04/27/2009 11:00PM

A listless Indian Blessing will skip Distaff

Barbara D. Livingston
Musket Man, with trainer Derek Ryan, comes into the Kentucky Derby off wins in the Tampa Bay and Illinois derbies.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The ambitious schedule that trainer Bob Baffert mapped out for two-time champion Indian Blessing was abandoned on Tuesday, when Baffert decided not to run Indian Blessing in the Grade 1, $300,000 Humana Distaff on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Indian Blessing went halfway around the world last month to the United Arab Emirates and ran in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, in which she finished second after stumbling at the start. She returned to California, then traveled to Kentucky. But after she worked a half-mile in 48.20 seconds on Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs, Baffert said she "didn't have the energy."

"She worked fine, but I don't think she's ready for it," Baffert said. "I don't think the energy is there."

Indian Blessing, 4, was the champion 2-year-old filly of 2007, when she won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and last year was voted the champion female sprinter despite finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

The Humana Distaff, at seven furlongs, is now headed by Game Face and possibly Informed Decision.

Sheppard's pair iffy for stakes

Tuesday morning's rain had been falling for more than half an hour, and all save a couple humans and equines had taken shelter somewhere on the Churchill backstretch as trainer Jonathan Sheppard walked toward the racetrack alongside the turf stakes horse Just as Well.

"Turf works have been canceled," a spotter for the Churchill clockers called out to Sheppard.

"Well, now we may be running nothing this weekend," remarked Sheppard, who had guessed at the cancellation, but hadn't gotten the official word on it.

Without a work, Just as Well wound up galloping in mud, and he might not start in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic here Saturday. And already Tuesday morning, Sheppard had watched top-class Informed Decision turn in a less-than-satisfactory five-furlong drill for Saturday's Humana Distaff. With Indian Blessing taken out of consideration for the race, Informed Decision, already a contender, started looking even better. But Sheppard did not like the look of Informed Decision's five-furlong workout on Tuesday, which came before the rain, and was completed in 1:04, slower than Sheppard had desired.

"She didn't work like I wanted," Sheppard said. "Julien [Leparoux] was on her for the first time, and I don't know if she wasn't handling the surface, or if Julien just wasn't familiar with her, and she fooled him."

Informed Decision's two most recent races came on Keeneland's Polytrack - a beat-down last fall of Humana Distaff probable Secret Gypsy in the Grade 2 Raven Run, and a narrow victory over Ventura in the Grade 1 Vinery Madison on April 9. Informed Decision has won all three of her Polytrack starts, but she also is 3 for 5 on dirt.

Pletcher rewards DeCarlo

Jockey Chris DeCarlo will make his first appearance in the Kentucky Derby since 1989 when he rides Join in the Dance on Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher.

DeCarlo, 40, has vivid, albeit unpleasant memories of the last time he rode in the Derby. It was 1989 and, well, let's just say it wasn't actual springlike weather.

"I remember it was the coldest Derby ever," said Decarlo, who rode 74-1 longshot Faultless Ensign in the race. "When we got onto the track Triple Buck threw a shoe, they had to take him back to the paddock. We were by the gate already, and we were on the track for [an additional] 10 or 15 minutes. It was sleeting when we got on the track; it was quite miserable."

The race didn't go much better. Faultless Ensign bumped with Sunday Silence coming out of the gate and never got into the race, finishing 14th out of 15.

"It wasn't a fun experience," DeCarlo said by phone from New Jersey.

It remains to be seen whether this experience will be much better as Join in the Dance figures to be a longshot. However, DeCarlo has had many pleasurable experiences riding for Pletcher the last five or six years. He has won 175 races from 773 mounts for Pletcher, including 45 stakes races.

"I think he's a very underrated rider," said Pletcher, who has made DeCarlo his first-call rider at Monmouth Park. "He's kind of a quiet rider, but he's deceivingly strong. He shows up with a clear head every time; he rides turf very well, but he's effective on horses with speed. He's a well-rounded rider, works hard all winter. I certainly like to reward someone with a good work ethic."

"He has enough trust in me where I may not speak to him all the time, but I know how he wants the horses to be ridden," DeCarlo said.

Join in the Dance figures to be part of the early pace, though DeCarlo doesn't think he necessarily has to be.

"My horse does like to lay close," DeCarlo said. "I'm hoping I can be in the middle without having to use him too much. Then again, I could get there and [Pletcher] could want this horse on the lead."

Woolley will make walk on crutches

One of the most memorable moments for any trainer or owner with a horse in the Kentucky Derby is the prerace walk from the stable area to the paddock, with a packed grandstand cheering for their favorites as anticipation mounts for the race.

Bennie Woolley Jr., the trainer of Mine That Bird, is not about to miss out on the experience. Even if it means hobbling over on crutches. Woolley badly fractured his right leg in a motorcycle accident two months ago.

"I've waited a lifetime for this," said Woolley, 45. "I'll make the walk."

Woolley said he "took a spill on my chopper" and ended up with numerous plates and screws supporting area around his ankle. "It was ugly," he said.

Woolley trains about 25 horses out of his base at Sunland Park.

"I came to the Derby once, just to see it," Woolley said. "It was the biggest madhouse I'd ever seen. I said I'd just watch it on TV the rest of my life unless I ran one. Twenty years later, here I am."

Although Mine That Bird will be one of the longest shots in the race, Woolley said the opportunity was too tempting for him and Mine That Bird's co-owners - Mark Allen and Leonard Blach - even after Mine That Bird finished fourth in the Sunland Derby in his last start.

"It's the Kentucky Derby. It's not just some race," he said.

Derby trainers glad they won't face Rachel

With the 11th-hour changes that altered the prospective Kentucky Derby lineup - Quality Road and Square Eddie were withdrawn early this week - there were at least a few Derby trainers glad that Hal Wiggins didn't reconsider his position and go into the Derby with the filly Rachel Alexandra, the heavy favorite for the Kentucky Oaks on Friday.

"I think she definitely would be the horse to beat in the Derby," said Derek Ryan, trainer of Musket Man. "She has really impressed me."

Three of the 39 fillies that have run in the Derby have won: Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980), and Winning Colors (1988). Eight Belles, the ill-fated filly who was second last year to Big Brown, was the first filly to run in the Derby in nine years.

Wiggins said Tuesday that he and the filly's owners, the L and M Partners, did not seriously consider the Derby. "Our plans are set," said Wiggins.

Rachel Alexandra was never even nominated to the Triple Crown. Theoretically, she could have been entered in the Derby for a $200,000 supplementary fee but only could have started if the race did not oversubscribe.

"I think that's good for all of us," said Ryan.

Unique pick three offered

Churchill was the first North American track to offer a two-day parimutuel wager in 1996 when it introduced the Oaks-Derby double.

Now Churchill is becoming the first to introduce a pick three over a two-day period, with the Oaks, Woodford Reserve, and Derby being combined in a $1-minimum wager. The Oaks-Derby double remains on the wagering menu as well.

Extra races mean earlier start to long days

With an extra race being added this year to both the Oaks and Derby Day programs, first post each day is a half-hour earlier than in prior years, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. Twelve races will be carded Friday and 13 on Saturday.

General admission is $25 on Friday and $40 on Saturday.

* The nearby Trackside simulcast annex will be open Friday and Saturday. General admission is $10 both days. With Churchill closed Sunday, Trackside will be open with free admission.

* Churchill is encouraging fans to wear pink on Friday, when the track will donate $1 from every paid admission to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research and awareness.

- additional reporting by David Grening, Marcus Hersh, and Marty McGee