04/24/2010 12:00AM

For once, an actual Derby Trial

Barbara D. Livingston
Eightyfiveinafifty is likely to be entered in the Kentucky Derby if he wins the Derby Trial.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Derby Trial has been a misnomer for many years, a Ben Jones-era throwback that Churchill Downs just never had the heart to toss in the dumpster.

Ken Ramsey is glad no one at Churchill dared to relegate the Trial to the same sad fate as its webbed starting gate, pocket-sized program, or those colorful old-style parimutuel tickets. Pleasant Prince, owned by Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, will be trying to use the suddenly relevant Trial to make the 20-horse cutoff into the field for the 136th Kentucky Derby on May 1. Since the 1980s, if not before, the Trial has been known mostly as a minor prep for the Preakness, if that.

The Grade 3, $200,000 Trial helps to open the 42-day Churchill spring meet with its 86th running Saturday. Pleasant Prince and one other Trial runner, Eightyfiveinafifty, would make the Derby lineup by taking down the winner's share, which figures to be about $120,000.

"I am a traditionalist, so I'm glad they kept the race around for all these years," said Ramsey, 74. "I know this is a low-percentage play, trying to win the Derby this way, and I've never been an advocate of running back on a week's rest. But necessity is the mother of invention, and we need the graded earnings to get in the Derby. I'm getting a little old myself, and I want to run if I can."

Graded earnings determine eligibility for the Derby, for which entries will be drawn Wednesday.

Pleasant Prince is one of 10 3-year-olds entered in the one-turn-mile Trial, the 10th of 11 races on a Churchill opener that starts at 12:45 p.m. Eastern. The Trial goes at 5:17, with HRTV providing extensive live coverage.

Ramsey and trainer Wesley Ward believe Pleasant Prince was unable to handle the Polytrack surface in his last race, the April 10 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. They believe that returning to dirt will allow him to return to the form he showed in the March 20 Florida Derby, when he was beaten a nose by Ice Box.

Julien Leparoux, who already has the Kentucky Derby call on Awesome Act, will be aboard Pleasant Prince for the fourth straight time.

"Julien said he just flopped around all over the place on the Polytrack," Ramsey said.

Eightyfiveinafifty, an extremely speedy colt trained by Gary Contessa and owned by a partnership headed by Harold Lerner, figures to run off to an easy early lead in the Trial under Ramon Dominguez. Contessa has said Eightyfiveinafifty could wheel back in the Derby if he wins. In his last race, he won the seven-furlong Bay Shore on the April 3 Wood Memorial undercard at Aqueduct.

"I'll have a pretty good idea, when he hits the wire of the Derby Trial, where we're at," Contessa said.

Other logical contenders in the Trial include Game On Dude, Hurricane Ike, and Aikenite.

It has been five years since a Trial winner ran back in the Derby - Don't Get Mad, who finished fourth in the 2005 Derby - and over 50 years since the Trial winner captured the Derby, that being Tim Tam, who won the 1958 Derby for Calumet Farm and Ben Jones four days after winning the Trial.

Regardless of Pleasant Prince or Eightyfiveinafifty's chances of winning the Derby, their entry into the field would have major implications for bubble contenders such as Homeboykris, Jackson Bend, Backtalk, and Make Music for Me.

Complicating matters are the pending decisions for horses such as Noble's Promise and the Todd Pletcher trio of Devil May Care, Discreetly Mine, and Interactif. None of those four had been committed to the Derby on Thursday, when few serious works took place here on a gray, chilly morning.

A slew of critical workouts have been scheduled for the next few mornings, especially Saturday - weather permitting. Following several weeks of warm, dry, and idyllic conditions in this region, Derby trainers have had to determine whether a too-wet track would force them to alter their workout schedules. Rain, sometimes heavy, was forecast for Friday and Saturday, with diminishing chances of rain Sunday and Monday as temperatures were expected to cool into the high-50s.

Pletcher, who could have as many as seven Derby starters, was among those trying to decide when his horses would have their final pre-race works. Eskendereya, the solid Derby favorite, was tentatively scheduled to work Saturday, but Pletcher said that was subject to change, depending on the conditions.

Other works slated for Saturday included Devil May Care and perhaps another horse or two for Pletcher, along with Sidney's Candy. The Mike Maker-trained duo of Dean's Kitten and Stately Victor were scheduled to work Saturday at the nearby Trackside training center.