04/16/2006 11:00PM

Lexington in usual role as last Derby shot

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland racing officials are expecting a field of nine or 10 horses Saturday for the Lexington Stakes, the 11th-hour prep that typically confirms a final starter or two for the Kentucky Derby two weeks later.

The most notable prospects for the $325,000 Lexington, a Grade 2 race run at 1 1/16 miles, are Showing Up, Like Now, and Sunriver.

Showing Up was scheduled to work before dawn Tuesday morning at Belmont Park, then get on a van headed to Lexington around noon Eastern, said Robin Smullen, assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg. Showing Up, unbeaten in two starts, would run back in the Derby "if he wins, and wins easily, as long as he comes back good," said Smullen.

Showing Up is owned by Lael Stables, and a Lexington victory would give the owners a shot at what is believed would be a Derby first: having two unbeaten starters from the same stable in the same year. Lael also owns one of the Derby favorites, Barbaro, who is unbeaten in five starts.

Like Now, upset winner of the March 18 Gotham, will be using the Lexington as Plan B. The gelding was supposed to run in the April 8 Wood Memorial but was withdrawn by Kiaran McLaughlin after coming down with a fever. Like Now was scheduled to arrive Monday in Kentucky on a flight that also was carrying Derby hopeful Keyed Entry and several other horses from New York.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has not totally committed Sunriver to the Lexington but is concerned that if the colt does not make another start, he could be excluded from the Derby because of insufficient graded earnings. Sunriver finished third behind Barbaro and Sharp Humor in the Florida Derby.

The other 3-year-olds considered likely for the Lexington are Bear Character, Chin High, Fast Parade, Greeley's Legacy, Hemingway's Key, More Than Regal, and To Sender.

One of the more intriguing prospects is To Sender, who finished last as the odds-on favorite in the opening-day Transylvania Stakes. To Sender, trained by Bobby Frankel, has never raced on dirt.

First Samurai to shorten up

Bruce Lunsford saw all he needed to see Saturday. Although some owners and trainers of Blue Grass Stakes also-rans might be inclined to dismiss the race by attributing the lopsided results to a speed-biased surface, Lunsford and trainer Frank Brothers are pulling back and regrouping with First Samurai, who finished fifth, beaten 30 lengths.

"It's pretty obvious that he has some distance limitations," said Lunsford, who co-owns First Samurai with Lansdon Robbins. "He has an affinity for racing up to a mile, and that's what we're going to focus on in the future."

Lunsford said First Samurai "will get a little time," then point for the seven-furlong King's Bishop at Saratoga in late August.

Casse maintains realism

Mark Casse, trainer of Seaside Retreat, said he told a friend after the Blue Grass he had "some good news and some bad news."

Casse said, "I told him, 'The good news is we only got beat two lengths by one of the best 2-year-olds of last year,' " meaning First Samurai. " 'The bad news is we got beat 32 lengths.' "

Seaside Retreat has not been eliminated from the Derby, although "at this point in time I'd say it's doubtful," said Casse. "If he trained really good, maybe we'd take a look."

Seaside Retreat is stabled at Churchill Downs along with Casse's Kentucky Oaks hopeful, Top Notch Lady. "As long as we're there, we might as well keep up on the Derby situation," said Casse.

* The Keeneland board of directors is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to vote on finalizing plans for a new Polytrack surface for the main track. If approved, as is widely expected, the new surface would be installed in time for the fall meet in October.

* G P Fleet fractured a sesamoid bone when he finished fifth in a turf allowance Thursday at Keeneland and has been retired, said Richard Klein, who owns the 6-year-old gelding with his parents, Bert and Elaine Klein. G P Fleet, claimed for $80,000 from his fourth career start, won nine races, including four stakes, from 33 races, for earnings of $564,918.

- additional reporting by David Grening