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Pletcher reshuffles as Ravel withdraws
When one man has a lot of dominoes, and one of them falls, it sets off a chain reaction. Such was the situation on Wednesday, when trainer Todd Pletcher announced that Sham Stakes winner Ravel, who was scheduled to head the field in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7, was out of that race and off the trail for the Kentucky Derby because of an injured left front leg.
Ravel's defection caused Pletcher to reassess the next starts for at least three of his 3-year-olds. It forced Ravel's jockey, Garrett Gomez, to start looking for a replacement ride on April 7, though Pletcher may throw a lifeline to Gomez and his agent, Ron Anderson. And it served as a sobering reminder that while the Derby is nearing, there are still many twists and turns still to come before May 5.
One twist may come on Saturday, when a dozen 3-year-olds with hopes of making the Derby compete in the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. With $300,000 in first-prize money, the Lane's End winner is virtually guaranteed a spot in the Derby field, which uses graded stakes earnings as the criteria should more than 20 horses enter.
The Lane's End itself uses career earnings as a tie breaker should more than 12 enter the race. The maximum of 12 entered on Wednesday, so no one was excluded, but only because Catman Running passed the race. In the 24 hours leading up to the draw, Helen Pitts, the trainer of For You Reppo, was concerned that her colt might be excluded, because he was near the bottom of the list in terms of earnings among the prospective runners. But he made it.
Pitts said she chose the Lane's End over last week's WinStar Derby because the WinStar Derby, though worth $600,000, is not a graded race. She said she wanted "to get enough earnings so we can think about going to the Derby."
In addition to the Lane's End, there are three other stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday, though only one is for graded money, and that one - the Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park - is on turf. The other races are the $100,000 Rushaway at Turfway, and the $100,000 Private Terms at Laurel.
As of Friday there were just 43 days until the Derby, but for trainers with top prospects, that can be an eternity. Pletcher is loaded with Derby contenders, so losing Ravel might be easier for him than someone with just one bullet in the gun. But no trainer wants to see his lineup depleted, no matter how deep the bench.
"It's a tough blow," Pletcher said from Florida. "He's obviously a talented horse, but it wasn't meant to be."
According to Pletcher, Ravel has what appears to be the beginnings of a fracture in his left front cannon bone. He said there was initial concern over the weekend, when Ravel was "a little off in his left front." Diagnostic work was done on Monday, then X-rays were taken, but nothing showed. On Tuesday, Ravel underwent a nuclear scintigraphy test, which can detect microscopic bone changes not noticeable on X-rays. Pletcher learned the results Tuesday night.
"It lit up his left front cannon bone," Pletcher said.
"We can't find anything on X-rays, but the feeling, based on the nuclear scintigraphy, is that he's starting to develop a fracture, and it would turn into a condylar fracture if we breezed him," Pletcher said.
Pletcher said Ravel likely would be out of training for three months, and then point for a fall campaign. But he said it was hard to pinpoint the length of Ravel's recovery due to the lack of specificity regarding the injury.
"It's rest and no surgery at this point," Pletcher said.
Ravel is owned by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, who also own the filly Rags to Riches, who was a runaway winner of the Santa Anita Oaks. Pletcher said she could now run in the Santa Anita Derby.
"We're leaving all options open," he said. "She'll either run there or in the Ashland at Keeneland on April 7, or just train up to the Kentucky Oaks. I won't make a decision on that until next week."
If Rags to Riches runs at Santa Anita on April 7 or awaits the Kentucky Oaks on May 4, Gomez will ride her. But if she skips the Santa Anita Derby, Pletcher may put Sam P. there. Sam P. was second in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in his last start. Until Ravel's defection, Sam P. was definite for the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, which also is April 7.
"I'm going to talk to the owners, and see if Ravel's status changes their mind," Pletcher said.
If Sam P. remains at Santa Anita, Pletcher said he is considering moving Gotham Stakes winner Cowtown Cat to the Illinois Derby. Cowtown Cat's other April 7 option is the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, but Pletcher also has Louisiana Derby winner Circular Quay headed there.
Foot problem for Song of Navarone
Song of Navarone's return to Southern California to run in the Santa Anita Derby hinges on the progress of a foot injury sustained when he won Sunland Park's $600,000 WinStar Derby Sunday.
Trainer Henry Dominguez said Song of Navarone overstepped and cut himself on his left fore when he left the gate. Dominguez reasoned that may have been why the horse raced a bit erratically through the stretch.
"He never did level off, he was running green, but he still had a little bit more left," Dominguez said.
"Once we dress it up, we'll know how long it's going to take to heal. He just came out of a battle."
A son of Sultry Song, Song of Navarone is no stranger to Southern California, having finished third behind Ravel and Liquidity in the Grade 3 Sham Feb. 3 at Santa Anita.
In other Derby developments:
* Pletcher said Deadly Dealer, a recent allowance winner at Gulfstream Park, would be his representative in the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 14.
* Trainer Al Stall Jr. said the defection of Ravel was a reminder that he needs to wait as long as possible before deciding whether to put Louisiana Derby runner-up Ketchikan in the Arkansas Derby or the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland the same day.
"Anything can happen that would cause you to zig or zag," Stall said. "He'll be training at Churchill by then, so one race will be an hour away by van, and the other will be an hour away by plane."
additional reporting by Michael Hammersly
Street Sense, last year's champion 2-year-old male, is now the 6-1 favorite on the Kentucky Derby future line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, following his comeback victory on Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby. Any Given Saturday, who lost a head bob in the Tampa Bay Derby, is now the co-second choice on Watchmaker's line at 8-1. Curlin, the Rebel winner, is down to 15-1 this week after being 40-1 a week ago, and San Felipe winner Cobalt Blue tumbled to 20-1 after also being 40-1 last week. There are three newcomers to the Derby Watch top 25 this week. Song of Navarone, the WinStar Derby winner, is 40-1 on Watchmaker's line. Twilight Meteor, who runs Saturday in the Lane's End Stakes, is 50-1, and Chelokee, who is headed to the Florida Derby, is 60-1.
Ravel, who was taken off the Derby trail on Wednesday because of an injury to his left front leg, is the most significant defection from the top 25. He was the co-second choice on Watchmaker's Derby line at 8-1 a week ago. Also off the list are Teuflesberg, who was a distant third in the Rebel, and Flying First Class, who beat one horse as the favorite in the Rebel.
ON THE BUBBLE
Forefathers, once a member of the top 25, can get back on the list if he rebounds from his last disappointing race with an improved performance in the Lane's End. Air Commander, the San Felipe runner-up, also merits watching if his connections decide to give him another shot at making the Derby.
- Jay Privman