03/30/2009 12:00AM

Quality Road has Derby in the bank

Bob Coglianese
Quality Road, John Velazquez up, defeats Dunkirk in the Florida Derby. Quality Road will not race again until the Kentucky Derby.

By virtue of his victory in the Florida Derby on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Quality Road has emerged as the No. 1 seed for the Kentucky Derby from the Southeast Regional. Over the next few weeks, the last round of Derby preps will be held in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, and New York, the results of which will determine not only who the main contenders are to face Quality Road in the Derby, but also whether he will again have to face some of those he beat on Saturday.

Dunkirk, who finished second in the Florida Derby in only his third lifetime start, and Theregoesjojo, who was third, are taking different paths over the next five weeks. Even though Dunkirk is in a precarious position in terms of graded stakes earnings, Dunkirk "will absolutely not run" again before the May 2 Kentucky Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher said.

If more than 20 horses enter the Derby, which has become the norm in recent years, graded stakes earnings is the criterion for a berth in the field. This year, only 19 spots will be available if Mafaaz, the winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton, utilizes his guaranteed spot in the Derby. Dunkirk has $150,000 in graded stakes earnings, which right now puts him on the bubble. But there are a number of horses who will race in upcoming weeks who could leapfrog past him.

"He's going to stay at Palm Meadows, where I'll prepare him as if he is going to run in the Derby," Pletcher said. "If not, we'll go to Plan B, which would be the Peter Pan or Preakness. I thought he ran a big race Saturday. He's obviously a very nice horse who we've asked to do a lot in a very short period of time."

Theregoesjojo, however, could race once more before the Derby, in either the Blue Grass Stakes or the Lexington Stakes, both at Keeneland, according to trainer Kenny McPeek. Theregoesjojo is below Dunkirk on the graded earnings list.

"I'm keeping my options open as far as running Theregoesjojo again," McPeek said. "Possibly the Lexington, but I won't rule out the Blue Grass either. I think he might really like the Polytrack."

The Blue Grass is April 11, the Lexington April 18.

Quality Road will not race again before the Derby. He is likely to remain at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida for the time being, trainer Jimmy Jerkens said after the Florida Derby.

Quality Road got a Beyer Speed Figure of 103 in the Florida Derby. Big Drama got a 108 for crossing the wire first in the Swale Stakes - before being disqualified in favor of This Ones for Phil - on the Florida Derby undercard. Even though Big Drama has enough graded stakes earnings to make the Derby field, he will not be sent down that path, trainer David Fawkes said Monday.

Jerkens said Quality Road was going to be a late nominee to the Triple Crown. The deadline for that was last Saturday night, at a cost of $6,000, after a clerical error resulted in him not being nominated for $600 in January. Musket Man, the Tampa Bay Derby winner, and Win Willy, the Rebel Stakes winner, are others who were expected to have been late nominees. The late nominees, which usually number about a dozen, will be announced officially this week.

The Florida Derby was one of two Derby preps on Saturday that carried significant graded stakes earnings implications. Halfway around the world in Dubai, Regal Ransom held off stablemate Desert Party in the United Arab Emirates Derby, potentially giving Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing two Derby starters.

"Regal Ransom has improved a lot, and both will now go for the Kentucky Derby," trainer Saeed bin Suroor was quoted as saying on Godolphin's web site. "I was happy with them, though I think we will see Desert Party run better races in the future. The fact that they finished 15 lengths clear of the third shows they are two very good horses."

Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, was quoted on the website as saying, "We are planning to send both the first and second to America for the Kentucky Derby if they come out of this all right.

"Both horses ran super races, and they are legitimate contenders for the Kentucky Derby," Crisford said. "They will ship to Churchill, and we will wait until closer to the Kentucky Derby to decide if both run or we leave one for the Preakness Stakes, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it."

The Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, is May 16 at Pimlico.

Regal Ransom got a Racing Post Rating of 112 winning the UAE Derby, 7 points higher than the rating Desert Party got in the UAE 2000 Guineas on Feb. 12.

The $800,000 Sunland Derby, which is not a graded stakes race, was won on Saturday by Kelly Leak, who got a Beyer Figure of 87.

There are three important preps this Saturday, all, like the Florida Derby, at 1 1/8 miles. In California, Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse are expected to top the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Giant Oak and Musket Man were among a field of 11 entered on Monday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. And in New York, I Want Revenge takes on Imperial Council in the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Danger to Society, who was scratched from the Florida Derby and was expected to go to the Wood, will now run in the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 11, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch