04/25/2008 11:00PM

Macho Again re-rallies in Derby Trial

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The West Point Thoroughbred syndicate tried and failed in the Kentucky Derby two years when Flashy Bull ran 14th, but the colt returned to Churchill Downs a bit more than a year later to win the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap.

There will be no Derby this year for West Point's newest star on the horizon, Macho Again, but the ownership syndicate had another pleasant Chirchill result Saturday when the colt edged clear from favored Kodiak Kowboy to win the 84th running of the Derby Trial, highlight of the opening-day program at Churchill.

Macho Again, trained by Dallas Stewart and ridden by Julien Leparoux, returned $14.20 as fourth choice in a field of nine 3-year-olds in the 7 1/2-furlong Derby Trial.

"He broke good and was in good position," said Leparoux. Down the stretch, "We got bumped a little bit. When he got bumped, it made him go again."

No Derby starters will come from the Trial. The last horse to win both races was Tim Tam in 1958.

Before an estimated 17,000 fans who turned out in terrific spring weather, Eaton's Gift turned for home with an open lead, but then here they all came. Macho Again and Fujita were the first to pounce, but then Kodiak Kowboy, ridden by Corey Lanerie, drove through an opening to wrest a short lead. In the final 100 yards, Macho Again rallied back on the outside to prevail by a half-length.

Fujita was another two lengths back in third and was followed by Majestic Warrior, Da' Tara, Iron Works Pike, Eaton's Gift, Turf War, and Lemon Spice. Zulu's Gift was an early scratch.

Macho Again, a gray colt by Macho Uno, was bred in Florida. Coming off a seventh-place finish in the March 22 Lane's End Stakes, he earned $68,569 from a total purse of $115,200 by winning for the third time from eight career starts.

No progress in simulcast dispute

There was no apparent movement Saturday in the impasse between Churchill and horsemen, a growing controversy that is precluding tens of thousands of horseplayers from wagering on the Churchill races for an indefinite period.

As of Saturday evening, contract negotiations were stalled between Churchill, represented by TrackNet Media, and horsemen, represented by the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group. The central issue is revenue derived from simulcasts and advance-deposit wagering sites such as Twinspires.com and Xpressbet, which did not take wagering on Churchill races Saturday. However, the simulcast rights to the Derby, Oaks, and Woodford Reserve are a separate issue from other Churchill races, according to the track and horsemen's officials, and the signals for those races apparently are not imperiled for the vast majority of the wagering public.

Churchill president Steve Sexton issued a statement late Saturday that said in part: "We are still trying to reach an agreement with horsemen and hope they want to keep talking."

Big Brown jogs at Palm Meadows

Probable Derby favorite Big Brown returned to the track Saturday morning for a 1 1/8-mile jog over the near-barren Palm Meadows training center in Florida. Big Brown simply walked Friday after working five furlongs in 58.60 seconds Thursday morning.

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said that Big Brown was to train Sunday and Monday morning at Palm Meadows before getting on a plane early Monday afternoon. He is expected to arrive in Louisville sometime after 4 p.m.

"I'm ready to get out of here but I'm still content, relaxed, no pressure," Dutrow said Saturday. "There couldn't have been 25 horses training here this morning. There were only one or two horses on the track when we were out there. I'm glad we stayed, though, because it just worked out so good for Big Brown."

Dutrow still plans to put Big Brown through a three-furlong workout on Thursday at Churchill Downs.

Kentucky Bear's big work probably for naught

It will take an act of God for Kentucky Bear to get into the Kentucky Derby, which is a shame considering the way the lightly raced but extremely talented son of Mr. Greeley worked over the Churchill Downs strip Saturday morning.

With jockey Jamie Theriot aboard, Kentucky Bear worked five furlongs in 59.51 seconds shortly after the renovation break. The move was the fastest on a tab that included leading Kentucky Derby contender Gayego. But it wasn't the final time that made the drill so impressive, it was the way Kentucky Bear came roaring down the stretch, covering his final quarter-mile in 23.06 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.23 and seven-eighths in 1:25.42.

"I was thrilled by the work, but it makes you a little more aggravated that he probably won't get into the race," said trainer Reade Baker as he prepared to board a Saturday flight back to Canada. "We'll enter him for the Derby on Wednesday and hope for a miracle. If he doesn't get in, we'll take him back to Keeneland and stay for a week before shipping to Pimlico for the Preakness."

Graded stakes earnings are used to determine entrance into the Derby if more than 20 horses are entered. Kentucky Bear has $75,000 in graded earnings and as of Saturday was 34th on the list of horses being pointed to the race.

Kentucky Bear was an easy maiden winner when he launched his career at Gulfstream Park this winter. Following a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Kentucky Bear rebounded with a game third-place effort in the Grade 1 Blue Grass.

"He bled in Florida, after which we gave him a little time off, and maybe he wasn't quite fit enough at the end of the Blue Grass," said Baker. "But he's gained about 50 pounds since that race. He looks spectacular and is starting to remind me more and more of Afleet.

"You know, the most disappointing aspect of this whole eligibility thing is that probably five or six horses who'll get into the Derby peaked well before this and are on the downturn right now, but they have the earnings and we don't."

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch