04/14/2014 12:02PM

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

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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.