04/25/2008 12:00AM

Owner rejects deal to get into Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Desperate times often make desperate men, but as desperate as owner William Warren is to get Denis of Cork into the Kentucky Derby next Saturday, he said Friday he did not accept a proposal days ago that would have significantly helped his chances.

If more than 20 horses enter the Derby on Wednesday, as expected, the field will be determined by earnings in graded stakes races. Denis of Cork, as of Friday, was sitting 23rd on the list. But the filly Proud Spell is unlikely to enter the Derby, and Salute the Sarge is back in California, so that effectively puts Denis of Cork at 21. That's good in blackjack, but not the Derby.

Last fall, after Denis of Cork won his debut for trainer David Carroll, Warren said he was contacted by owner Satish Sanan, who was looking to become a partner in the young horse. No deal was made. Flash forward five months later, and Denis of Cork - and Warren - may find themselves at the mercy of Sanan, who is the owner of Behindatthebar.

Behindatthebar won the Lexington Stakes on April 19. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he would wait until Tuesday, or even Wednesday, to decide whether to run in the Derby. If Behindatthebar is out, Denis of Cork could be in. According to Warren, Sanan made an offer to have that happen.

"He did contact me after his first race, and he contacted my trainer earlier this week," Warren said Friday from his office in Tulsa, Okla. "He wanted to trade 50 percent of Behindatthebar for 50 percent of Denis of Cork, with the idea of having Denis of Cork in the Derby and Behindatthebar in the Preakness.

"That type of trade was not attractive to me. My ego is such that I'm not going to break my neck to get into the Kentucky Derby. I think very highly of our Denis of Cork. But I've learned over the years that, for me, it's best not to have partners."

Sanan confirmed Warren's version of events.

"I did call his trainer, David Carroll," Sanan said "They're on the outside, we're on the inside, maybe we could partner and one of us could go in the Derby and one in the Preakness."

Denis of Cork might not even be in this predicament had his racing schedule not been altered. After winning his first three races, including the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Denis of Cork was scheduled by Carroll to run in the Rebel Stakes and then the Arkansas Derby.

But after conferring "with several people," Warren said Friday, Warren overruled that original plan and decided Denis of Cork should have just one last prep for the Derby, in the Illinois Derby on April 5 at Hawthorne. The plan backfired. Denis of Cork finished fifth, and did not make enough money to get into the top 20.

"I have to admit it has caused me some sleepless nights," Warren said. "I made the decision to go to Hawthorne. Not running in the Rebel was a mistake, and it has caused me great angst. I'll be very disappointed if he doesn't get into the Derby. If he doesn't, he'll go to the Peter Pan. But I'm hopeful it will work out for him to run in the Kentucky Derby."

Stutts will skip Derby walkover

Benny Stutts Jr., the trainer of Smooth Air, is thoroughly enjoying his first Derby experience. But the 70-year-old horseman readily admits there is one Derby tradition he'll be forced to forgo.

"I won't be able to do the walkover from the barn area to the paddock before the race," Stutts said. "I have a hip that needs to be replaced and there is no way I could make it all the way. I'd hate to get halfway there and have to stop."

Stutts said Churchill Downs officials are aware of the situation and will do their best to accommodate his needs.

"They said they'll do their best to get me to the paddock in time to saddle my horse, and that's all that I'm interested in," Stutts said. "Naturally I'd love to do the walkover, but there's just no way I could make it unless the vets inject me."

Stutts has won the respect of many of his peers the last several months for the manner in which he has prepared Smooth Air to win the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes and finish second to Big Brown in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Smooth Air's training regimen included several long, hard works.

"He's fit as can be, which is why I decided to give him the morning off today and postpone his work from Sunday until Monday," Stutts said late Friday morning. "Now I just want to keep him fresh, which is why I gave him the day off and why he'll have a relatively easy work on Monday. I can't get him any fitter than he is right now."

Zito horse injured during work

Trainer Nick Zito experienced two of the many highs and lows of training racehorses Friday morning at Churchill Downs.

Just a few minutes following the track renovation break, he had one horse, Anak Nakal, work a swift half-mile in 46.60 seconds in preparation for the Kentucky Derby, and another, an allowance horse by the name of Aquarian, pull up lame galloping out with a suspected condylar fracture in his right foreleg after working in company with Anak Nakal.

Aquarian, a 3-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus owned by Tracy Farmer, was transported to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., where he was expected to have screws surgically inserted in his injured leg. Veterinarian Dr. Rick Fischer, who treated the colt immediately following the workout, said the injury did not appear life threatening "at this point."

Asked to reflect on the contrasts of having one horse work so forwardly toward a race like the Derby, and having another injured at the same time, Zito said the relatively flat expression on his face conveyed his feelings.

"You have to take the good with the bad - it's the business," he said.

As for Anak Nakal, Zito said he was pleased with the work.

"I was surprised he worked that fast," he said. "But he just likes Churchill Downs," a reference the colt's win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his lone start over the track last fall. His breeze was second fastest of 26 works at the distance.

- additional reporting by Byron King and Mike Welsch