Updated on 09/17/2011 10:19AM

Lexington: One last shot

Ministers Wild Cat trains at Keeneland on Wednesday with Marcelino Olguin in the saddle.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Derby train is set to pull into Louisville - almost, anyway.

The final station on the long route to Churchill Downs just happens to be situated some 80 miles up the road at Keeneland Race Course, where on Saturday the 22nd running of the Lexington Stakes figures to decide the Derby fates of a handful of classics hopefuls.

Eight 3-year-olds have been entered in the $325,000 Coolmore Lexington, a 1 1/16-mile race that in recent years has evolved into a last-ditch, yet legitimate, stepping-stone to the Derby. While one of the probable Lexington favorites, Trust N Luck, already has been ruled out of the May 3 Derby by his connections, the rest of the Lexington runners remain in the Derby hunt to varying degrees.

The horse with perhaps the most to gain in the Lexington is Ministers Wild Cat, an impeccably bred colt trained by Neil Drysdale. By a champion (Deputy Minister) out of a champion (Hollywood Wildcat), Ministers Wild Cat has been the subject of intense Derby speculation ever since he made his debut in December, but he has never faced the kind of stern test he figures to receive in the Grade 2 Lexington.

From four career starts, Ministers Wild Cat owns two wins and two seconds, and Drysdale, who won the Derby three years ago with Fusaichi Pegasus, has said repeatedly that the Lexington should serve as a fair gauge in determining whether the colt should run back in two weeks in the Derby. As often happens with the Lexington, that let's-see-what-happens theme resonates throughout the field - and it applies particularly to two other California-based colts, Ocean Terrace and Domestic Dispute.

Ocean Terrace, who ran poorly in the Santa Anita Derby just two weeks ago, will be trying to recapture the terrific form that carried him to three wins to open his career. Trainer Bob Hess Jr. said he strongly believes Ocean Terrace is better than his last race suggests and that the colt is seeking "vindication" in the Lexington.

Likewise, Domestic Dispute is trying to regain lost luster. After winning the Santa Catalina in January, Domestic Dispute was listed among virtually everyone's top 10 Derby contenders. But after finishing fifth in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby, he has free-fallen into a sort of Derby no-man's land.

"We're just giving him another shot," said Baffert, who already has Kafwain and Indian Express training in Louisville as likely Derby starters.

Scrimshaw is yet one more colt trying to sneak in the back door. After a weak fourth-place finish in the Hutcheson Stakes in February, the colt underwent a minor throat operation to correct a breathing problem, a procedure that trainer D. Wayne Lukas said was successful and should allow Scrimshaw to run far better Saturday.

Lukas is happily familiar with how the Lexington can serve as a successful springboard to the Derby. Four years ago, Lukas trained Charismatic, who won the Lexington at 12-1 and the Derby at 31-1. Last year, Lukas won the Lexington with 8-1 shot Proud Citizen, who subsequently was second in the Derby behind War Emblem.

Post positions could play a significant role in the Lexington, which, like all 1 1/16-mile races on the Keeneland main track, begins and ends at what is otherwise the sixteenth pole. Horses who race nearest the rail or show effective early speed have been dominant throughout the spring meet, and a horse such as Trust N Luck, who drew the outside post, may be at a distinct disadvantage Saturday if he cannot settle into a favorable position.

The Lexington will be televised on a delayed basis on a half-hour ESPN2 broadcast at 6 p.m. Eastern. The $150,000 Tesio Stakes from Pimlico also will be shown.

Although the Keeneland track was sloppy Thursday, the weather forecast for Saturday calls for drying-out conditions and a high temperature of 78.

In other Derby developments:

* A minority ownership interest in Illinois Derby winner Ten Most Wanted, who figures to be anywhere from second to fifth choice for the Derby, has been sold to J. Paul Reddam, who also owns Elloluv, one of the favorites for the May 2 Kentucky Oaks.

Horizon Stable, a syndicate that includes the colt's trainer, Wally Dollase, still will retain majority interest in Ten Most Wanted, a Deputy Commander colt who was purchased by Horizon for $145,000 as a 2-year-old. Reddam, a computer magnate who founded the popular Internet site ditech.com, reportedly bought a 25-percent interest for $1 million.

Reddam had Logician as a Derby hopeful, but the colt ran a distant sixth in the Santa Anita Derby.

* Brancusi, runner-up to Peace Rules in the Blue Grass last weekend, returned to training Wednesday at Keeneland. Trainer Patrick Biancone said he would be satisfied to continue training Brancusi in the relative quiet of Keeneland instead of shipping to Churchill Downs.

"We will probably wait until the morning of the race to ship, although it will depend on the weather," said Biancone.

- The 1 1/8-mile Tesio more often serves as a prep for the Preakness than the Derby, and that appears the case again this year. The likely favorite in a field of six, Cherokee's Boy, has been all but ruled out for the Derby by trainer Gary Capuano, who said the Preakness might be an outside possibility if the colt runs well.

- Churchill Downs continues to list 21 horses as Derby contenders, although that list includes at least several horses who logically would be eliminated with poor efforts in the Lexington and several others whose connections have said they are highly unlikely to enter.

- With rain coming down steadily Thursday morning at both Keeneland and Churchill, there were no works by any Derby contenders. Empire Maker, the heavy Derby favorite, who already is stabled at Churchill, jogged an easy mile near the outer rail with regular exercise rider Jose Cuevas aboard.

A flurry of Derby works can be expected from Saturday through Tuesday.

- The $150,000 Derby Trial, to be run next Saturday on the opening-day card of the Churchill spring meet, is the nominal final prep along the Derby trail, but the race has not produced a serious Derby contender in many years.

Midas Eyes, the speedy Bobby Frankel-trained colt who bypassed the Lexington after missing a key workout early this week in California, will be a heavy favorite in the Trial. Midas Eyes is not being considered for the Derby.



Purse: $325,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 2

1ScrimshawE. Prado1166-1
2Ministers Wild CatV. Espinoza1164-1
3Eye of the TigerR. Albarado11610-1
4Most FearedM. Guidry11815-1
5Domestic DisputeJ. Bailey1165-2
6ChampaliP. Day1238-1
7Ocean TerraceS. Sellers1165-1
8Trust N LuckC. Velasquez1237-2

Odds by Kristin Sadler

Television: Saturday, 6:00 - 6:30 p.m ESPN2