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Quality Road proves his foot's fine
ELMONT, N.Y. - Rival trainers hoping that the quarter crack sustained by Quality Road in the Florida Derby would derail his chances of making it to the Kentucky Derby were probably glad they were not at Belmont Park on Friday morning.
Had they been, they would have seen Quality Road work a strong six furlongs in 1:12.03, a move in which he completed his last three furlongs in 35.10 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form. He galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25.55 under exercise rider Juan Moreno.
The work, the fastest of six at the distance, was the most significant move Quality Road has put in since he won the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 28. He emerged from that race with a quarter crack in his right hind foot. While a concern for trainer Jimmy Jerkens for nearly two weeks, the quarter crack now appears to be a non-issue with the Kentucky Derby less than two weeks away.
"Usually when you get this far you're okay,'' said Jerkens, who trains Quality Road for owner/breeder Ed Evans.
Jerkens chose to work Quality Road on Friday rather than Saturday to give himself a day to play with when he works the colt back next weekend. After Quality Road worked a little quicker than Jerkens was expecting, he's glad he opted for Friday.
Under clear skies, Quality Road stepped onto the training track at 9:30 a.m. accompanied by stable pony Gizmo. The pair jogged back to the half-mile pole. After turning around, Quality Road left the pony and broke into a gallop at the three-eighths pole.
When he reached the six-furlong marker he picked it up only slightly, going his opening eighth in 12.87 seconds. He picked it up thereafter and recorded fractions of 25.10 seconds, 36.93, and 48.54 before coming home his final quarter in 23.49 seconds while being asked slightly by Moreno outside the eighth pole.
"He worked a little faster than I wanted to today so it might be better that he has eight days before he works again,'' said Jerkens, who plans another work on either April 25 or 26. "The track gets so fast after they wet it and harrow it they just skip over it. That probably equates to a 1:13-and-change [work] over a regular track.''
Jerkens said Quality Road lost a few pounds after the Florida Derby. That and the quarter crack were reasons for concern. Those two issues are less of a concern to Jerkens now.
"But it looks like he put some flesh back on and the foot looks like it's in good shape, so we should be in good shape,'' Jerkens said.
Gomez will make his pick soon
At Keeneland on Friday morning, Ron Anderson, the agent for top jockey Garrett Gomez, said he would make a decision on Sunday as to whether Gomez would ride Dunkirk or Pioneerof the Nile in the Derby.
Anderson has been able to get extensions from both Bob Baffert, the trainer of Pioneerof the Nile, and Todd Pletcher, trainer of Dunkirk. Pioneerof the Nile, the Santa Anita Derby winner, arrived at Churchill Downs on Thursday after working at Santa Anita on Wednesday. Dunkirk was scheduled to work on Saturday at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida.
"There are so many things that can happen. I'm pleased everybody's been willing to wait," Anderson said. "Until last Saturday, we didn't even know if Dunkirk was going to get in. He could have been out, and then there would have been no decision. They were aware of that, too.
"This is a really hard decision, the hardest of all the decisions I've ever had to make. Usually horses separate themselves during the prep races. Or sometimes you have trainers or owners who you have to accommodate one over the other. But this is totally equal. You've got a dirt horse who obviously is very good, but hasn't had many races. And you've got a horse who has run well on synthetic surfaces and has won many races. It's really, really hard."
Anderson said that having Gomez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, gave him the leeway to wait as long as possible.
"If Garrett wasn't doing well, if he wasn't the leading rider in the country, I'm sure I would have had to make a decision earlier," Anderson said.
Pletcher said he has waited "because I didn't see it was being beneficial, or increase my chances, if we put pressure on them right away."
"It's a difficult decision, between two very good horses, for the most important race," Pletcher said. "The other reason I'm not anxious is that I think there's a reasonable chance we'll get Edgar Prado if we don't get Garrett."
Prado rode Dunkirk to his maiden victory in January. Gomez has ridden Dunkirk in his last two starts, including a second-place finish in the Florida Derby.
Pletcher said Dunkirk would work again at Palm Meadows on April 25, then ship to Churchill Downs on April 28.
Charitable Man to skip Derby
One day after declaring Mafaaz from the Kentucky Derby, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Charitable Man would bypass the race as well. McLaughlin said Charitable Man, who finished seventh in the Blue Grass in his 3-year-old debut, would ship back to New York next week and run in either an allowance race, the Peter Pan or the Preakness.
"We're going to bypass the Kentucky Derby in hopes we have a horse for the summer,'' McLaughlin said. "It's the best thing for the horse. We still could have a great summer.''
* With so many horses defecting in recent days - such as Charitable Man, Mafaaz, and Terrain - the connections of Summer Bird are now considering running in the Derby because they are moving up the graded earnings list.
"If he can make it, we want to go," trainer Tim Ice said Friday. Summer Bird finished third in the Arkansas Derby last Saturday.
* Mine That Bird is "Derby-bound," trainer Benny Woolley said Friday. "It's a chance of a lifetime for the owners, and lots of horses ahead of us have dropped out." Mine That Bird finished fourth most recently in the Sunland Park Derby. Woolley said Mine That Bird would work on Sunday at Sunland Park, then travel to Churchill Downs on Monday.
* Both Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy, who arrived at Churchill Downs on Thursday, jogged over the track for the first time on Friday morning.
- additional reporting by Jay Privman