoss, I bet you he has his sleeves rolled up waiting for the Derby $$
I only have two words for the derby. Palace Malice. Comes in with just a maiden win, i expect 30-1 and i get Mike Smith to ride, value, value, value, how I LOVE value!
Oh man these are exciting times for the sport of horse racing. Its on to THE KENTUCKY DERBY! Wow!
Time is only important if your in jail. Just kidding. Funny I was thinking this is a really good crop of 3 year olds. Verarazano looks for real and Normandy Invasion was getting to him late. Orb seems to keep getting better. Revolutionary has made ways to win. And Goldencents is a tough animal who will be a huge # Derby Day and is improving. Will Take Charge may be mercurial but when he's good - he's real good. I think it is a mistake to think of speed only in terms of raw times, especially between years. Better to compare the times to other races run that day or week at the distance. Time will tell and I think this will prove to be a good crop and I don't like Verrazano to win the TC - I think he will have trouble getting a mile and a quarter - let along a mile and a half 4 weeks later.
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