Updated on 09/16/2011 7:12AM

Last call for Derby preps

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Ethan Man, one of the favorites for Saturday's Lexington, trains Thursday at Churchill under Kevin Wylie.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Next stop, Derbytown. The last race to conceivably produce a starter for the May 4 Kentucky Derby is Saturday's Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, although the chances of a legitimate Derby horse emerging from the race seem dubious at best.

The trainers of the top three Lexington contenders - - have said they do not intend to wheel back two weeks later in the Derby, barring some extraordinary result.

Moreover, the trainers of the lesser lights in the field of nine 3-year-olds say they are taking a wait-and-see approach to the Derby, perhaps on the suspicion that their horses simply may not prove good enough Saturday to advance to Louisville.

With the purse of the 1 1/16-mile Lexington being $325,000-added, the winner will leapfrog onto the list of the top 20 graded earners, which is the final determinant for Derby eligibility. But according to Pat Byrne, who will saddle Ethan Man, that fact is probably moot.

"I don't see any horses coming out of this for the Derby," he said.

Even if that is true, Churchill Downs still appears highly likely to have to invoke its 20-horse limit for the 128th Derby. There are 33 horses in various states of consideration for the race, although maybe six - including some of the Lexington starters - are doubtful to run even if they are among the top 20 graded earners.

One other race that is ostensibly a Derby stepping-stone will be run Saturday: the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, which is not expected to yield a Derby starter.

The Lexington is so speed-laden that the results might have to be viewed in a jaded context. Ethan Man, Officer, and One Tuff Fox are all exceptionally fast, which could make for a wicked pace and set things up for an inside stalker such as Easyfromthegitgo, who could be a slight favorite.

"This is a lovely 3-year-old," said Steve Asmussen, trainer of Easyfromthegitgo. "He does everything we ask of him, lays everything on the line. But even if he runs big Saturday, I don't think we want to try the Derby. We're looking forward to having a nice, long year with him."

The Lexington and Tesio will be televised on a delayed basis on ESPN2. The one-hour broadcast begins at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Saarland has throat surgery

Saarland underwent minor throat surgery Wednesday to correct a breathing problem his connections suspect played a role in his fourth-place finish in last Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Trainer Shug McGaughey said Saarland, owned by Cynthia Phipps, remains on schedule to run in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4.

Saarland underwent a myectomy on Wednesday. A myectomy is a surgical procedure to cut tissue that may obstruct the larynx and cut off a horse's air passage. The procedure, performed by Dr. Mark Cheney, took 10 minutes and was done in Saarland's Belmont Park stall. After a day off on Thursday, Saarland was expected to resume training at Belmont on Friday. McGaughey said Saarland will work at Belmont on Monday or Tuesday before shipping to Churchill on Thursday.

Regarding the Wood, McGaughey said jockey John Velazquez told him that Saarland "held his breath at the quarter pole and didn't let it out until he stood up on him at the wire." Saarland finished fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Buddha.

After winning the Remsen Stakes last year, Saarland was viewed as a major Kentucky Derby contender. Prior to the Wood, Saarland finished second in the Gotham.

McGaughey said it has been his experience that horses bounce back quickly from a myectomy. In 1998, Coronado's Quest underwent a myectomy after finishing fifth in the Florida Derby and came back four weeks later to win the Wood. Mesabi Maiden also underwent a myectomy prior to winning the 1996 Black-Eyed Susan.

"There are still some questions in my head," McGaughey said. "The procedure is not always 100 percent successful. Hopefully, it'll help."

No Derby for Booklet

Trainer John T. Ward Jr., who won the Derby last year with Monarchos, said he is 99 percent sure that he won't be back with Booklet, who finished a distant second to Harlan's Holiday last Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes.

"Maybe if the top five contenders defect, then we'd reconsider," Ward said. "But no, it doesn't look like we're going to run."

War Emblem breezes

War Emblem had his first workout since having been acquired by The Thoroughbred Corp., breezing five furlongs in 59.60 Thursday at Churchill Downs. Dana Barnes was aboard for trainer Bob Baffert, who seemed destined for the Derby sidelines for the first time since 1995 until the private purchase was made shortly after War Emblem's victory in the April 6 Illinois Derby.

Baffert has not yet named a rider for War Emblem, although he has said Victor Espinoza is under consideration.

Ill-timed suspension for Kinane

Michael Kinane could miss his Kentucky Derby ride on Johannesburg after having picked up a seven-day suspension from the Newmarket stewards on Thursday.

Kinane was set down after his mount, Sahara Desert, was disqualified from first and placed fifth in the day's final race, the Boadicea Conditions Stakes. The stewards determined Kinane was guilty of "irresponsible riding of a major nature." The dates of the suspension are April 27 and April 29 through May 4, Kentucky Derby Day.

Kinane's suspension leaves the door open for Jerry Bailey, named to ride stablemate Castle Gandolfo in the Derby, to pick up the ride on Johannesburg.

Godolphin horses arrive

Three horses from Godolphin Racing, including Derby starter Essence of Dubai, were in quarantine at Keeneland after being vanned Wednesday afternoon from Louisville following a lengthy flight from Dubai. Essence of Dubai was accompanied by Tempera and Imperial Gesture, both of whom will run in the Kentucky Oaks.

Longshots hit Churchill

Ocean Sound arrived Thursday at Churchill to prepare for the Derby, and It'sallinthechase was scheduled to arrive Thursday night. Ocean Sound came from Keeneland, where he finished third in the Blue Grass last Saturday. Trainer Jim Cassidy said Thursday that Alex Solis will ride the colt in the Derby.

It'sallinthechase, ninth in the Arkansas Derby, was to be vanned in from Oklahoma. With Gerard Melancon unlikely to ride It'sallinthechase because of a licensing problem in Kentucky, James Lopez probably will get the mount.

Dreaming of Derby

Trainer Danny Hutt wants to run Red Masque, winner of the Forerunner Stakes on the Keeneland turf Wednesday, in the Derby, but without any graded earnings, the Derby seems unreachable.

Meanwhile, Royal Gem, third as the favorite in the Forerunner, has been eliminated from consideration by trainer Bobby Frankel.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen, David Grening