04/14/2014 1:02PM

Kentucky Derby: There's still hope for horses ranked below No. 20 in points

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Dance With Fate wins the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes on Keeneland's Polytrack on Saturday. The horse might not run in the Kentucky Derby on the dirt main track at Churchill Downs.

With the final round of Kentucky Derby preps with rich point values having been run Saturday, the current point standings mirror the prospective 20-horse field for the May 3 Derby. But there are several horses in the top 20 whose Derby status is uncertain, most notably Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate, so the possibility looms large of horses currently on the outside eventually earning a berth in the starting gate in the Derby.

As of Monday, the bubble landed on 24 points, the total gleaned by both Cairo Prince and Uncle Sigh. Based on the tiebreaker – earnings in unrestricted graded stakes races – Cairo Prince is in, and Uncle Sigh is out. But there is the strong likelihood that Uncle Sigh will join the Derby field because the bubble will fall further, perhaps getting down to 20 points, a total shared by six horses.

This Saturday’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland is not expected to affect the points list, since the race is worth a mere 17 points, including 10 to the winner. The Lexington is the final race worth points toward a Derby berth under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the Derby field if more than the maximum of 20 horses enter.

So, the scoreboard watching will focus on horses like Dance With Fate, Midnight Hawk, Chitu, and Ring Weekend.

Dance With Fate, third on the points list with 108, was flown back to California on Monday, and while he is not officially out of consideration for the Derby, trainer Peter Eurton on Sunday at Santa Anita said there were several reasons why he was against competing in the Derby, including running the horse back in three weeks, and his belief that Dance With Fate is far superior on synthetic surfaces and grass than on dirt.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Midnight Hawk, most recently second in the Sunland Derby and 15th on the points list with 52, is scheduled to run Saturday in the Grade 3, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, his trainer, Bob Baffert, said Monday. Baffert said running in the Illinois Derby – which does not offer points toward the Kentucky Derby – did not necessarily mean that Midnight Hawk was out of the Kentucky Derby, but it would be hard to imagine Baffert running Midnight Hawk back in two weeks.

“This race makes sense because he’s doing well, he worked well, and it’s $500,000,” Baffert said Monday.

Baffert also trains Chitu, the Sunland Derby winner who is 13th in the standings with 54 points. Whereas Baffert said Midnight Hawk worked strongly at Santa Anita on Sunday – prompting him to run in the Illinois Derby – he said Chitu “got a little tired” in his work.

Chitu is scheduled to work again this weekend at Santa Anita, then fly early next week to Churchill Downs. But if he goes there, and Baffert believes the Kentucky Derby too tall an assignment, options could include the Grade 3, $150,000 Derby Trial, a one-turn, one-mile race on April 26. Baffert also trains Santa Anita Derby runner-up Hoppertunity, who is eighth on the points list.

Ring Weekend, 16th in the standings with the 50 points he earned by winning the Tampa Bay Derby, is not certain for the Derby following his distant runner-up effort in the Calder Derby. He is training at Fair Hill in Maryland.

Ring Weekend is owned in part by West Point Thoroughbreds, a partnership that also owns Commanding Curve, who has 20 points and ranks 24th based on the tiebreaker. It is not inconceivable that enough defections could put Commanding Curve in the Derby field and give West Point a Derby starter in lieu of Ring Weekend.

Entries for the Derby are taken April 30. In addition to the 20 who get in, there can be up to four also-eligibles.

◗ John Velazquez will ride Intense Holiday, the Risen Star Stakes winner, in the Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday. Mike Smith rode Intense Holiday in the Risen Star and his most recent start, a runner-up finish in the Louisiana Derby, but Smith is sticking with Santa Anita Derby runner-up Hoppertunity for the Derby.

Caitlen Coursic More than 1 year ago
War Emblem / Midnight Hawk Replay
Caitlen Coursic More than 1 year ago
War Emblem / Midnight Hawk
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
midnight hawk wins the ill derby without breaking a sweat in paid workout.and ships to churchill fit as a fiddle.
radiocblue More than 1 year ago
It would seem that Baffert's 3 horses might not run at all. They definitely don't qualify. Chitu and Midnight Hawk haven't seen large fields yet, and Hoppertunity didn't race at 2. I think we could be looking at horses down to the 10 point level if all defections take place.
radiocblue More than 1 year ago
Also it's shameful, but not altogether surprising that some horses are being pointed to more sensible and lucrative races instead of the Derby itself. The Derby Trail has funneled the top runners to have to race at Keeneland for the most part. The points system and the trail have to be adjusted so owners don't get tempted to run elsewhere.
Dan Passero More than 1 year ago
Gosh I would love to see Social Inclusion and Bayern get in for the pace scenario. It is wishful thinking but it will kill CC and set up for Hopportunity, Ride on Curlin or Wicked Strong...there is s oooooooo much speed in this derby, more than usual with the new points system. before sprinters who earned money could get in, now it is more distance horses but this crop is speed speed speed...like VIT, WR, CC +++++
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
keep in mind that truly great horses have speed and carry it long...SECRETARIAT SEATTLE SLEW SPEND A BUCK SPECTACULAR BID and others were all speed balls.
jttf More than 1 year ago
the bluegrass winner wont make derby because of the dirt surface and only three weeks rest. churchill's dirt surface isnt much of problem for turf horses like barbaro, animal kingdom, wise dan and einstein. only three weeks is a problem for colts who run on lasix. lasix's purpose is to dehydrate and lose electrolytes so he must take much more time to recover from sickness. forcing all out horses in the derby and preakness with only two weeks rest. leads to injuries and retirement. dont tell me you cant change the schedule of the traditional triple crown. sir barton's three year old debut was a kentucky derby win followed by a preakness at 9 furlongs win only four days later. how hard was it to travel back then ? some triple crowns had the preakness as the first race. for the safety and longevity of our best three year olds. so reschedule the preakness and belmont. four weeks rest is needed if they are to use lasix.
Steve Seger More than 1 year ago
Bluegrass winner Dance with Fate is going to the Kentucky Derby, but he won't be a factor.
kim lawrence More than 1 year ago
Count this horse out at your own risk. He has the Dosage, the 2year old foundation, a great jock and trainer and the right running style for this years Derby. I do wish he did not ship back to CA but will see how he gallops over the track leading up to the race.
Paul Aswad More than 1 year ago
baffert knows midnight hawk can not get 1 1/4 miles so he is taking easy money in ill derby.my derby tri is c chrome,v. in trouble,w,strong. take it to bank. throw in c.prince for super
Dan Passero More than 1 year ago
Vicars in trouble????????? I got have jogged faster than he was running in LA derby in the last 8th? No chance he gets 1.25 miles. In addition, which is strange, he likely will be in a speed dual with CC, so both may get killed......can I take your bet instead of Churchill?
craig amundson More than 1 year ago
The Hawthorne Derby ws moved back a week becaue it became a Preakness prep once Churchill Downs decided to play god and not allow them any points
Dan Passero More than 1 year ago
they did that because they own Arlington, competitor to hawthorne. There is not much, IMO to like about Churchill downs from this action, the greed on derby day and now the 3% hike in takeout.....unbelievably greedy.
JeanK More than 1 year ago
I'm sure the point "Committee" would have another look at the Ill /derby if they ran the 500k race a week before. No horseman wants to encourage trainers to run a horse in the derby after a two week rest. So the timing of the race is riduculous. Bafert running Midnight Hawk in the Ill Derby gives him the choice of either running in the Derby(hee has done it before with War Emblem) in the Preakness which I doubt, but why not point for his beloved Haskell? via the Met Mile where he would carry 113 pounds? Ill Derby should remain @ 0 nada, zilch points till they make it 3 weeks minimum away from KY Derby.
Ann More than 1 year ago
Horses won the Kentucky Derby off of two weeks rest OR LESS for decades, when trainers were better horsemen than we have today. Wood Memorial, Arkansas Derby, two weeks out; Blue Grass 10 days out; Derby Trial, 4 days out. The very recent innovation of 4-6 weeks being the ideal is not something a true horseman would endorse - the horses lose that boost in fitness they get from the prep race if they are idle for such a long time. Like coming off of a layoff again.
JimMcCarthy1 More than 1 year ago
It is truly sad the state of the modern American thoroughbred. A few years ago a horse called Shocking won the Melbourne Cup after running in a mile and a half race three days prior. Three days.
raycing w More than 1 year ago
Ann, You are absolutely correct. The 4-5 weeks is truly used only for the medication regime that is used (so they don't test positive on the therapeutics). Physiologically, there is no problem with a healthy sound horse running back in two weeks. Ray
Old timer More than 1 year ago
Timing had nothing to do with the lllinois Derby losing it's status. The race used to be further back on the schedule. CDI started the point system and left Hawthorne out of it. THEN they moved the race to make it more of a Preakness prep.
DRFHersh More than 1 year ago
Thank you for correcting that misconception.
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
Illinois Derby was 3 weeks out until CDI made the race worth zero points then they decided to move it to become a Preakness prep. War Emblem won the race when it was at least 3 weeks out (it may have been 4 weeks) and even then Baffert didn't train him until AFTER he won that race so it's not like it was all Baffert's 'grand plan'. Far from it.
John Howland More than 1 year ago
War Emblem's win was also the last time the race was run at Sportsman's Park.
Old timer More than 1 year ago
Two things pop out at me from this article. One is the Blue Grass Stakes was once one of the premier Derby prep races. Now we have a horse who wins the Blue Grass, but may not even consider the Derby because he is a better turf horse. If that does not support the decision to go back to dirt at Keeneland, I don't know what would! Secondly, the Lexington used to be a fairly significant prep race. Charismatic won it and almost won the Triple Crown. Now it only merits 10 points to the winner? That seems out of place. Thirdly... don't even get me started on the Illinois Derby.
Walter More than 1 year ago
It's CDI making decisions that don't help the sport, like raising takeout to the maximum this year and freezing out the IL Derby for political reasons last year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Keeneland is returning to dirt this fall. This will once again put the Bluegrass as one of the premier Derby prep races. Awesome!!! This era of how they train and rest horses totally dispels the Lexington as any viable means of qualifying for the KD. 1 week...no way!!! Now if The Lexington were 2 weeks out and on dirt then maybe it starts to bring back some luster. Thirdly...OMFG...what a travesty... The UAE derby ...are you kidding me!!! A race in the desert This is worth 100 points. .and a race in your own back yard because CDI decided to take their ball and go home. Grow up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
meaning CDI should grow up
will More than 1 year ago
UAE derby is legit, why knock it?... who cares where it is... by your logic the sunland derby is also raced "in the desert".
Ann More than 1 year ago
A desert many thousands of miles away, on a Tapeta surface that is nothing like dirt. Shipping, quarantine, etc. Even when Godolphin took top US 2yos over there to train on the dirt track at Nad al Sheba, the best they could do was run a distant 5th in the Derby. Ruined the careers of many a potentially top-rate dirt horses with this strategy. The only foreign-trained horses to run well in the Derby were Canonero II, who had raced in California at 2 (dirt) and raced at La Rinconada in Venezuela, which is a dirt track and in the same time zone as KY; and Bold Arrangement, who shipped in to run a good third in the Blue Grass (dirt) before he ran a close second in the Derby.
JimMcCarthy1 More than 1 year ago
Yeah but even when the Bluegrass was on dirt, winning it was pretty much a guarantee of being up the track in the Derby, it was like an alien terrain compared to the CD dirt. Skip Away was one who romped in the BG and despised Churchill for whatever reason. I don't think putting the BG back on dirt is going to automatically restore it's glory. At least now with the synth you get a full field, next year I bet it'll be like seven horses.