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Updated on 09/16/2011 8:13AM
Lukas joins the big party after all
From 1981 through 2000, D. Wayne Lukas had at least one horse in each year's Kentucky Derby. Lukas missed the Derby last year, and it appeared as if he might watch the race from the sidelines again. But Proud Citizen's runaway victory in last Saturday's Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland put Lukas right back where he is accustomed to be on the first Saturday in May.
Proud Citizen's victory caused significant upheaval in the potential make-up of the Derby field. He leapfrogged past several horses who want to run in the race, making it seemingly more difficult for the likes of U S S Tinosa and Sunday Break to get into the 128th Derby on May 4.
A maximum of 20 horses are permitted to be drawn for the Derby field on May 1, when post positions are selected. If more than 20 horses are entered, the field is determined by earnings in graded stakes races. As of Monday, there were 24 horses intending on running in the Derby, including Mayakovsky, who could be wheeled back in the Derby if he first runs well in Saturday's $100,000 Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs. U S S Tinosa is 22nd on that list, Sunday Break 23rd. And they would fall another peg if trainer Nick Zito reconsiders and decides to enter Lexington runner-up Crimson Hero, though Zito on Monday said Crimson Hero would only run if "something strange happens."
There was a whirlwind of activity surrounding the Derby on Monday. At Churchill, Easy Grades, Lusty Latin, Private Emblem, and Windward Passage all worked. At Belmont Park, Blue Burner, and Saarland worked, one day after Wood Memorial winner Buddha had his penultimate Derby drill there. Flying Dash was dropped from consideration for the Derby Trial, and the Kentucky Derby, after working six furlongs in 1:15.20 at Churchill. "I'm going to recommend that he stay on the grass," said his trainer, Neil Drysdale. Victor Espinoza, as expected, secured the mount on Illinois Derby winner War Emblem, and Eddie Martin Jr. picked up the mount on the longshot It'sallinthechase, replacing Gerard Melancon, who has licensing problems in the state of Kentucky.
From Ireland, trainer Aidan O'Brien reported that both Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo were scheduled for workouts on Tuesday, with another drill to follow later in the week prior to their being flown to Kentucky on April 30.
"The horses are well," O'Brien said from his Ballydoyle training center. "They both breezed on Friday, they'll breeze again on Tuesday, and they'll breeze once more before traveling. They've been breezing about four furlongs each time."
There was rain in Kentucky last Friday night and into Saturday morning, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of Lukas. For weeks in California, Lukas had been warning people not to discount Proud Citizen. Considering that the colt was sidelined after the Hopeful Stakes, had undergone minor knee surgery since then, and had beaten one horse in the Santa Anita Derby in his comeback race, it looked as though Lukas was reaching.
Wrong. Proud Citizen scored a front-running victory in the Lexington, which Lukas won in 1999 with subsequent Derby winner Charismatic. Proud Citizen got a Beyer Speed Figure of 95. Proud Citizen will be Lukas's record 39th starter in the Derby.
"Let's face it," Lukas said. "If we're going to be in this game, and put up this kind of money, then [the Derby] is what we're shooting for all along."
Trainer Steve Asmussen sent out Arkansas Derby winner Private Emblem and Windward Passage, who finished in a dead-heat for third in that race, for works on Monday on a fast track at Churchill. Private Emblem breezed a half-mile in 51.40 seconds, the 55th best time of 57 works at the distance. Asmussen, not well versed in Derby trainer-speak, admitted the work was not to Private Emblem's usual standards.
Private Emblem "was a little flat this morning, but he did okay," Asmussen said. "He galloped out good and came out of it fine. We'll look for him to step it up a little more next week."
Windward Passage breezed a half-mile in 50 seconds. Barry Irwin, whose Team Valor syndicate owns Windward Passage, said no decision would be made on the starting status of Windward Passage, nor a jockey determined, until next Monday. If all 24 runners enter the Derby, Windward Passage would be bumped from the field. He has the same graded stakes earnings ($100,000) as Wild Horses, but has less money in non-graded stakes, the first tiebreaker, according to Doug Bredar, Churchill's racing secretary.
Easy Grades worked a leisurely seven furlongs in 1:29.40. His Derby jockey, Jorge Chavez, was aboard Easy Grades for the first time. "We just wanted him to stretch his legs," trainer Ted H. West said. "Unless you ask him, he's pretty lazy. The rider got acquainted with him."
Lusty Latin worked a half-mile in 49.20 seconds with his Derby jockey, Glenn Corbett. Trainer Jeff Mullins called the work "awesome, excellent."
At Belmont Park, Wood Memorial also-rans Blue Burner and Saarland put in workouts over dramatically different surfaces.
Trainer Bill Mott elected to send Blue Burner out in the first set, when the main track was fast, and clockers credited Blue Burner with a five-furlong move in 1:02.97. Mott said Blue Burner was actually working four furlongs and he caught him in "48 and change."
Meanwhile, trainer Shug McGaughey elected to wait until after the renovation break to work Saarland. Heavy showers hit the area 15 minutes before the break, and the track was sealed. The rain continued and the track was sloppy - and significantly quicker - by the time Saarland breezed. Saarland went a half-mile in 47.21 seconds, the fastest of 40 moves at the distance. McGaughey said the work was "quicker than I asked for," but added that "it didn't knock him out any." It was Saarland's first work since undergoing a myectomy last Wednesday to correct a breathing problem. Saarland only missed one day of training.
Both Blue Burner and Saarland are scheduled to ship to Louisville by plane Thursday morning.
Trainer James Bond moved up Buddha's work from Monday to Sunday, citing the chance of an off track. Buddha breezed six furlongs in 1:14.47 over a Belmont training track rated good. He had to go around dogs, the orange traffic cones that protect the inner part of the track.
Buddha is scheduled to work again at Belmont on Sunday before vanning to Churchill on Monday.
- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee