04/26/2007 12:00AM

Late arrival now fashionable at Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Intermittent but at times heavy showers put a bit of a damper on training at both Churchill Downs and Keeneland on Thursday morning. No workouts were scheduled for any of the Kentucky Derby contenders at either venue, with about a dozen potential Derby starters still training over the Polytrack at Keeneland.

There were seven Derby candidates on the grounds at Churchill Downs as of Thursday, and five of them went to the track, with Street Sense and Storm in May keeping dry by walking the shed row. Curlin had a relatively easy morning, jogging and galloping 1 1/4 miles over the sloppy surface while also making a brief visit to the starting gate. His stablemate Zanjero, returning to the track for the first time following two days off, and was aggressive during his gallop, as was Sam P. who has been on his toes the past two mornings. Dominican and Sedgefield vanned over from Keeneland on Wednesday afternoon and merely jogged here Thursday.


With nearly two-thirds of the prospective field still not on the grounds - most won't arrive until early next week - the usual buzz associated with the Derby has been missing. The trend of bringing a Derby horse to Churchill Downs the week of the race was popularized when trainer Barclay Tagg did not ship Funny Cide to Churchill until two days before his victory in 2003, and it has escalated this year with the installation of Polytrack at Keeneland.

Tagg will employ similar tactics again this year with Nobiz Like Shobiz, who is not scheduled to arrive here until Wednesday.

"I've said for years you don't need to go down there and train for weeks over a track four inches deep when they make it four centimeters deep on race day," Tagg said, repeating a common complaint from horsemen that the Churchill track is changed for Derby Day. "What are you getting used to? I can stay here at Belmont instead, train over a good racetrack, and come in after that. Besides, I'm not a private trainer. I have other horses and owners to worry about and I can't afford to be there for two weeks with one horse. I also don't see any reason to be down there in all that hoopla either. What does a horse gain by having people sticking cameras and flashes in their face all day?"

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who still has four of his record-equaling five Derby starters stabled at Keeneland, echoed Tagg's sentiments.

"Funny Cide and Giacomo proved you don't need to work over the track to win the Derby," Pletcher said Thursday.

Like Funny Cide, Giacomo shipped in just days before the race to score an upset in the 2005 Derby.

Pletcher said: "I can't speak of how things were up until several years ago, but from my experience the racetrack is usually tighter on Derby Day than it is in the days preceeding the Derby, although the main reason I am training at Keeneland is because with the Polytrack I don't have to worry about the weather as much. This morning was a perfect example. As much as it rained I was still able to train my horses as I normally would. And two weeks ago, I would have had to postpone works for Circular Quay, Scat Daddy, and Rags to Riches for a day or two if I'd been at Churchill Downs, but they were able to breeze right on schedule at Keeneland."

Trainer Carl Nafzger, who has had Street Sense on the grounds for several weeks, said he's not sure what he would do about training up to the Derby if he were not stabled at Churchill Downs.

"That's a good question," Nafzger said when asked whether he'd ship in early to train over the surface or bring his horse in right on top of the race. "I guess it would depend on the individual horse and whether I thought it would be better for them to be here and get used to both this racetrack as well as all the commotion associated with the Derby or just to stay away from all the noise and excitement for as long as possible. The airplane has really changed the way the game is played nowadays, and I do know if I'm fortunate enough to make the Breeders' Cup with Street Sense, I'll train him here in Kentucky and not fly him to Monmouth Park until the day before the race if I can."